Our daughter Jessica sent me word of an article on CCN.com a few days ago that she thought I'd enjoy. She was correct: "Ten dogs that changed the world," which at first glance I mistook for the title of John Reed's famous 1920's reporting classic, "Ten Days that Shook the World," and thus interesting to me, turned out to be, instead, a listing of famous dogs in world history, by Canadian professor of Psychology Dr. Stanley Coren, in his book "The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events,." you know, the kind of filler that newspersons have to use on days when neither Paris Hilton, Linsay Lohan, nor Britney Spears has drunkenly driven her Mercedes into a group of hapless pedestrians, to make newsworthy stories for the press.
Number 10 on this list -- meaning least important, I guess -- is Donnchadh, the dog of unspecified breed, who belonged to Scotland's Robert the Bruce. When, in 1306, England's King Edward I somehow got wind of Robert's traitorous plan to take over Scotland, Edward got hold of Donnchadh, probably with an extra-large box of "Milk Bones,"and used him to locate the unruly and obstreperous Robert. At this stage of the story, it's very hard to see how such a treacherous act could entitle the pooch to a ranking in Coren's list of canine heroes. ( Might as well include Benedict Arnold and John Wilkes Booth, too, while you're at it.) But then, the story goes, having led his master's enemies right up to the poor guy's back door, he turned and attacked the attackers. (Well, Coren never claims dogs, even the brave winners of his poll, are very bright.) ("Lie down, Donnchadl, you dumb cur, you!")
Number 9 trophy goes to composer Richard Wagner's "Cavalier King Charles spaniel" named Peps (anyone know what he would look like?). When Dick sat down at his piano to play his newest composition, he sat Peps down on a special chair and watched the mutt's reaction to his new, untested music: it the dog seemed to like it, the orchestra would begin practicing it next Monday morning; if not, the sheet music would soon end up lining Wagner's canary's birdcage. Now, that may sound weird, but when I was a youngster and taking piano lessons, I sat down at the Steinway each afternoon after school, and began tickling the ivories. As the first few sounds rose around me, my loving, if undiscriminating, miniature collie Dickory, from beneath the piano, would start to crooned (well, "howl," then). Come to think of it, Dickory, not gifted with much judgment or taste, except for "Milk Bones," crooned for pretty much everything I played, no matter how poorly. ("Atta girl, Dickory! Good dog! Here, girl, have another "Milk Bone! Here, have two!!")
Number 8 trophy goes to President Nixon's cocker spaniel Checkers. (Are any of
you half dozen newspaper readers out there old enough to remember Nixon's televised Checkers speech?) Running for Vice-President in 1952, "Tricky Dick," as he was already beginning to be called by those in the know, had accepted from a nameless Republican the cute little four-legged gift that, for Democrats, immediately came to represent everything that was corrupt about the Capital. Accused earlier in the campaign of having accepted $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions, Nixon, now suddenly accused of having accepted Checkers, must have seen his future going down in flames. A cunning plan must have come to him in a dream. So, with tears streaming from his eyes, a black-and-white photo of the little Checkers on the wall of the TV set, the would-be V-P dug in at his last stand:
"And you know," Dick said bravely, before the remorseless TV camera, "the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it." It was the pluckiest kind of political ploy, where Nixon wept his way into the American public's sympathy and saved his own political future. But how the cocker Checkers, whose sweet photo had been only a stage prop, "changed the world," is still a mystery to me. The thought that a mere dog could be responsible for saddling the whole American people with the Vietnam War, to say nothing of Richard Nixon himself, depresses the hell out of me. ("Bad dog! Look at what you did!!"). But no! It was how Tricky Dick manipulated the image of Checkers, not Checkers himself, that was the work of the devil. ("Bad photo of Checkers! Bad Republican set designers! See what you did?")
Trophy number 7: Trying to escape from the island of Elba, where he'd been exiled for "anti-social behavior" and inexcusable table manners, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1815, tried to escape to the mainland, but suddenly found his small stature and uncouth habit of keeping his right arm tucked firmly in his heavy overcoat no defense against the choppy seas that seemed bent on dragging him under. But, once again, a bit of ambiguous luck for the man who had plunged all western Europe into chaos and death: a fisherman's nameless but probably ripe-smelling Newfoundland (Let's call him Bob) saw the plight of the little twit and jumped in to save him. Oh my! Think of all the trouble Bob might've saved the world if only he'd let that evil little thing sink to the bottom. ("Bad dog, Bob! Look at what you did!")
Trophy number 6 goes to English Cardinal Wolsey's dog Urian (probably one of those annoyingly nervous, jumpy, yappy little breeds you used to hear behind front doors when, as a little kid, you used to scour your neighborhood selling magazine subscriptions), who, when Pope Clement VII extended his bare toe to be kissed by Wolsey himself for annulling Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (sure it's confusing, reader, it's European history, one reason the Puritans yanked anchor and sailed to America), jumped up and bit the pontiff's toe (which one history doesn't record; I'd guess the middle one. And I'd also guess that, whichever toe it was, it smelled nasty, given the primitive or nonexistent, state of 16th-century plumbing). Pope Clement, of course, wigged out, and, in a snit, annulled the annulment. ("Oh, boy! Bad dog! Go sit in your dog house until I call you for dinner or for another sensitive diplomatic mission!")
To be continued on Nov. 18.