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A grizzled, unshaven man sits in a crude hut and huddles next to a tiny fire. He is clothed only in the skin of an animal. Nearby his wife sleeps, and on the other side of the shelter sleeps his nearly grown son with his younger son and tiny daughter.
Sharing the fire with him is a dog with pointed ears, but of no recognizable breed. It has just awakened and is now standing and looking in the direction of a faint sound, one too weak for the man to hear. The dog sits back down, its head still cocked to follow the sound. Then, as humans have always done, the man speaks to the dog quietly: "What do you hear, my dog? You will tell me if I should worry?"
Bones and artifacts suggest that this scene could have taken place in Iraq fourteen thousand years ago, in France or Denmark twelve thousand years ago, in Utah eleven thousand years ago or in China ten thousand years ago. It has been that long that the group of animals that we know as dogs have been sharing our living space and shaping the individual and collective histories of humans.
As the scene (which could have happened thousands of times in our past) unfolds, the man looks at the guardian and hunter beside the flickering fire. Talking to the dog again for company, he asks: "What would life be like without you?
"I remember the stories of the grandfathers. They said that there was a time when there were no dogs. Then men had no warning when animals came to hunt them, or when other tribes came to raid us. But then your grandfather came with his family. They ate the garbage, the bones and skin from our hunts that we tossed outside the village. My grandfathers thought that this was good. It kept the smells down and kept the insects away. They said that because you ate the leavings, we could stay in a village for a much longer time before we had to move.
"Then my grandfathers heard you bark. Every time an animal or a man approached, you barked. What a wonderful thing, they thought. If you stayed close and barked, then nothing could surprise us in the dark. So, to keep your family close we threw extra food to you. Soon the grandfathers took some of your ancestor's puppies and brought them into their homes. They thought, 'If a dog will protect the village with its bark, then another dog will protect my own home.' Soon the puppies who lived with us were no longer wild.
"The grandfathers say that it happened one day that we were chasing a wounded deer, and your grandfathers had trailed behind us. The deer was clever, like many are, and turned off the path. My grandfathers did not see this and ran past, but your grandfathers knew in their noses where the deer had gone and ran after it. My grandfathers followed your ancestors, and ever since we have learned to hunt together.
"The grandfathers say that there used to be other, ugly men [Neanderthals] here. But they are gone now because they never had dogs to protect them or help them hunt. So they were killed by great beasts or men who hid in ambush, and when the animals that we hunt became few, they starved.
"Today I watched you and your brothers hunt the little sheep. I saw how you circled their flock to keep them together, then drove them toward the trees where you could slow them and scatter them to make them easier to kill. And I thought, my dog, if I could get you to do this gathering of sheep without killing them, then perhaps we could keep some alive, to give birth to other sheep. Then we would not need to hunt so often. We must try this soon."
The dog settled to the ground, placing its head down on its paws, and the man knew that there was no danger near. He yawned and stirred the fire, then lay down to sleep as well, secure in the knowledge that his guardian would warn him if anything dangerous lurked by. In the morning they would hunt together and, if they were successful, in the afternoon his dog and his daughter would have time to play together. His rough hand reached out and stroked the dog's fur, and that touch made them both feel content.
The history of men and dogs had begun. Their fates would be entwined as long as each species chose to share the other's company. At some time in the far future, the history of even kings or nations might show the pattern of a dog's pawprints on it.
