To our dear Ralph, I dedicate this post.
I’m sure he’s waiting for us somewhere in greener lands…
But we miss him here …
I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives, and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time ? (Sir Walter Scott)
We were eager to open on Scotiana a new category which would be devoted to Scottish dogs, the famous and less famous ones, the shepherds, the rescue workers in the mountains or simply the familiar pets who put zest into people’s life. They are omnipresent, loved and protected, on the Scottish soil, together with animals of all sorts, be they wild or domestic, but I could not have found a more appropriate date to open our new category about dogs than on this August 20th 2010, since it is ten years today that Ralph passed away.
We had dreamt to take him with us into Scotland in 2000 but we soon discovered it was impossible because our poor friend should have had to spend six months in quarantine in some isolated British kennel, like a prisoner, before being accepted into the country. Fortunately enough, things have changed and foreign dogs can now be admitted into Great-Britain without so much trouble, provided their masters strictly follow the new British regulations…
Our four-paws friend would certainly have enjoyed as much as we do the beautiful Scottish countryside, especially the wildest parts of it. He didn’t like towns…
Ralph was a dignified representative of the noble breed of German shepherds, aka Alsatians. Provided they are well treated and educated, these very intelligent and sensitive dogs can prove to be the kindest and most faithful companions. But dogs are lovable, whatever their breeds, and there are many wonderful stories, all over the world, about their courage and faithfulness. One of the most famous of these stories took place in Edinburgh, at the end of the 19 th century. It is a true story about a disconsolate little Skye Terrier, called Bobby, who spent 14 years on the grave of his master, after his death in 1858. He soon became a local hero and then got a well-deserved international fame as many of his fellow-creatures: Lassie in Britain, Mabrouk and Junior in France, Hatchi in Japan to mention only a few of the most unforgettable dogs. A gravestone has been erected in Bobby’s memory at the entrance gate of Greyfriars’s Churchyard, in Edinburgh, not far from the place where his master rests but I’m not sure the little dog has been buried there. Everybody knows him as Greyfriars’ Bobby. A sign with his familiar effigy hangs on the bright-coloured façade of the crowded Greyfriars Bobby’ Bar, not far from the entry of the churchyard.
A bronze statue designed in 1872, by William Brodie has also been erected , in the 1960s, by Baroness Burdett-Coutts in memory of the faithful little Skye Terrier, at the junction of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.
There is a commemorative plaque on the pillared monument and a drinking fountain at its foot which is good for dogs when it is hot… a bar for dogs
Greyfriars’ churchyard with Bobby’s and Old Jock’s stones, Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar and his monument are pilgrimage places for dog lovers and landmarks for tourists in Edinburgh! We went there several times and, in 2007, after waiting our turn for a long long time, we finally ate a delicious meal in the crowded pub which contains a number of moving memorabilia of Bobby, of his master and of his friends…
On learning about this very moving story, in 2000, we promised to call at the little dog’s grave next time we would go to Edinburgh. I took the above paper picture in 2001, with the blackbird, the light on the name, and the roses…
In 2003, while I was walking along the dark and solitary alleys of the churchyard, looking at the graves and taking pictures of the place, an old man suddenly emerged from I know not where and began to tell me Bobby’s whole story in a very lively style and all sorts of anecdotes about Greyfriars’ churchyard. Indeed, this churchyard is well worth the visit in itself for it is a highly historical place.
My old storyteller looked rather wretched and I wondered if, like Bobby in his time, he lived in the neighbourhood in some makeshift and weatherbeaten shed. Maybe the old man was working there. Anyway, he seemed to know the place quite well and I thought he must also be a regular at the nearby Greyfriars’ pub I would lie if I told you that I understood all things he said to me that day but I took to the old man and promised him I would come back soon. We came back in 2006 but the old man was no longer there. I would have been pleased to see him hobbling along the path…but maybe it was his turn to peacefully rest there, in his dear churchyard…
Now, if you are a fan of Scotland and if you do love dogs, let me advise you to read the marvellous stories of Moobli and Rangi. I am very grateful to Margaret and Iain to have offered me these very interesting and moving books. It touched me deeply! In reading them I’ve laughed and wept quite a lot but I’ve also learned many things about Scotland and Scottish people.
Moobli and Rangi are fascinating books which describe the harsh life and adventures of two German shepherds always ready to help their masters, sometimes in the peril of their life, one in the wild and solitary island of Shona, and the other in the beautiful and dangerous mountains of Glencoe. The story of Moobli is particularly moving since it is told with a lot of humour and tenderness by his master, Mike Tomkies, a well-known naturalist with whom the dog shared the life in the wilderness, from puppy age to death.
