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Saturday 25 January 2020

A Dogged Tale

The Wicked Queen’s obsequious mirror in the Snow White Palace can’t best this. Dog Devotion is absolute. It’s mountainous heaps of admiration plus love and focus. Such focus that it makes the lyrics of Cilla Black’s You’re my World levitate and revisit freshness on the misty banks of the Mersey.

You can’t put off your pet dog. Take a poll — ask handsome ‘own store’ pirate who denies being Quasimodo, or Adolph Kumar, the cable-laying cum communist house-painter. Ask the late nation-building Saddam’s ghost, Aqualung the hot item girl from Poland/Ukraine, and your unfriendly neighbourhood terrorist, Bin something, back from a quick trip to you know where.

But all the while humankind is busy opining on the dog, to it, you’re no less than a radiant planet, and it is honoured to be your happy satellite.

A bad encounter with a dog is normally an armchair experience of a literary kind. You can choose to meet the Hound of the Baskervilles or the Escapee from the Dog Crypt there.

But in real-time, you’d have to be a right nasty. Or the run in is with a rabid canine, a dog startled, scared, recovering from abuse, or fed on mad cow.

But really, considering all the many types, the genetic foundation of practically every well-known dog is less than 500 years old. Most dogs we know have been bred, Mandingo fashion, by man, according to a paper published by Elaine Ostrander and Leonid Kruglyale of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle) in the American Association for the Advancement of Science magazine. Interestingly, the duo looked into dog genetics to cast some further light on human ones.

Really ‘old family’ dogs, with a genetic trail going back some 12,000 to 14,000 years, do however exist. They include the Shar-pei and Chow from China, the Basenji from Africa, the Afghan from (paradoxically) Arabia, and the Siberian Husky — all close relatives, different as they may seem, of the wolf.

Another unexpected on this list is the small and fluffy Shih Tzu, which looks like a wind-up yappy toy. Just goes to show!

And if there is a look of bewilderment on your newbie but bred-to-be-fierce Rottweiler/Tibetan Mastiff/Pit Bull — please tell it/the entire platoon behind it, that we hereby hasten to add that we weren’t talking about them.

But in the main, dogs have been propping up human beings from the time the first wolf walked into a fire-warmed cave from the cold outside. Celebrated and enduring may well be good words to describe the man-dog partnership.

On the dog side of the ledger, is the civilising effect he’s had on man — the setting of value tones, and maintaining the aesthetics of a relationship. On the side of man’s evolution, observing dogs at play has led us to imitate their hind-quarters activity. Mankind has also taken the dog’s display of tooth and claw as a licence to bite, perceived enemies certainly, but also the hand that feeds.

Without doubt, it is the dog that has the better take on compassion; unhesitatingly welcoming proximity, even to the most dysfunctional, depressive or unpleasant amongst us.

Clearly, dogs can love normal people, and very many other kinds, with no resultant loss of enthusiasm. Their invaluable assistance to the invalid, the lonely, the blind is well known. The dog’s light touch at apprehending criminals without offending their dignity more than is absolutely necessary is also a wonder to behold.

But praise from man, whom the dog knows for his mood swings, sometimes embarrasses the quadruped. Still, it was a pig, Squealer, that came up with the slogan, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: ‘Two legs bad, four legs good’.

The dog, on the other hand, has the wisdom to play the fool, happy to raise a laugh, and glad for a cuddle.

But man has been carrying on an anthropomorphic affair of his own. Dogs come in great variety, in style, plot, theme, song, book, art, film, fashion, cartoon and coffee mug. They’ve sparked a multi-billion dollar business, Thank the Great Borzoi in the Sky, in pet food and accessories, vet and dog shrink, beautician and sculptor — all the way from the kennel to the grave.

The make-like-a-dog audio honours go, famously, to a nameless Hound Dog of ‘you ain’t nothing but a…’ fame. This ditty, accompanied by pelvic action, caused TV impresario Ed Sullivan (a straitjacketed but hugely popular Oprah of his time), to picture Elvis from the waist up.

Not all famous dogs are nameless, though. Take Devil and his tag-line ‘He’s not a dog, he’s a wolf’ stated calmly when people go ‘Jeez, what is that!’ Devil accompanies The Ghost Who Walks out of the deep-woods at Bangalla whenever he goes into town — in hat, Fedora-pulled down over the eyes, and belted, (Burberry?) overcoat. This ‘town’ usually means a world apart, Chicago or New York, a long Dakota ride away. But Devil comes along.

It made for a nice contrast to the Bangalla forest highlights: Hero the white horse grazing in tranquillity. The waterfall in front of the Skull Cave flowing like a liquid curtain. Smiling, tourist poster quality Bandar Pygmy people in grass skirts, quite capable of doing you in silently with their poison blow-darts. And Devil — dematerialised into the forest.

A pair of literary top-dogs that best the recently departed Lee Falk’s Devil with the full power of towering characterisation is Jack London’s Call of the Wild featuring Buck, half St Bernard and half German Shepherd, and White Fang, half husky and half wolf. These dogs are the central characters of London’s books, alongwith Alaska and the Yukon respectively, as the supporting actors.

Others walk the stage in smallish, frequently furry and white aspect. They are capable of turning their masters into twittering messes at a flick of a tail or the cock of an ear. To wit: Snowy, Tintin’s inseparable, and one Dogmatix — beloved miniature four-legged buddy of menhir delivery man Obelisk.

There’s Size Big master of the yesteryear comic strip — Marmaduke. This is a daily romp with a Great Dane in a metaphorical suburban China Shop.

There’s Snoopy, atop his kennel, rather than in it, tended to by that stoic hero Charlie Brown, who served as a backbone to the late Schultz’s considerable wizardry.

There are so many literary dogs besides — untidy Ruff, alter-ego to one Dennis the Menace, Benji, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Scooby Doo, Deputy Dawg and gawrsh-making Goofy… The muppetisation and soft-toy industry seem well stocked too, but wait.

Before we forget the hunting and gathering days altogether, that original man-dog partnership deed may need another look yet!

Sparsely populated parts of northern Europe, rural farmland for centuries, are being reclaimed by the wild, and packs of wolves are back, alongside the occasional bear. This has not been seen since mediaeval times. It’s the declining or non-existent birth-rates, migration to the cities, a dwindling population.

Let’s face it — there is a good reason for Angela Merkel’s Germany to let in the Syrian refugees.

Gautam Mukherjee
Gautam Mukherjeehttp://ghatotkachseriesthree.blogspot.com/
Commentator on political and economic affairs

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