Copyright © 2002 by SC Psychological Enterprises, Ltd.
|Chapter 1||Sentinels and Symbols||1|
|Chapter 2||The Saint and the Irish Dogs||15|
|Chapter 3||The Angry Prince and the Welsh Dog||27|
|Chapter 4||The Devil Dog of the English Civil War||35|
|Chapter 5||The Companions of the Prussian Emperor||51|
|Chapter 6||The Conquistador's Dogs||67|
|Chapter 7||The Dogs of the Scottish Writer||81|
|Chapter 8||Dogs in the Opera House||95|
|Chapter 9||The Talking Dog||115|
|Chapter 10||The Dog on the Therapist's Couch||127|
|Chapter 11||For the Love of Dogs and Other Beasts||143|
|Chapter 12||The Dog Shogun||157|
|Chapter 13||The Dog Law and the Mary Ellen Case||167|
|Chapter 14||The Emperor and His Dogs of Misfortune||181|
|Chapter 15||Conversations with Dogs||197|
|Chapter 16||The Lion Dogs of the Forbidden City||215|
|Chapter 17||The Indian Fighter's Dogs||237|
|Chapter 18||The Virginia Farmer's Foxhounds||251|
|Chapter 19||The Dogs in the Oval Office||263|
|Chapter 20||The Counter-factual History of Dogs||291|
How many times has the fate of a man, or even a nation, hung from the collar of a dog? Had it not been for dogs, the last imperial house of China might not have fallen; Columbus's first attempts at colonizing the Americas not have been so successful; some of Wagner's operas might never have been written; the American Revolution might not have been fought; the freeing of the American slaves might have been delayed for decades; the way that we educate deaf children might be different; and great and well-loved books like Ivanhoe might never have been written.
Most people know and accept in a general way the fact that dogs have changed human history by fulfilling needed functions in human activities such as hunting, herding, exploration, or the waging of war. When it comes to political, social, or cultural history, however, few people would expect any evidence of canine influences. Yet there are many instances where the actions of a single dog changed the life of a single human, who in turn went on to shape human history. These seldom-told stories are the most fascinating.
Consider, for example, the case of Alexander Pope, the brilliant satirist who is considered by many to be the greatest English poet of the eighteenth century. One of the most quotable poets of all time, Pope is the source of such familiar epigrams as "A little learning is a dangerous thing," "To err is human, to forgive, divine," and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Many of his poems, such as The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, as well as his Essay on Man and Essay on Criticism, are still popular classics and required reading for anyone seeking a degree in literature in most universities.
Pope was born in London in 1688. His interest in literature and writing was probably in part the result of his poor physique. While still quite young, Pope developed a form of tuberculosis that affects the spine. This condition stunted his growth; his full-grown height was only four feet six inches. In addition, Pope was condemned to suffer from headaches throughout his life, and he was abnormally sensitive to pain. His spinal condition made bending and physical exertions a source of agony. He often needed assistance to rise from his bed or chair and was obliged to have a servant help him dress and undress.
Nevertheless, Pope could be a charming social companion and host. Despite his lack of height, he had a handsome face and an attractive appearance so that people did not feel uncomfortable in his presence. At his large estate at Twickenham on the Thames (only a short distance from London), Pope entertained many celebrated guests, from poets and philosophers to high government officials, society belles, and even royalty. On any visit to him one might have met the likes of Jonathan Swift, the satirical author of Gulliver's Travels; Henry St. John the Viscount Bolingbroke, a statesman and orator who later became an author; Robert Harley, the first earl of Oxford, who would one day be the Lord Treasurer; and even Frederick, the Prince of Wales. Pope's many visitors would often convene in the great garden that he had carefully designed, and then the whole party would spend hours in sprightly conversation.
When he was not in a social setting, however, Pope's painful physical condition made him touchy and easily angered. Close associates would hear him rage at even the slightest perceived insult. His temper would often flare at a critic, then be redirected to whatever innocent target happened to be near — frequently a servant. The resulting high level of turnover among his personal staff as employees quit or were fired made maintenance of a household routine difficult.
Pope had other personal quirks as well. Despite his personal wealth and his lavish entertainment of guests, for example, he was quite miserly in some of his personal habits. Thus he often would not buy writing paper, but rather write his poetry on old envelopes from his voluminous correspondence. He distrusted financial institutions, such as banks, and only did a minimal amount of business with them. Instead, he kept much of his wealth in a strongbox built into a wall of the mansion, wearing the key on a chain around his neck at all times.
