Small Dog Nation
By R. D. Flavin



Dinky the Chihuahua (CBS NEWS 2003) and Paris Hilton with Tinkerbell (MSNBC 2007).

     Trends seldom develop overnight, change is slow and subtle, yet there comes a time when we glance around and notice that “we’re not in Kansas anymore” and that there’s more than one little dog named Toto.  Indeed, there seems to be little dogs everywhere.  I’ve written about how the USA became an “SUV Nation,” a habit we continue, and also how I’ve some experience with dogs who are size challenged when compared with such iconic canines as Lassie, Ol’ Yeller, etc.  The Taco Bell Chihuahua likely played a wee part in the Grand Scheme of Things (GST), though with guessing so too did money-spoiled heiress Paris Hilton, dysfunctional attention seeker extraordinaire, with her ongoing collecting of small dogs.  I’d guess that I’m not alone in having an aunt who knitted sweaters for her poodles, still ...I’ve just noticed that guys are driving massive trucks with little dogs on their laps.  At some point when everyone was preoccupied with sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, politics and religion, we’ve become a Small Dog Nation.  How it happened isn’t nearly as important as what we're going do about it.


The gray wolves, Canis lupis, of northern Europe (Lepore 2008) and east Asia (Pennisi 2002).

      It’s been suggested that coyotes diverged from wolves about a million years ago, a “domesticated” wolf became genetically distinctive
around 150,000 BCE (that's before Homo sapiens sapiens, btw), while remaining unchanged in outward appearance from the common holarctic gray wolves of then and now, and that domesticated wolves morphologically began to change with modifications to their snouts, teeth, etc. into early dogs approximately 15,000 BCE (Vilà et al. 1997).  A multi-regional domestication of dogs is still considered alongside a single and “one-time only” divergence with compelling evidence indicating a significant contribution from the eastern Asian regions today referred to as China, Mongolia, and Siberia (Savolainen et al. 2002; Tsuda et al. 1997).  While African, Near Eastern, and Euroasian origins of domesticated wolves and dogs are continually better understood from their ongoing archaeological recovery (Dayan 1994), a unique multi-disciplinary chronology consisting of archaeology (Haag 1948), genetics (Leonard et al. 2002) and linguistics (Roach 2008) for domesticated dogs in the New World starting ca. 13,000 BCE delightfully questions the single divergence model with over a century’s worth of increasingly exacting scientific anthropology.

     Perhaps beginning as scavenging commensals following various hunter-gather groups (Schwarz 1939), opportunistically graduating to a warning sentry status against approaching danger reinforced with toleration or the occasional reward treat (Chamberlain 1890), sometimes becoming a necessary meal (Flavin 1996), and subjected to intentionally selective breeding the domesticated wolves became our modern Canis [lupis] familiaris, the common dog (Cohn 1997).  The canine is regarded as our “best friend” in the animal kingdom, though certain feline fans may dispute this conclusion.


Old World Natufian with puppy ca. 10,000 BCE (Davis and Valla 1978) and New World dog burial ca. 3000 BCE (Morey and Wiant 1992).

      While many are familiar with the veneration of cats by the ancient Egyptians, it should come as no surprise that dogs (and rather small-ish dogs, at that) were much appreciated by humans many years before the ca. 2000 BCE domestication of cats.  Above are two images of humans buried with their beloved canines.  The first is from the Mesolithic Natufian period in Ein Mallaha, Israel (the Canaanite “Chatzar Eynan” of Numbers 34:9,10) in which a human (likely a woman, though the skeleton’s pelvis is shattered which makes a positive sexual identification difficult) who was interred with a puppy carefully placed near the human’s head.  The second image is of another burial separated from the ancient Near East by approximately seven thousand years and miles.

     As mentioned above, dogs accompanied humans from Asia into the New World as early as 13,000 BCE (though glottochronology could assist models of initial migrations many thousands of years before though archaeology will have a difficult time locating evidence of coastal maritime activity with pre-Holocene era camp sites currently underwater some sixty or so miles off of any coast from Alaska to Chile).  Significant Native American linguistic diversity beginning after a ca.13,000 BCE migration seems widely accepted (Rogers et al. 1990), yet the original approach (see mention of "multi-disciplinary" above) of Prof. Cavalli-Sforza (Stanford, genetics) combining archaeology, linguistics and genetics (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1988) continues to be applied as with the recently confirmed dates of coprolites found at Monte Verde (be they human and dog or dog and human) to ca. 12,340 BCE.  Native Americans have always appreciated their dogs and vice-versa.  As with language diversity likely reflecting several migrations between ca. 35,000 BCE and 100 CE, those that took place after 13,000 BCE may well have contributed different ‘breeds’ of dogs each with their own unique traits and functions (e.g. companions, hunters, spirit-guides, occasional food source or, as with the Maya, a ritual food source).  From California (Haag & Heizer 1953), to the Midwest (Koster, IL, see burial photograph above), and into the Carolinas (Mlot 1997), early dogs maintained their uniqueness until the coming of the Europeans and their dogs, ...after which much interbreeding occurred.