The story of Rangi inadequately began in a small flat of Greenock and after hardly escaping the fatal injection, at the local surgeon veterinary, which would have permitted his first masters to get rid of him. He was rescued by Hamish MacInnes and Dr Catherine MacInnes, a very nice and locally well-known couple of mountain rescuers who intended to create, with their first dog Tikki, a dog rescue team in the more and more frequented and dangerous mountains of Glencoe. German Shepherds, like the big and friendly St Bernards, are very good avalanche dogs.
I will tell you more later about Bobby, Moobli and Rangi for it would be definitely too long here to tell the detailed stories of these dogs and their masters. Each story is well-worth a page and a long one.
I would like to end this post on giving you some extracts of my favourite pages about dogs and, of course, I will focus mainly on Sir Walter Scott who is not only one of the greatest Scottish writers but also one of the best dog lovers I’ve ever learned about. I’m always discovering new and quite touching anecdotes about him.
[Camp] died about January 1809 and was buried in a fine moon-light night, in the little garden behind the house in Castle Street, immediately opposite to the window at which Scott usually sat writing. My wife [Scott's daughter Sophia] tells me that she remembers the whole family standing in tears about the grave, as her father himself smoothed down the turf above Camp with the saddest expression of face she had ever seen in him. He had been engaged to dine abroad that day, but apologized on account of ‘the death of a dear old friend;’ and Mr Macdonald Buchanan was not at all surprised that he should have done so, when it came out next morning that Camp was no more. (II, 248)
Lockhart, J. G., Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1837-38)
Sir Walter Scott was a genuine lover of animals. At one time his household included not only many dogs and a cat, but a talking raven known as Ralph;-), which was said to have died from immoderate imbibing of alcohol. Scott’s family and friends used the word tail – the same word used for the followers of a Highland chief – to talk about the immense posse of animals, not only dogs but also a pig which thought it was a dog, as well as a hen and a donkey, which followed their master around on his perambulations. In 1830 a visitor witnessed Scott taking one of his dogs (which had a cough) into his carriage rather than let it ford swollen streams, and wrote:
His tenderness to his brute dependants was a striking point in the general benignity of his character. He seemed to consult not only their bodily welfare, but their feelings, in the human sense. He was a gentleman, even to his dogs. (‘He was a Gentleman, even to his Dogs’: Portraits of Scott and his Canine Companions – Jeanne Cannizzo – In Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott – The Image and the Influence – Edited by Iain G. Brown 2003)
This reminds me of a very moving anecdote which took place some years ago in Bordeaux, rue Sainte-Catherine, at the end of a very cold winter day. My daughter and I were shopping for Christmas. The wind was blowing and we were hastening into the shops for it was freezing cold outside. We suddenly fell upon a very young woman, under twenty it seemed, and of a very frail constitution. She was sitting in the street in company of her two dogs. Her clothes were far from being sufficient to protect her against the cold weather and she looked wretched and destitute. So pale was she that we feared she was going to faint. We approached her. The woman had covered one of her dogs, a german shepherd, with her only blanket. He was sleeping. When we asked her why she had put the blanket on the dog while she was herself freezing, she simply answered : “He is ill”… No need to say we gave her the whole contents of our purse, which was not much alas…
I really can’t help to largely quote Washington Irving, a famous American writer who was a fervent admirer of Sir Walter Scott, and came to visit him at Abbotsford, at the time when Sir Walter and his family still lived in a small ivy-covered cottage, near the place where the big house was about to be built. Washington Irving was cheerfully welcomed by the master of the place and he has left of his visit a very enjoyable essay. Indeed, John Lockhart makes large use of it in his fascinating Life of Sir Walter Scott.
After my return from Melrose Abbey, Scott proposed a ramble to show me something of the surrounding country. As we sallied forth, every dog in the establishment turned out to attend us. There was the old stag-hound Maida, that I have already mentioned, a noble animal, and a great favorite of Scott’s, and Hamlet, the black greyhound, a wild, thoughtless youngster, not yet arrived to the years of discretion; and Finette, a beautiful setter, with soft, silken hair, long pendent ears, and a mild eye, the parlor favorite. When in front of the house, we were joined by a superannuated greyhound, who came from the kitchen wagging his tail, and was cheered by Scott as an old friend and comrade.
In our walks, Scott would frequently pause in conversation to notice his dogs and speak to them, as if rational companions; and indeed there appears to be a vast deal of rationality in these faithful attendants on man, derived from their close intimacy with him. Maida deported himself with a gravity becoming his age and size, and seemed to consider himself called upon to preserve a great degree of dignity and decorum in our society. As he jogged along a little distance ahead of us, the young dogs would gambol about him, leap on his neck, worry at his ears, and endeavor to tease him into a frolic. The old dog would keep on for a long time with imperturbable solemnity, now and then seeming to rebuke the wantonness of his young companions. At length he would make a sudden turn, seize one of them, and tumble him in the dust; then giving a glance at us, as much as to say, “You see, gentlemen, I can’t help giving way to this nonsense,” would resume his gravity and jog on as before.