Although he loved dogs all of his life, Pope's favorite was an unlikely choice, given his size and physical condition. It was a large Great Dane that he named Bounce. When Bounce and Pope stood facing each other, their eyes were nearly at the same level. Bounce, however, proved to be a fine companion. He was quiet and unobtrusive when his master worked, but was always present to greet company and to socialize when anyone showed him any attention. Prince Frederick was so impressed by Bounce's good manners and stately appearance that he expressed a desire to own a dog just like him. Pope was flattered, and some time later the prince returned from a visit to Twickenham carrying one of Bounce's puppies — a gift from the poet. The puppy was installed at the royal kennel at Kew, which was the summer residence of the royal family. Shortly thereafter, Pope sent another gift, a collar for Frederick's dog with the following couplet engraved on it:
I am his Highness' dog, at Kew.
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
Although Bounce was generally friendly, he could be quite protective of his master. Since Jonathan Swift was now around sixty and had grown quite deaf, Pope had to raise his voice to communicate with him on his visits. This shouting made Bounce very suspicious of Swift, and so he would protectively lie between his master and the writer. If Swift gestured too broadly as he spoke, Bounce would rise to his feet as if ready to intervene on Pope's behalf and might even give a warning growl.
Although Pope did not need protection from Swift, Bounce's role of guardian would ultimately prove to be a blessing. One day, the temperamental poet had dismissed his latest valet, amid some name-calling and abusive language. When a new manservant was quickly hired from a short list of available applicants, Bounce sniffed at the man, then withdrew beside his master in an untypical show of dislike. Nonetheless, the valet seemed to know his job and appeared to be quite conscientious. As night fell, the valet lifted Pope from his chair and assisted him to the bedroom, where he helped the poet undress for the night and placed him on his bed. After pulling the heavy curtains around the canopied bed to shut out the night drafts, the valet quietly slipped out of the room.
Bounce, who normally stayed downstairs by the fireplace at night to soak up the last heat of the dying embers, abandoned his usual place of rest this evening. As the valet left, the dog slipped into Pope's bedroom and crawled under the bed to sleep. Much later that night, Pope thought that he heard a noise. When he slightly parted the bed curtains to peek out, what he saw paralyzed him with fear. The dark figure of a man stealthily approaching the bed was dimly visible. In his hand, Pope could make out the shape of a large knife, glittering in the moonlight. Because of his physical frailties, the poet was helpless to rise and protect himself. He could only scream for his valet, who slept in the next room, to come and help him.
At the sound of his master's cry, Bounce sprang from under the bed and leaped at the man, who toppled over and lost his grip on the knife. Then Bounce held him there on the floor, alternately growling at the man and barking loudly for help. When the commotion brought other members of the household staff to the rescue, the man with the knife turned out to be the new valet of whom Bounce had been suspicious. Hearing that Pope kept a great deal of money in the house, the man had decided to kill him, steal the strongbox key that he wore, and then flee before anyone else awakened.
Because of Bounce, Pope would live to write more great poetry. In addition, another epigram would be penned by the dog's master, who wrote, "Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends."
The concept of a dog as a protector is found in virtually every culture. For many people, the most important function a dog serves is to warn its family of any danger. An example of this view can be found in a story that was being told by the Mik'Maq Indians of North America long before the Europeans reached the American continent.
The legend begins with Gisoolg, the great spirit god and creator, who created Ootsitgamoo (the earth), then filled it with all sorts of animals. The work was difficult, so he rested and slept awhile. While Gisoolg was sleeping, though, the great snake that he had created became ambitious and greedy. It used magic to add deadly venom to its bite, so that it could kill the largest animals and in this way become the chief among all living things.
When Gisoolg awoke, he decided to make some beings that would rule over the animals. So first he gathered some clay from a sacred hidden place, and then he spent a full day forming the shape of a man from the clay. He gave the man life, but the man was too weak to move yet, so he lay on the ground gathering his strength. Gisoolg then went to sleep again.