Mayan statues of fattened small dogs ca. 600-900 CE (White et al. 2001).

      Our modern English word ‘dog’ is of uncertain origin (< Late OE docga; later, var. LG. dogge, Da. dogge, Sw. dogg, F. dogue) and is thought to have been initially applied to a robust breed of British dog, an English terrier or Canis anglicus, as attested according to the 3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the late 16th century with an entry in the first Dutch dictionary, Christoffel Plantijn’s Thesaurus Theutonicae Linguae (1573; Antwerp: Ex off. Christ, House of Plantini), “een dogghe, vn gros matin d'Engleterre, canis anglicus.”  Its vocabular co-existence with the Germanic ‘hound’ and the Latin ‘canine’ is just another example of the open and assimilatory nature of the English language.  Now, as to the specifics for the origins of small dogs, such data details might well cause previously unknown attention deficit disorders in some readers to manifest, so perhaps such will be delayed until another time.  Okay, there’s readily available material on small dog skulls (Wayne 1986), small dog DNA insights (Sutter et al. 2007), and other small dog this and that, yet I need to leave further specifics for those 'special' specialists.


Graphic depicting major modern dog breeds ((Travis 2004).

“We're all very different people.  We're not Watusi.  We're not Spartans.  We're Americans.  With a capital A, huh?  You know what that means?  Do you?  That means that our forefathers ...were kicked out of every decent country in the world.  We are the wretched refuse.  We're the underdog.  We're mutts.”  Lines spoken by the character John Winger from 1981's Stripes (written by Blum, Goldberg and Ramis; directed by Ivan Reitman; released by Columbia Pictures).

     I whole heartily agree with Bill Murray when he compares Americans to mutts.  We are.  Canine ‘breeds’ are convenient distinctions akin to artificial categorical separations such as race, religion or political affiliation.  All modern dogs are Canis familiaris whether or not we attempt to ascribe a difference according recent breeding pedigrees.  Ditto, Americans.  Indeed, this melting stew-pot of America contains contributions culled from nooks and crannies near and far, rare and common, equal and some ...more so.  As with the unequaled deeds and efforts of the Anglo-Scot immigrant to America, James Clark Redpath (born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England, a little more than two miles from the border of Scotland), who accomplished many impressive, if not amazing, works.


   
J. C. Redpath in Kansas ca.1856 (KSHS 2008), in 1870 (Pond 1900), a portrait (Horner 1926), and the cover of a new book (McKivigan 2008).  
     It pains me to apply the skinny to Redpath’s life, but I can’t bring myself to leave him out of this discussion and I shouldn’t devote more time and space than with a brief overview.  Redpath’s family emigrated from England in 1849 to rural Michigan, James had aspirations to be a printer, soon moved to Detroit where his feature writing work was noticed by Horace Greeley (the “go west” fellow), who offered the young James Redpath a newspaper job in New York City, which he accepted.  Inspired by the abolitionism cause, Redpath journeyed to Kansas, sent dispatches regularly back to Greeley’s newspaper, and one day stumbled into a ditch with John Brown, at the time a wanted man, though a few years shy of the Harpers Ferry raid which would eventually result in the execution of Brown.  Redpath wrote several books on Brown, the anti-slavery movement, extolled the right of Haitian independence in 1860, covered the American Civil War with a combination of sympathy and cynicism, then settled in the Virginias and served for a time as a superintendent of schools which allowed the attendance of African-Americans, then ...moved to Boston and commercialized the scholarly Lyceum movement, becoming an entertainment and booking agent, with Frederick Douglass as his first client in 1868.  Redpath’s subsequent clients and associates included Longfellow, Whitman, Twain, Susan B. Anthony, P. T. Barnum, politicians, scientists, reformers, etc.  It uncomfortably and literally takes my breath away when I consider the role that this guy played in our history.  He was the first American entertainment ‘agent’.  Our greatest American heroes wrote to him asking of the whereabouts of their lecture checks. Then, as now, the answer was usually “...in the mail.”  He opened branches of his lecture booking agency in every sizable city throughout America.  Though he dealt with so-called celebrities, he himself became classified as such.  A New York Times front page article about a two week disappearance and the possibility of suicide was over-the-top sensationalism as he was probably off in Ireland seeking funds for Irish famine relief.  And, irony trumps the best, he was run over by a horse-drawn trolley in New York City, a victim of ...our modern times, which again made the front page of the New York Times.  Yet, his name lived on and became a trademark of quality.  Though, as these things go, ‘quality’ soon drifted from scholarly lectures to popular entertainment.  One such example was ...a very successful trained animal act.  [Note: PDF versions of newpaper articles are online about Redpath's Lyceum, his supposed suicide, and his unfortunate death.]


