August 03, 2011

The Fiction of Faithful Dogs

Statue of Greyfriars Bobby (Daily Telegraph/Rex Features)
My dad, after several drinks of bourbon and time spent staring into the campfire of his last backpack hunting camp, once pronounced, "Dogs have by nature qualities that humans struggle to acquire."

(I don't know if that was original or not, but it impressed me enough that I wrote it down.)

Last week M. and watched Hachi: A Dog's Tale because everyone needs a weepy dog movie now and then.

John D. Voelker (a/k/a Robert Traver) once wrote (I paraphrase from memory), all dog stories are sad because they do not live as long as we do.

But sometimes dogs outlive us. Hachi is based on a Japanese dog who waited every evening for his deceased master to descend from his customary commuter train—which is why the American Hachi is an akita.

The faithful dog. "Fido."

The original Japanese Hachiko was commemorated by a statue. Another faithful dog waiting for a master who will come no more is also commemorated in Edinburgh: Greyfriars Bobby.

But revisionist history sees a hoax perpetuated for commercial gain in that sentimental tale, including a substitution of a new dog for the original (cf. Marie Laveau).
Dr Bondeson reckons the story was fabricated by James Brown, the curator of the cemetery, and John Traill who owned a nearby restaurant.

Word soon spread and visitors to the churchyard increased 100-fold, with animal lovers from across the country flocking to see the faithful celebrity dog.

Many donated money to the kind-hearted Mr Brown for taking care of him and almost all dined in the next door restaurant owned by a John Traill.

Dr Bondeson insists pictures and portraits of the dog, as well as contemporary accounts of his nature, show that the original Bobby died in May or June 1867.

He believes it is likely that Brown and Traill then substituted the original terrier mongrel with a similar dog, a Skye terrier, to keep exploiting Bobby's fame.

Dr Bondeson, who has published his findings in a new book, said: "I knew the famous story of Greyfriars Bobby but the more I researched it the more I smelt a rat.
Read the whole thing. Ah, those canny Scots.

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