The snake did not like the idea that Gisoolg was creating a creature that would be more intelligent and more powerful than any of the animals, so in the dead of the night it crept up and killed the man. When Gisoolg awoke he was distressed at the loss of the man, but spent another long day shaping another and then again went to sleep. Again the man became the victim of the cunning snake. On the third day Gisoolg rose early, and before he began to recreate the man, he first created a guardian in the form of a dog. By the time he had reformed the man, the dog had gathered enough strength to stand watch. So again Gisoolg went to sleep.
Now the snake again approached through the long grass, with murder in its heart and venom dripping from its fangs. But this time it was confronted by the dog, who barked loudly to sound the alarm and then slashed at the snake with its teeth. Now the serpent was slowed by its wounds and had lost the element of surprise. Even worse, the dog's barking awakened Gisoolg, who came forward at once.
"Evil serpent, you have no right to interfere with that which I am creating. As a penalty for your wickedness I will strike off your legs, so that you, and all of your family after you, will be forced to slither on your bellies for eternity. Furthermore, be warned that I have given the man, whom I shall name Glooscap, this guardian, E'lmutc. The dog will be with him always and keep him safe. If you are foolish enough to try to hurt Glooscap or his family, E'lmutc will know that you have come. He will sound the alarm, and I will grant Glooscap the wisdom and the weapons to protect himself. Be warned, serpent, next time, if E'lmutc's teeth do not slay you, then Glooscap's hand will."
In this story, there would have been no humans at all if not for the protection provided by a dog. While this is obviously just a myth, the idea that a dog's God-given duty is to serve as a guardian of man somehow comes to mind when one reads the lives of many historical individuals.
The biography of Saint Giovanni Melchior Bosco (commonly called Don Bosco or John Bosco) has a dog that appears from nowhere, like a guardian angel, to protect him. The story begins in the 1840s, when the slums of Turin, Italy, were rife with the kind of poverty and cruelty that one finds associated with sweatshop factories — their hazardous machinery, their abusive practices of child labor, and their starvation wages. When he was a young boy, Bosco was inspired by a series of dreams to help young children who had been trapped in this terrible poverty. After he had taken his vows as a priest, Bosco wandered the streets, visiting factories and prisons where young boys in trouble were to be found. He soon arranged to meet weekly with a growing band of ragged youngsters. In the beginning these meetings floated from place to place. There was no one permanent home for the group because in those troublesome times people were afraid of a large gathering of poor working boys. Bosco would convene the group in a different place every Sunday — sometimes a city church, or a cemetery chapel, or even an empty lot. There, the priest would hear their confessions and say a simple Mass for them. This would be followed by an hour of religious instruction, which was presented in plain language and often punctuated with a bit of juggling or a magic trick to keep the boys' interest. Then Bosco would take his ragtag band out to the countryside near the city for an outing with food and games.
By 1846, Don Bosco managed to raise enough money to buy a lot in an underdeveloped section of the city. Empty except for a ramshackle shed, it was next door to a saloon and across the street from a hotel with a shady reputation. It was a beginning, however, and furthermore, he had been assured in a dream that this was holy ground because it was the burial ground of the martyrs of Turin. Bosco then proceeded to convert the shed into a chapel, digging out space for a congregation to gather, and a tiny anteroom. Now every Sunday around five hundred poverty-stricken boys would squeeze into it for Mass.
It was around 1848 when the dog who played a role in his life appeared. He was a huge hulking gray mongrel whom Don Bosco would give the name "Grigio." Where Grigio came from originally, no one seems to know. His pedigree, parentage, and origin were as obscure as those of the many homeless children that the saint tended to gather around him.
