story book cats, followed by another one about even bigger cats, I've felt for some time that I really should write one about dogs too. They aren't called 'man's best friend' for nothing. Because there are so many literary dogs who seem to be jumping up in my mind and wagging their tails for a mention, I've condensed some of them into four specific categories, and finished off with my hall of fame. Here goes.
These are just jumpy, slobbering, reactive lumps with nothing between their ears. There's Odie, who lived in the same household as the smart cat Garfield. And Hagrid's wolfhound Fang, who's similar to his master, huge and exuberant, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. And years ago, Beverly Cleary wrote a kids' series about a boy named Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, who was surely one of the silliest dogs to be found, whether or not she intended him to come across as such. He got his young master in all sorts of scrapes, validating why Henry's parents didn't want a dog in the first place, in my opinion.
Lassie springs to mind here. It's not hard to form a mental picture of the intrepid collie dog who saves the day on numerous occasions. And remember the brave and resourceful Pongo and Perdita, the loving parents from 101 Dalmatians who save their litter of pups from the despicable Cruella DeVille, who intends to skin them for fur coats. The title characters of Lady and the Tramp become romantic heroes of their own story. But one of the most heroic I can think of is a farmer's dog named King, from I am David, by Anne Holm. He sacrifices his life by distracting prison guards so that the young concentration camp escapee can scramble over the border into Denmark. I read the book for English in High School, and feel a lump in my throat after all these years just thinking about it. And there's Old Yeller, who earns the love of a farm boy named Travis by faithfully protecting his family, although he dies from the bite of a rabid wolf in the line of duty.
I'll get patriotic here. Australia and New Zealand boast some pretty cool story dogs. There's the faithful and loving Red Dog, who spends years trying to trace his dead master all across the country, and finally passes away in front of his grave. And I love Dog, the border collie hero from the Footrot Flats comic strips by Murray Ball. He embodies the prototype of the Australian male, wanting to come across as tough and independent, but hiding a soft and sensitive interior, just as he conceals his real name. I don't think it's ever actually revealed, although the character Aunt Dolly thinks it so 'refined and aristocratic.' Dogs in our part of the world are called just what they are.
But some dogs deserve accolades all of their own. I'll give them a specific mention.
Tricki-Wu - Most Pampered
This fluffy little Peke belonged to the wealthy widow Mrs Pumphrey, from the All Creatures Great and Small series written by Yorkshire vet James Herriot. This dog lived a far more lavish lifestyle than many of the humans James came into contact with, yet Mrs Pumphrey didn't realise she was killing him with kindness. Tricki fared much better on the one occasion when he was allowed to mingle with other dogs, behind his mistress' back.
Snoopy - Most Ambitious
Generations of people love Charlie Brown's beagle. He's found sympathy with many aspiring writers because of his literary aspirations. When I think of Snoopy, as often as not he's sitting on the top of his kennel with his type-writer, making cynical observations about the meaning of life, and wondering why publishers aren't fighting each other to get hold of his treasures.
Scooby Doo - Most Brave
OK, we know he's a trembling coward, but he's most brave in a 'feel the fear and do it anyway' sort of way. He doesn't risk his life through mystery after mystery just for the promise of a Scooby snack. He's committed to his friends too, which is what I really believe keeps him going. I can hear him with my mind's ear, calling, 'Shaggy, heeeelp!'
Dog Monday - Most Loyal (although Old Yeller and Red Dog could dispute his title)
This plain little 'bitza' dog belonged to Anne of Green Gables' son Jem. He features in the final novel about the Blythe family, Rilla of Ingleside. When his beloved master goes off to fight in the war, Dog Monday takes it into his scruffy head to wait there at the train station for his return. That's exactly what he does, for four long years. I'd challenge anyone not to choke up when they read the scene of Jem's return. Awww, tissue box, please.
Addison McHenry - Most Weird
What a character! He's in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series, outstanding because he's a peculiar dog who can talk, and has a super nose for sniffing out lost peculiar kids. He's a pipe smoking British boxer who wears spectacles. 'Until they start manufacturing canine contact lenses, I'm stuck with these.' In spite of his gruff, straightforward manner, and refined British ways, he occasionally exhibits traits of a normal dog, such as lickings and tail-wagging. Not to mention he pulls off some pretty heroic stunts. That's why you've got to love him.
What's the thing that put me off delving deeply into dog stories for so long? Some stir my emotions way too much. My eyelids have been prickling even writing this blog post, let alone re-reading and watching all the stories. You just know that if someone advertises a story about an intelligent or heroic dog, there's a good chance he'll a goner!
The good news is that we don't see many fierce and obnoxious characters in dog stories. But the bad news is that our loyal, faithful friends are so often sacrificed for the sake of a good tear-jerker.
I feel as if I've mentioned so many dogs we've all loved over the years, but there's bound to be more. Please mention any I may have overlooked. And if you want to say a few warm words about your favourites from this list (or about dogs in general), please go ahead and do so. I'd love to know if these characters have stirred up other people's emotions as much as mine.