The Dog – Part V, The Faithful Dog

We continue discussing “The Dog” with this discussion of the faithful dog.

In Part IV we discussed dogs used in the chase of prey, or the hunting dog. We continue Chapter 1 of the book with some stories about the faithful dog, being true to their master, even when separated by time or death.


The Faithful Dog

Soon after Britain was discovered, the pugnaces of Epirus were pitted against those of our island, and, according to the testimony of Gratius, completely beaten. A variety of this class, but as large and as ferocious, was employed to guard the sheep and cattle, or to watch at the door of the house, or to follow the owner on any excursion of business or of pleasure. Gratius says of these dogs, that they have no pretensions to the deceitful commendation of form; but, at the time of need, when courage is required of them, most excellent mastiFaithful Dogffs are not to be preferred to them.

The account of the British pugnaces of former times, and also of the sagaces and celeres, will be best given when treating of their present state and comparative value. In describing the different breeds of dogs, some anecdotes will be related of their sagacity and fidelity; a few previous remarks, however, may be admissible.

A young man lost his life by falling from one of the precipices of the Helvellyn mountains. Three months afterwards his remains were discovered at the bottom of a ravine, and his faithful dog, almost a skeleton, still guarding them. Sir Walter Scott beautifully describes the scene:

Dark-green was the spot, ‘mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay;
Like the corpse of an outcast, abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain winds wasted the tenantless clay;
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favorite attended,
The much loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.
How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garments, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?

Burchell, in his Travels in Africa, places the connection between man and the dog, and the good qualities of this animal, in an interesting point of view. A pack of dogs of various descriptions formed a necessary part of his caravan, occasionally to provide him with food, but oftener to defend him from wild beasts or robbers.

“While almost every other quadruped fears man as his most formidable enemy,” says this interesting traveller, “there is one who regards him as his companion, and follows him as his friend. We must not mistake the nature of the case. It is not because we train him to our use, and have made choice of him in preference to other animals, but because this particular species of animal feels a natural desire to be useful to man, and, from spontaneous impulse, attaches himself to him. Were it not so, we should see in various countries an equal familiarity with other quadrupeds, according to their habits, and the taste or caprices of different nations; but, everywhere, it is the dog only that takes delight in associating with us, and in sharing our abode. It is he who knows us personally, watches over us, and warns us of danger. It is impossible for the naturalist not to feel a conviction that this friendship between creatures so different from each other must be the result of the laws of nature; nor can the humane and feeling mind avoid the belief that kindness to those animals, from which he derives continued and essential assistance, is part of the moral duty of man.

Often in the silence of the night, when all my people have been fast asleep around the fire, have I stood to contemplate these faithful animals watching by their side, and have learned to esteem them for their social inclination towards mankind. When, wandering over pathless deserts, oppressed with vexation and distress at the conduct of my own men, I have turned to these as my only friends, and felt how much inferior to them was man when actuated only by selfish views.”

Of the stanchness and incorruptible fidelity of the dog, and his disregard of personal inconvenience and want, when employed in our service, it is impossible to entertain a doubt. We have sometimes thought that the attachment of the dog to its master was increased, or, at least, the exhibition of it, by the penury of the owner. At all events one fact is plain enough, that, while poverty drives away from us many a companion of our happier hours, it was never known to diminish the love of our quadruped friend.

The early history of the dog has been described, and the abomination in which he was held by the Israelites. At no great distance of time, however, we find him, almost in the neighborhood of Palestine, in one of the islands of the Ionian Sea, the companion and the friend of princes, and deserving their regard. The reader will forgive a somewhat abbreviated account of the last meeting of Ulysses and his dog.

Twenty years had passed since Argus, the favorite dog of Ulysses, had been parted from his master. The monarch at length wended his way homewards, and, disguised as a beggar, for his life would have been sacrificed had he been known, stood at the entrance of his palace-door. There he met with an old dependant, who had formerly served him with fidelity and who was yet faithful to his memory; but age and hardship and care, and the disguise which he now wore, had so altered the wanderer that the good Eumæus had not the most distant suspicion with whom he was conversing; but:

Near to the gates, conferring as they drew,
Argus the dog his ancient master knew,
And, not unconscious of the voice and tread
Lifts to the sound his ears, and rears his head.
He knew the lord, he knew, and strove to meet;
In vain he strove to crawl and kiss his feet;
Yet, all he could, his tail, his ears, his eyes
Salute his master, and confess his joys.