Grigio's involvement began one evening as Bosco wended his way through the narrow streets toward his chapel. Unfortunately, some of the more criminal elements in the neighborhood had concluded that between his building and his provision of food for the children, Don Bosco must have accumulated a lot of money. As he passed by a dark alley, a man leaped from hiding. He grabbed the future saint and demanded money. Don Bosco virtually never had any money of his own, since all that he obtained went immediately to the children he was trying to help. When he denied having anything to give his attacker, the thief waved a knife in the priest's face: "If you have no money then you are of no use to me and I will kill you. Give me money, or show me where you have hidden it in that little chapel of yours, and you can buy your life." Bosco would later remember only that he closed his eyes and murmured a prayer, knowing that his life was about to end.
Suddenly, a savage gray blur hurled itself at the thief, knocking him down and causing the knife to fall from the man's hand as he crashed to the ground. The blur turned out to be a huge, snarling mongrel, which interposed himself between the priest and his attacker. The thug made one lunge toward the knife, but a growl and the snap of the dog's teeth made him reconsider any attempt at continuing his original course of action. He quickly clambered to his feet and then disappeared down the street, running as fast as he could.
Don Bosco did not know whether to be thankful or even more terrified. As the dog turned to face him all that he could focus upon was the dog's great muzzle and long teeth and the priest considered joining the thief in flight. However, the dog closed its mouth, lowered its head slightly, and gave a reassuring wag of its tail. Bosco then, hesitantly, reached out and stroked its coarse gray coat, and the dog responded with a contented whimper. It then silently followed the saint home to share a humble meal.
From that moment on Grigio was always at hand when Bosco was in danger — which apparently was quite often, since others in the vicinity would sometimes try to accost him and to steal his nonexistent wealth. He was also often with Bosco on those rare occasions when he actually had to carry valuables for those in his care, and few would approach with harmful intent given the size of the dog. Often the dog would seem to wander off, but suddenly appear (as he had on that first day) to defend Bosco from attack.
At times, some of the more unscrupulous local factory owners believed Don Bosco's ministry was becoming intrusive. His attempt at raising the standard of living of the children in the area was threatening their supply of cheap labor. On one evening Bosco was returning from a visit to a sweatshop, where he had lectured the owner about the dangers that the children were facing because of unsafe equipment and the long hours that they were required to work. As he was about to turn down a street that he always used on his return home, Grigio sprang forward and blocked his way. The priest tried to push past him but the big dog would not allow him to continue. Since both Don Bosco and Grigio were familiar sights on the street, this disagreement between them drew the attention of passers-by, and the small crowd attracted a policeman. Someone from one of the houses then turned up a light — and there, lurking in the shadows, were two armed men. It would later be learned that they had been hired to set an ambush by one of the factory owners who wanted the meddling priest killed.
Ultimately, Don Bosco convinced the government that he could be trusted to run his schools. His educational and other projects were now functioning well and safe from interference. In addition, the general public and even the criminal element recognized Bosco's altruistic motives, and so they no longer treated him as either a threat or a target of opportunity. If one had a bent toward a mystical connection associated with Grigio's appearance, then one might conclude that now, with things beginning to go well, the dog's heroic services were no longer needed. Be that as it may, as the saint sat in the refectory one evening at dinnertime, Grigio came to him once more. The dog rubbed his grizzled gray head against the saint's habit, licked his hand quietly, and placed a tentative paw on his knee. Then, without a sound, the huge brave dog turned and wandered out into the night, never to be seen again.
By the time of Don Bosco's death in 1888, there were 250 houses to help underprivileged and undereducated children under the auspices of what had come to be known as the Salesian Society. These hospices and schools were scattered through several different countries. The total number of children in their care was around 130,000, from which 18,000 finished apprentices left annually with the knowledge that they needed to earn their own living. In the main house in Turin, Don Bosco had placed the brightest of his pupils and had taught them Italian, Latin, French, and mathematics. This group eventually formed a teaching corps for the newer homes. By the time that he died more than six thousand priests had completed the seminary program at Don Bosco's institutions, twelve hundred of whom had remained in the society. Yet none of this might have come to pass had it not been for a mysterious dog named Grigio.