1925 fold -out advertisement for Pamahasika's Famous Pets (U. of Iowa 2008).
     The Redpath Lyceum Bureau hired George E. Roberts of Philadelphia sometime around 1904 to perform as “Prof. Pamahasika” with an ever changing cast of birds and dogs.  His routine was quite popular and received rave reviews in newspapers from Boston to Chicago and St. Louis to Saratoga Springs.  Roberts has been described as a kind, gentle man who showed nothing but love and affection for the animals in his care (MacLaren 1938).  He continued to perform until the so-called “Chautauqua Circuit” ceased operations in 1932 because of America’s Great Depression.  Shortly before Pamahasika’s Society Circus faded from history, Robert’s talents were noticed by Dr. William Lentz, director of the Small Animal Hospital of the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  Lentz, an otherwise respected expert on dogs, had a rather queer notion that he could ...breed a race of super-dogs.  It seems Lentz was in touch with Gustave Michaud in France who believed he could ...breed a race of talking dogs.  I suppose such ideas as Lentz and Michaud’s make B. F. Skinner’s work with pigeons, rats and dogs seem almost mundane.


The "Little Mutt" Beacoup and a photograph of some of her "grandchildren" descendants (Eckhardt 1930).

      George H. Eckhardt, science writer and the author of such books as Electronic Television (1936; Chicago: Goodheart-Willcox Co.), Pennsylvania Clocks and Clockmakers: An Epic of Early American Science, Industry and Craftsmanship (1955; New York: Devin-Adair), and United States Clock and Watch Patents 1790-1890: The Record of a Century of American Horology and Enterprise (1960; New York: Privately printed), wrote a charming article in 1930 about how George Roberts found the little mutt he named Beaucoup wandering the streets of Roanoke, Virginia and how she and her offspring became “canine stage stars” in Roberts’ trained animal act.  Eckhardt was understandably critical of the claims of Lentz and Michaud mentioned above, though throughout the article he stressed again and again that mutts are smarter than the so-called pure breed dogs and that a decreased skull size inhibits proper brain growth and intelligence.  He ends his article with: “After seeing the work of little fellows [sic] like Beaucoup, Dr. Lentz believes that the ideal pet for the small boy is the little ‘mutt,’ found wandering about the streets of any town, rather than the nervous, inbred, and expensive creatures found on show benches (Eckhardt 1930, p. 367).”  Apparently the author and the two canine crackpots had little regard for small dogs.   

      Recently the Boston area has had some small dog moments which have attracted media attention.  The first occurred a couple of weeks ago when a small dog contracted rabies from receiving a rabies vaccination shot, bit it’s owner and had to be put down.  A spokesperson for the Boston MSPCA guessed that it was from a “bad batch” of rabies vaccine. ...I’m not satisfied with that answer (click here for more of the story).  The second incident involved an East Boston robbery in which a pug was stolen, though later recovered (click here for more).  As I’ve worked on this column over the last few weeks I’ve encountered many small dog owners, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, yet despite their differences they all shared the same love for their small dogs.  And, though the yapping does get annoying at times, I too appreciate small dogs, especially with a wild-rice stuffing and a tossed salad.  Ah, that was a joke...

     Pictured below are some of the small dogs I’ve encountered recently in Boston and its surrounding communities.  I thank all the owners for allowing a stranger to photograph their beloved pets and I wish them all many years of trans-species companionship.  As per the GST, we’ve become a small dog nation and I guess the only thing to do about it is to stock-up on doggie treats and ear-plugs.


Dexter and Bella

 
Maggie and Delilah


Sammie and Portia


Moto and Toto and Fluffy III


Chewy and Oscar and C. J.


Weebee and Maggie

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...and, perhaps his name is "Charlie," a pug riding the MBTA

Trying to lift my leg,
Rick

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