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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Looking for Capt. Super-Pooch, Part II

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Our daughter Jessica sent me word of an article on CCN.com. "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. Part 1, or those who ranked 10-6, in reverse order appeared last week. Here's the rest of the list:

Trophy number 5 goes to Sigmund Freud's chow Jofi whom he used to comfort his psychotherapy patients while they lay on Sigmund's famous leather couch and spilled their guts. Who knows? Maybe the very sight of a big, four-legged, purple-tongued pooch reminded patients of their own traumatic childhoods (when some had murdered their parents in their beds), thus opening their diseased psyches for professional treatment, (My only question is, "Wouldn't a ceramic or stuffed cloth dog serve as well? Not having to be fed and cleaned-up after, it'd be more economical, surely a consideration for a beginning shrink in today's cut-throat market! What did Siggie's cur actually do? Nothing. "Dog that changed the world," my eye! )

Same with Charlie, President Kennedy's son John-John's Welsh terrier, who

merely sat still, at Jack's request, in Kennedy's lap, in the War Room, while JFK, embroiled in the nerve-wracking 1962 Cuban missile crisis, stroked the dog until he (JFK, of course) had regained his cool enough to whisk Charlie off his lap, stand up, ask one of his bosomy secretaries to remove the particularly wiry dog hair from his navy-blue trousers, and, finally, "make some decisions" that would de-fuse the crisis. (Why should this dog receive trophy number 4 for simply sitting in the President's lap and not relieving himself there? Heck, Marilyn Monroe did exactly the same thing, and she never got a trophy!)

Now, trophy number 3 is more like it! This one goes to Peritas, Alexander the Great's guard dog, probably a Great Dane, Siberian huskey, or German Shepherd. One day, when Alex was marching through Persia (yesterday's name for Iran, fittingly), he was swarmed by a big band of Iranian soldiers under King Darius III, one of the first sneak attacks in eastern European history (and doesn't that sound just like the Iranians?) Fortunately, Peritas, always alert, saw an Iranian elephant charging Alex, and, trying to save his master, jumped up and bit the big bully on the lip. (Now, I do approve of this acrobatic hoice! "Heroic" is surely the proper term, unless it be "Plum Loco," for any dog who thinks enough of his master to jump up and bite a charging elephant on his lip! What moxie! Who cares if the dog's main motive for risking his life was the prospect of an extra-large helping of "Milk Bones" for dinner? He deserves the Trophy, and not number 3, but number 1)

Trophies 1 and 2, in Dr. Coren's judgment, go to the soviet canine astronauts Strelka (Squirrel) and Belka (Little Arrow). Launched in Sputnik 5 in 1960, to gather information, they were the first critters to return to earth alive, and thus could furnish their brainy two-legged masters with all the information about space they could desire. (You can praise Strelka and Belka for their sheer physical survival in space where, as yet, there were no Howard Johnsons or Dairy Queens, but what can you say about the two-legged administrators who decided to send dogs into space instead of men? Is that an admission that in the 1960's space race with the Russians, the Russian humans felt Strelka and Belka were more expendable than human beings. ( "Strelka and Belka? "you respond. "Oh, come on, they were only dogs!") So, how come they've won top honors in the All-Time Greatest Dogs Contest?

Laika, the sweet-tempered Moscow stray who was sent into space all by herself, was truly the first sentient being blasted into space, but she never had a chance to win the race, much less a trophy, much less keep on living. For the brainy men who designed the spaceship that propelled her into space thought so little of her, in their incurable human egocentrism, that they neglected to make provisions for her safe return to earth. ("Poor girl! A creature who gave her life for information needed by human scientists ending up a piece of useless space junk!")

In retrospect, Dr. Stanley Coren, the originator and apparently sole judge of all the notable dogs in history, ought to be disqualified for gross incompetence, and the contest be conducted again, this time with a new set of qualified judges, half men, half women. For, let's admit that in the current contest it's not the dogs who have been chosen for their own sake; it's largely their human masters who have drawn Dr. Coren's interest. And of this set of 10 dogs Dr. Coren has chosen, only five actually do something: Robert the Bruce's dog Donnchadl; Richard Wagner's spaniel music critic Peps; the nameless Newfoundland who kept Napoleon afloat; Cardinal Wolsey's dog Urian, the biter of Pope Clement VII's toe; Peritas, Alexander the Great's dog, who flew up and bit on the lip a skyscraper-tall elephant which was trying to grind his master Alex into the Iranian dirt.

Of the above, I'd choose to honor only Peritas for bravery. Now, the remaining candidates chosen by Dr. Stanley Coren, do nothing: Strelka and Belka simply sit in a spaceship with no idea of where they're going, and without the slightest idea of how they'll pass the time, failing to bring along, for instance, a deck of cards or a game of "Scrabble" or "Trivial Pursuit." No, the thought apparently never crossed their minds. And what did JFK's Welsh terrier do to win a place in Coren's survey? Absolutely nothing! Just like Freud's chow Jofi, who also just lay still in his nervous master's lap while being petted over and over and over again. Big deal! And what did Checkers do for his country that day in 1952? Nothing. As a matter of fact, he didn't even appear on TV, except as a cute photograph on Tricky Dick Nixon's desk.

No, Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology, has muffed his charge badly. If he really wants to select dogs who have actually done something heroic, let him just find one of those dogs written up in small-town newspapers from time to time, who, suddenly sensing fire in the un-fireproofed houses where they and the members of their families live, rush to the bedside of the youngest and bark and bark and bark, then, if the child doesn't respond, drag him/ her to safety, without concern for his own safety. Or, if you don't particularly like that one, then find a dog taught to hold a brush and give him/her a set of paints and a fresh canvas, and leave the animal alone for a while. Chances are very good that within half an hour the dog, a medium-sized brush grasped in his/her paw, will have produced a dead-ringer for a Jackson Pollack or a Juan Miro. Now won't that dog be truly worthy of a trophy!