It is not only big dogs, like Pope's Great Dane or Don Bosco's great gray mongrel, that can intervene to save their master's life and thus let him continue on some history-shaping mission. Even small lapdogs can change the future, as in the case of William I, Prince of Orange (who is also called William the Silent) in the Netherlands. William is known as one of the principal founders of Dutch independence and is also remembered for the first formal attempts to institutionalize religious tolerance.
William was born in 1533 and, although his parents were Protestant, he was reared as a Roman Catholic and sent to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Brussels. William soon became the emperor's favorite, performing well the social, military, and diplomatic duties that were expected of him. He continued to do so under Philip II, the emperor's son and successor as king of Spain and lord of the Burgundian dominions. In part because of this service, in 1555 William was made stadtholder (the equivalent of governor and commander in chief) of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht.
By the 1560s, William and the other principal lords of the region began to offer some opposition to Philip's rule. Philip was hard and inflexible and did not like to share power. Civil rights were being suspended, there was no true local representation in government, and personal freedom (as it was then known) was being threatened. Furthermore, because Philip would not tolerate any deviation from strict Catholicism, the Spanish Inquisition had been brought to the Netherlands, and many Protestants and even "moderate" Catholics were being tried and executed for heresy. Having been influenced by the thoughts of the humanist philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, William leaned toward more religious tolerance. When popular resistance arose to the harsh controls he had imposed, Philip appointed the Duke de Alba to quell the dissent. The duke set up a special court, the Council of Troubles, to try all cases of rebellion and heresy, and this court was responsible for more than a thousand executions.
With both political liberty and religious freedom at issue, William took the field against Philip. It would be a long fight, with many military reverses and political intrigues. Ultimately, the Spanish would be pushed out and a peace treaty, the Pacification of Ghent, would be the result. It would provide for the union of the seventeen states that were called the Netherlands under one national government. William would survive all of the dangers of that period and become the hereditary ruler of the Netherlands — however, for this to happen required the intervention of a dog.
As many rulers of his time, William had a variety of dogs. Many were used in hunting, but William also had small dogs (which he referred to as "indoor" dogs) simply for companionship. His favorites were the pugs, which had recently been introduced from China. These little dogs were then called Camuses, which means "flat-nosed." William often took one or more of these dogs with him as company, even on military maneuvers. The incident that we are interested in occurred in 1572, when William had set up camp at Hermingny. In 1618 Sir Roger Williams, who had served with William and knew him well in later years, described what happened in his history Actions of the Low Countries:
The Prince of Orange being retired into the camp, Julian Romero [one of de Alba's most daring generals], with earnest persuasions, procured licence of the Duke de Alba to hazard a camisado or night attack upon the Prince. At midnight Julian sallied out of the trenches with a thousand armed men, mostly pikes, who forced all the guards that they found in their way into the place of arms before the Prince's tent, and killed two of his secretaries. The Prince himself escaped very narrowly, for I have often heard him say that he thought but for a dog he should have been taken or slain. The attack was made with such resolution that the guards took no alarm until their fellows were running to the place of arms with their enemies at their heels, when this dog [who always slept on the bed with the Prince], hearing a great noise, fell to scratching and crying, and awakened him before any of his men; and though the Prince slept armed, with a lackey always holding one of his horses ready bridled and saddled, yet at the going out of his tent with ado he recovered his horse before the enemy arrived. Nevertheless, one of his equerries was slain, taking horse presently after him, as were diverse of his servants. The Prince, to show his gratitude, until his dying day, kept one of that dog's race, and so did many of his friends and followers.
An effigy of William with his pug at his feet is carved over his tomb in Delft Cathedral. When his son and successor, William II, landed at Torbay to be crowned as king of England he brought with him a full retinue, which included a number of pugs. Because of this royal patronage, pugs would be a fashionable breed in England for several generations.
