Tales from the Frontier - No. 8

The poor dog, in life the firmest friend, the first to welcome, the foremost to defend
- Lord Byron

It’s always dangerous to mention animals on social media or any kind of public forum. Reactions can be unexpected and vitriolic. Some animals lovers don’t seem to feel anything for humans.

Most of us only closely encounter animals in the form of household pets. (A trip to the zoo to see the elephants and lions isn’t really an encounter although a petting zoo probably qualifies). Matadors, wild-life vets (see footnote) and Crocodile Dundees don’t qualify in the ‘most of us’ category. The ‘most of us’ world is divided into three groups:

  • those who love animals inordinately;
  • those who’ll pat your dog, stroke your cat,then immediately forget about them;
  • and those who are frightened of, or dislike pets hanging around their ankles.
We’ve all seen the ‘welcoming’ part of the Byron statement in action. The dog jumping up in delight, or trying to wag its tail off when it sees the person who fills its food bowl returning. And it’ll usually be the ‘first to welcome’ because the cat pretends disinterest, the life partner could never move as fast as Fido or Rover, and the kids are too busy thumbing some machine or other.
The ‘defending’ bit depends on the temperament of the beast and cannot be relied upon. Rottweilers and fighting breeds can be trained to kill but I’ve known one or two Labs and Cavs who were born cowards and prefer to slink under the sideboard. Still, one out of three Byronic dog qualities may not be as good as Meatloaf, (video) but it’s at least on the scoreboard.
Reading about Byron’s life brings little surprise that he regards the ‘poor dog’ (why poor? See below) as the firmest friend. He so often let people down, betrayed them, slept with their relatives, or ran away after borrowing money from them that to admit to being a firm friend of his and remain constant would necessitate having brain damage or an IQ below the waterline. Or being a dog.
‘Poor’ dog might have resulted from Byron’s brief visit to Switzerland. In 2012, a Swiss newspaper reported that dogs, as well as cats, are eaten regularly by a few farmers in rural areas. While commercial slaughter and sale of dog meat is illegal, farmers are allowed to butcher dogs for personal consumption. ‘Poor’ dog indeed! The favourite type of flesh comes from a dog related to the Rottweiler and is consumed as Mostbröckli, a form of marinated meat. I doubt in these areas the Rottweiler would either be ‘first to welcome’ or be anywhere near ‘the foremost to defend’.
When you’re in the running to be the main course on a rural menu it seems sensible to keep a low profile.
It should be pointed out that according to Wikipedia, 25 million dogs were eaten worldwide in 2014 and the consumption of dog meat is legal in 43 states of the USA. Hot dogs might be literal in these states.
Byron aside, it is not quite so easy to understand why someone (and we all know of at least one person or FB friend) who, otherwise normal, is convinced their pet is their ‘best friend’. And it is not merely a form of words, they really mean it. They rarely post pictures of their life partner (they sometimes do have one) but flood social media in the false belief that we should care about snapshots and videos of the non-interesting actions of their pets. Some even give regular updates on how trips to the vet (see footnote) went. Shepherds and Police canine units rarely post videos of their dogs working and yet they have some potential to be interesting.
‘He understands everything I say’ is a statement often attributed to a person’s canine friend. I guess the reaction after shouting ‘walkies’ and shaking a lead, or calling ‘din-dins’ when scraping a tin into a food bowl might give this impression. Try explaining Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to Fido and see what reaction you get. Mind you, a similar dazed look of incomprehension might appear on the face of a human acquaintance. Indeed I know one or two people who can only understand emojis so such a test is probably unfair.
I have seen some cases round here when a dog might be truly considered a person’s firmest friend. That is among the homeless. When you’re squatting in a cold doorway with only your mutt for company then that particular ‘poor dog’ probably ticks all the Byronic boxes. And if you’re Swiss it could double up as a possible lunch.
Footnote: (UK meanings apply) Wild-life vets are veterinary surgeons for wild animals not ex-US serviceman who enjoy a knees-up. Vets are animal doctors and not restrained ex-US servicemen.