Scott amused himself with these peculiarities. “I make no doubt,” said he, “when Maida is alone with these young dogs, he throws gravity aside, and plays the boy as much as any of them; but he is ashamed to do so in our company, and seems to say, ‘Ha’ done with your nonsense, youngsters: what will the laird and that other gentleman think of me if I give way to such foolery?’”
Maida reminded him, he said, of a scene on board an armed yacht in which he made an excursion with his friend Adam Ferguson. They had taken much notice of the boatswain, who was a fine sturdy seaman, and evidently felt flattered by their attention. On one occasion the crew were “piped to fun,” and the sailors were dancing and cutting all kinds of capers to the music of the ship’s band. The boatswain looked on with a wistful eye, as if he would like to join in; but a glance at Scott and Ferguson showed that there was a struggle with his dignity, fearing to lessen himself in their eyes. At length one of his messmates came up, and seizing him by the arm, challenged him to a jig. The boatswain, continued Scott, after a little hesitation complied, made an awkward gambol or two, like our friend Maida, but soon gave it up. “It’s of no use,” said he, jerking up his waistband and giving a side glance at us, “one can’t dance always nouther.”
Scott amused himself with the peculiarities of another of his dogs, a little shamefaced terrier, with large glassy eyes, one of the most sensitive little bodies to insult and indignity in the world. If ever he whipped him, he said, the little fellow would sneak off and hide himself from the light of day, in a lumber garret, whence there was no drawing him forth but by the sound of the chopping-knife, as if chopping up his victuals, when he would steal forth with humble and downcast look, but would skulk away again if any one regarded him.
While we were discussing the humors and peculiarities of our canine companions, some object provoked their spleen, and produced a sharp and petulant barking from the smaller fry, but it was some time before Maida was sufficiently aroused to ramp forward two or three bounds and join in the chorus, with a deep-mouthed bow-wow!
It was but a transient outbreak, and he returned instantly, wagging his tail, and looking up dubiously in his master’s face; uncertain whether he would censure or applaud.
“Aye, aye, old boy!” cried Scott, “you have done wonders. You have shaken the Eildon hills with your roaring; you may now lay by your artillery for the rest of the day. Maida is like the great gun at Constantinople,” continued he; “it takes so long to get it ready, that the small guns can fire off a dozen times first, but when it does go off it plays the very d—-l.”
I’ve learned a lot of things about old Reekie and the Scottish wildlife in reading the lives of Bobby, Moobli and Rangi and what I can add to conclude this post is that I do love dogs more than ever.
For the readers who are not discouraged by the reading of some French lines – my book is in French;-) – I will add a very intriguing extract from a book by Dino Buzzati, an Italian author whom I like very much. The drawing on the bookcover has been made by him.
Anita put entendre, derrière elle, une sorte d’énorme marmottement, comme provenant d’une foule en train de prier à voix basse. Elle se retourna et vit que les lieux s’étaient soudain peuplés. Le long de la route qui longeait le terrain vague avançait un interminable cortège. Y regardant mieux, Anita s’aperçut qu’il s’agissait d’un enterrement. Sinon qu’il n’y avait pas de corbillard mais un immense convoi de véhicules à roues, attachés les uns aux autres comme des wagons de chemin de fer. Mais, en tête, y avait-il des chevaux ou une machine à moteur ? C’était impossible à discerner car le convoi se perdait à l’horizon. Sur ces véhicules, de hautes masses recouvertes de toile noire, et dont on ne pouvait comprendre ce qu’elles représentaient. Le spectacle était lugubre et redoutable.
Anita s’approcha. De cette procession s’échappait un sourd murmure parfois percé de quelque douloureuse lamentation, quelque sanglot, quelque pleur.
- Que se passe-t-il ? demanda Anita à un vieux monsieur qui marchait, tête basse.
Le monsieur lui répondit aimablement mais avec des accents désespérés :
- Madame, ce sont les chiens.
- Et qu’est-ce à dire exactement ?
-Ils sont tous morts aujourd’hui.
- Quels chiens ?
- Tous les chiens du monde.
- Tous ?
- Tous, y compris le mien.
-Mais comment est-ce possible ?
Le vieillard secoua la tête.
- C’est la vie, très chère madame. Les belles choses nous abandonnent, l’une après l’autre. Plus nous allons, plus nous nous retrouvons seuls. Il y a deux ans, ce sont les papillons qui ont disparu mais personne n’y a prêté attention. L’année dernière, les moineaux, vous vous souvenez ? Maintenant, et c’est bien plus triste encore, les chiens.
(Dino Buzzati – Bestiaire magique – Les vieux amis s’en vont )
Bonne lecture et à bientôt. Mairiuna
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
(William Shakespeare Cymbeline 1609)