Saturday, July 4, 2009

Dog Tales

My friend Dave—my best friend's husband and a regular reader of this blog—is one of those rare creatures, a native Austinite. He loaned me a book called Dog Tales by Walter E. Long, "the same author of Dogs Who Have Owned Us." His name will be familiar to Austinites who have boated or swum in Decker Lake, which is east of the city and renamed for Long a while back. Long self-published the book in 1968. Dave's copy is autographed and dated August 3, 1970. All proceeds from the book's sale were donated to a unidentified dog shelter. 

Mr. Long is a writer of modest gifts who gives no information about himself. He calls himself "The Compiler." His focus is the stories of the 15 dogs that "owned him" from the 1930s to the late 1950s. They include Tim, Sally, Sambo, Jingle, Furlough, Puddles, Missie, Rusty, Measles, Hank, Punkin, Ben, and three sheepdogs named Sister. 

Here's how the book begins: 

"There is something about a dog--oh well, you know what I mean, unless you don't like dogs. It does not matter with me whether they are wet or dry, clean or bathed, big or little. When a dog looks at me with an appraising eye, and wags his tail, he is my friend. I'll give him my shirt. I'd do the same for some of my acquaintances if they could wag theirs. 
He is not a hypocrite or double dealer. When you have won his wagging tail or doggy smile--by ears--he's your friend. The value of his love is measured in devotion not in gold."

Introduction to Dog Tales 
Photo is of "the little orphan . . . in his cage"

Long with Sister One

It is clear that Mr. Long is a friend of dogs, but what is also obvious is that he lived in an Austin that is almost unrecognizable today. Attitudes towards dogs—their roles in the family and their care and containment—seem careless and irresponsible compared to how Parkers treat their animals. But in Long's world, vaccines for parvo, distemper, and rabies as well as medications for heart worm and treatment for cancer, which we take for granted now, were not available, and dogs often became fatally sick overnight. Dogs ran free in the city but also in the way of oncoming cars. Long writes lovingly of each dog that entered his life, but most of the narratives end with the dog's sudden, untimely, and often painful death: 

"On a snowy day in February Tim amused himself by playing with a sack on which a stray dog with distemper had lain. Tim contracted the disease and we lost him."

"After two years [Sambo's] fate was sealed by distemper and although Sis [Long's daughter] sat up with him many nights he finally succumbed." (Long, in an attempt to save his dog's life, paid another owner $6.00 in order to draw blood from the dog for a transfusion for Sambo. The procedure did not help.)

One dog is allowed to regularly raid trash cans and ultimately "his failure to eat regularly, his return to trash-canning, and intermittent nights out resulted in his contracting some disease from which he never recovered and he went to dog heaven." Two other dogs die of "undetermined internal trouble."  Another contracts "a peculiar disease from the urine of squirrels or rats for which there seems to be no cure." The dog died "in three days time."  One dog dies from cancer. Another is crushed by a car. 

Long himself was vulnerable to dog-related illness. At one point a neighbor's dog bites him, and he needs nine stitches. He writes "Rabies have not yet set in." 


Some of Long's dogs, though, do live long and happy lives. Sally lives to be old (nine years) and fat (though heart worm finally does her in). Sheepdog Ben serves as a local stand-in for the actor-dog in Disney's Shaggy Dog film. Ben gets mobbed by hundreds of fans at the Paramount Theater on Congress Avenue and signs hundreds of "autographs" like this one. 

Ben's fate, and his sister Julie's, are not described in the book. So they must have been alive and well in 1968. Let's hope they had happier endings than many of their predecessors did.

Here's how the book concludes:

You may have kicked or ruthlessly scolded him, by he forgave your acts and licked your hand before you realized your crudeness.
From his humble pallet in kennel or basement he keeps an eye open for your protection, or an ear cocked for impending danger to your possessions. 
[. . .]
He humbly takes his place in society, and too often, without appreciation, unostentatiously gives his live for those he owns."

Does this describe any of the dogs we know? 

Many thanks to Dave for lending me Long's fascinating book. 

1 comment:

  1. What a great book! If Long were alive today he'd definitely be a Parker.

    Anyone who likes this would probably enjoy the contemporary writer Jon Katz's books. Start with "A Dog Year" - you will be laughing and crying at the same time.


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