This same story, where a small and apparently insignificant dog saves the life of an individual who changes the world, has been repeated many times in many different cultures around the world. For example, in the seventeenth century the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngag-dbang-rgya-mtsho, had engaged in a series of political actions that would lead to a political alliance with the Mongols. While these steps resulted in political dominance of his religious order in Tibet, they also earned him a number of bitter enemies. The Dalai Lama kept as companion dogs the little Lhasa Apsos, who actually get their name from the city of Lhasa, where the Lama built his summer palace. It was there, that one night, while the Dalai Lama was sleeping, assassins stole into the wing of the palace that held his living quarters. They silently killed the group of soldiers on the outer perimeter, then stealthily approached guards outside the Lama's bedroom. Suddenly a loud barking broke out from one of the little Lhasa Apsos who slept in the Lama's chambers. This alerted the Lama's personal guards to a problem and caused others to come from nearby, foiling the attack. It was in this way, as the personal watchdog of the ruler of a nation and the leader of a religion, that a dog which is only ten inches at the shoulder and weighs less than fifteen pounds, could shape the destiny of a region of the world. This brave act is commemorated in Tibet in the name which they give to this tiny breed of dog, abso seng kye, which translates as the "barking lion sentinel dog."
While we have seen that a single dog can save the life of an individual and thus alter history, it is also the case that a single dog, acting in its traditional task of sentinel, can save whole cities. From the earliest times of our association with dogs they have served as perimeter guards for villages and settlements, ready to sound the alarm if any invaders should try to approach. Dogs are convenient in this regard since they require only a minimal amount of human control to perform such sentinel duty.
One example of this involved the city of Corinth, which is now a hub of communications between northern and southern Greece and is the primary point of export for local fruit, raisins, and tobacco. In the year 456 B.C., during the Greco-Persian wars, Corinth was strategically important because it controlled not only the land traffic between Attica and the Peloponnese, but also the traffic between the Aegean and Ionian seas. Because of Corinth's location on an isthmus, ships and cargoes could be speedily moved by being hauled overland on the stone roadway between the harbors on either side of the city. This process spared seafarers the arduous voyage around the southern tip of the Peloponnese.
Approximately fifty dogs were posted around the city to warn if any invaders appeared. One night, the Persians sent a small company of invaders to steal in under cover of darkness, then hold the city long enough so that a larger army might launch a quick surprise attack on Greece. The Persian intelligence had indicated the existence of the canine sentinels, and so the first task of the invaders was to eliminate them and prevent the rallying of any organized defense. Although the dogs were well trained, the invaders managed to kill all but one of them — a dog named Soter, who managed to escape and to wake up the soldiers. Thus alerted, the Corinthian garrison successfully repelled the invading forces; they also had time to send messengers to bring reinforcements from nearby allies before the city gates were sealed. Soter was honored with a pension and a silver collar inscribed, "To Soter, defender and savior of Corinth, placed under the protection of his friends." More than two thousand years later, Napoleon would remember this incident and post dogs around the perimeter of Alexandria to alert his garrison of any attempted surprise attacks.
Yet sometimes the influence of a dog on a person (and on history) is much more indirect. It can occur when the dog is acting not as a guard, but as a companion and a comfort in times of stress. It can happen when the dog is simply doing its job as a shepherd or hunter. It can happen when the dog misinterprets an event and acts rashly. It can also happen when an event involving a dog takes on a symbolic meaning. It is in the subtle role as a symbol that a dog affected a young girl who would go on to save many lives.
Most people remember Florence Nightingale, the English nurse who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing. Her life was dedicated to the care of the sick and war-wounded. She is best known for her activities during the Crimean war, when in 1854 she organized a unit of thirty-eight female nurses. By war's end she had become a legend. She was remembered by so many soldiers for her habit of carrying a lamp at night as she visited the wounded that she ultimately was given the nickname "The Lady of the Lamp." After the war she established a nursing school at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, where her contributions were so great that in 1907 she became the first woman to be given the British Order of Merit. Yet none of this might have happened except for her encounter with a dog.