Lord Byron, who had much experience and acquaintance with the canine family, was rather sceptical as regards the memory of this animal, having been, on one occasion, entirely forgotten by a favorite dog from whom he was separated some considerable time, and in fact was most savagely assailed by him, when on his return he attempted to caress him as he was wont to do in former times. This unkind reception at Newstead Abbey, on the part of his pampered pet, may have given rise to the poet’s feelings as embodied in the following misanthropic lines:

“And now I’m in the world alone,
Upon the wide, wide sea:
But why should I for others groan,
When none will sigh for me?
Perchance my dog will whine in vain,
Till fed by stranger hands;
But long ere I come back again,
He’d tear me where he stands.”

In Daniel’s Rural Sports, the account of a nobleman and his dog is given. The nobleman had been absent two years on foreign service. On his return this faithful creature was the first to recognise him, as he came through the court-yard, and he flew to welcome his old master and friend. He sprung upon him; his agitation and his joy knew not any bounds; and at length, in the fulness of his transport, he fell at his master’s feet and expired.

An interesting circumstance, strongly exhibiting canine fidelity and attachment in a large mastiff, came under the Editor’s own eye during his childhood, and which, from its striking character, deserves to be recorded on the page of history as another testimony to the high moral worth of these useful animals.

A gentleman of Baltimore, with his family, lived during a portion of the year a short distance in the country, and was in the habit of returning to the city late in the fall to pass the winter. On his estate there was a fine young mastiff, who though extremely cross to strangers, exhibited at all times a great degree of tenderness and affection for the younger branches of the family; — more particularly for the younger son, his most constant companion, and who would often steal secretly away to share his daily meal with this affectionate participator in his childish sports: or, when fatigued with romping together, would retire to the well-kept kennel, and recruit his limbs in a refreshing sleep, while reclining upon the body of the faithful dog. If the little truant should now be missed by those having him in charge, the most natural question to ask was, “Where is Rolla?” knowing full well that wherever this honest brute was, there might his young master be found also. On such occasions, however, this trusty guardian would refuse all solicitations to abandon his post, and express great dissatisfaction at any attempt to arouse or carry off his young charge, whom he continued to watch over till he awoke, refreshed from his slumber and eager again to resume their frolics.

The period of returning to the city at last arrived, and the dog exhibited marked signs of uneasiness, while the bustling preparations for this end were going on, as if conscious of the separation that was about to take place between his young master and himself, as also the other children, who had been his constant companions for so many joyful months.

Everything being completed, the childish group bid an affectionate adieu to the downcast Rolla, whom they left standing on the hill-top, watching the carriage as it disappeared in the wood. A few days after their departure, and when this poor animal was forgotten in the new scenes around them, a communication was received from the overseer of the farm, in which he stated that the favorite dog appeared much grieved since the family had left for the city, and was fearful that he might die if he continued in the same condition. Little attention, however, was given to these remarks, all imagining that the dog’s melancholy was only the result of temporary distress, owing to his secluded life, so different from that which he had led when surrounded by the various members of a large family. Little did any one suppose that this poor neglected brute was suffering the acutest pangs of mental distress, even sufficient to produce death.

Two weeks had now elapsed since the separation from Rolla, when another message came from the overseer, stating that the dog would surely die with grief, if not removed to the city, as he had refused all sustenance for several days, and did nothing but wander about from place to place, formerly frequented by the children, howling and moaning in the most piteous manner.

Orders were now given, much to the children’s delight, for the conveyance of the favorite to the city; but, alas! this arrangement came too late, as the poor creature sank from exhaustion, while in the wagon on his way to join those beloved companions whose short absence had broken his heart and grieved him even unto death.

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