The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Eventsby Stanley Coren, Andy Bartlett (Illustrator)
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Over the Course of Three Decades, noted psychologist and renowned dog expert Stanley Coren has amassed a truly remarkable collection of stories, some of which he has shared with characteristic charm in his celebrated previous books. Now, in The Pawprints of History, the stories themselves are the focus and readers have the undiluted pleasure of sharing in Coren's unique trove. A lighthearted romp through the ages with a special eye out for man's best friend, Coren's vignettes of dogs in the great dramas of human history are a delight. As history's great figures strut across the stage, Coren guides us from the wings, lovingly picking out the canine cameos and giving every dog of distinction its day. He vividly depicts the dogs who have played a significant role in the lives of many historical figures, and shows how their relationships with their people have directly influenced the course of world events. In this unparalleled chronicle, we see how Florence Nightingale's chance encounter with a wounded dog changed her life by leading her to the vocation of nursing. We learn why Dr. Freud's Chow Chow attended all of his therapy sessions and how the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama was saved by a dog who shared his bed. We see the obsessive love of King Charles II, who gave his spaniels hereditary titles of nobility so that they might go with him into the House of Lords. From canines who accompanied the rulers of ancient Egypt to those belonging to the presidents of the United States, dogs have been companions as well as political symbols and instruments of public relations -- including Calvin Coolidge's collie Prudence Prim, who had a cheerful collection of fancy hats, and Bill Clinton's chocolate Lab, Buddy, who made timely appearances to help his master through photo ops. Even when the four-footed witnesses are not the decisive characters, it is gratifying to know that, for instance, in the thick of the Battle of Germantown, George Washington called a case-fire solel
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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.
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Stanley Coren an international authority on sidedness, is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog (2010), among other books.
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