Florence Nightingale was born as the second daughter of William Edward Nightingale and his wife, Frances, during a brief stay in Italy. Named after the Italian city in which she was born, Florence grew up in the countryside of Derbyshire, Hampshire, and in the city of London; her well-to-do family maintained comfortable homes in both locations. She was educated largely by her father, who taught her several languages (including Greek, Latin, French, German, and Italian) as well as history, philosophy, and mathematics. Throughout her life she read widely; however, her social life was generally unsatisfying, and she felt unfulfilled.
One afternoon in early February of 1837, when Florence was seventeen years of age, she had an encounter that foreshadowed her future. It involved a sheepdog named Cap. The dog was owned by a shepherd named Roger who lived near Matlock in Derbyshire, not far from the place where Florence's parents had a home. Roger lived alone except for his dog in a cottage near the edge of the woods. One day some village boys noticed Cap sleeping on the doorstep; in an act of cruel mischief, they began to throw stones at him. The dog stood up to dodge the onslaught, but one of the stones hit Cap's leg, damaging it so badly that he couldn't put it down on the ground. Despite his love for the dog, Roger couldn't survive without a working sheepdog, and he was too poor to keep a dog that couldn't work. With great regret, he went off to pasture the sheep by himself, and to get a bit of rope to hang Cap.
While Roger was out with his sheep, Florence rode past the field in the company of a local clergyman. Since they knew the shepherd, they stopped to chat for a few minutes. Florence liked dogs and had often stopped to play a bit with Cap, so she asked where the dog was. As Roger told them his story, Florence grew extremely distressed. As she and the clergyman continued their travels, she convinced her companion that they ought to at least take a look at Cap and see if anything could be done. The two of them rode over to Roger's cottage after borrowing a key from a neighbor to get in.
As the pair entered the room, Cap recognized them and crawled out from beneath the table to give them a pained greeting. While Florence held Cap's head, the clergyman examined the dog's leg. He explained to the young woman that the injury was not a break in the bone, as Roger had assumed, but merely a bad bruise. He predicted that hot compresses would cure the dog in a few days. Then, under his direction, Florence tore up some old flannel for bandages, lit the fire with the shepherd's tinderbox, and boiled some water. She then applied the bandages, wrung out in hot water, to the injured leg.
As they left the cottage to return home, they met Roger, who was walking with his shoulders slumped and ominously carrying a piece of rope. They persuaded Roger not to hang his dog and promised to return the next day to renew the compresses with fresh flannel. Two days later, on February 6, they met Roger and his flock on the hillside. An excited Cap, still limping slightly but clearly almost healed, bounded up to Florence and expressed his gratitude by leaving pawprints on her dress. She looked down at the first patient that she had ever nursed back to health and grinned happily.
The very next night, on February 7, 1837, Florence Nightingale had a dream — or perhaps it was a vision — that caused her to believe she had heard the voice of God informing her that she had a mission. Perhaps it occurred simply because she was still bathed in the warm feeling from having saved Cap's life. Into her mind sprang the belief that this whole incident was a sign from God to tell her that she should devote her life to healing others. Her father, however, refused to allow her to study nursing at a hospital, pressuring her to pursue a study of parliamentary reports instead. She reluctantly agreed, and after only three years of such study, influential friends regarded her as an expert on public health and hospitals.
It would not be until nine years later that her sense of mission would return. In 1846, a friend sent Florence the yearbook of the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany. This was a group that trained country girls of good character to nurse the sick. That night she remembered the vision that had been triggered when she had nursed the sheepdog, and this time she could not be talked out of her decision. A short time later she entered the institution, went through the full course of training, and began her career as a nurse. Once again, as in the case of Saint Giovanni Bosco, the combination of a dog and a dream would change history.
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