Monday, June 11, 2012


Class Conscious America
The Victorian public believed only mutts got fleas 
and purebreds never got rabies.

Prior to 1900, magazines and newspapers touted only dogs of  the highest pedigree.  Stories of courageous breeds trained to save lives sold newspaper after newspaper and popularized the Newfoundland and the St. Bernard breeds. 

  To the rescue:  The noble and sagacious Saint Bernard 
rescues yet another lifeless snowbound child.

The January 1859 edition of Hutchings’ California Magazine informed the reader, “The Alpine spaniel, or "Bernardine" and the Newfoundland are the noblest fellows of their race. The peculiar characteristics of the Bernardine dog---its almost human sagacity and untiring patience in discovering and rescuing passengers from the snow drift---are familiar to the minds of every child who has read or heard of the convent  on  the top of Mount St. Bernard.”  

Rooting for the Underdog
  But by the second decade of the 20th century there was a significant shift in our attitude toward mongrels.  
Two little tramps
Any dog, blue-blood or not, could be the star in his own story, and by 1930 when the rich were being villainized, the muttier the mutt, the better the story.  Clever street smart curs who lived by their wits were the celebrities of their day.  This article is about a little mixed breed dog who saved the life of a police dog. (German Shepherds were called police dogs).  The caption reads, "Dr. J. J. Hogarty of Oakland caring for injured police dog under guard of a mongrel Spitz."
Any story about a mongrel dog down on his luck with a happy ending sold a newspaper during the depression.  Journalists knew a good thing when they wrote it and enhanced incidents by dramatizing the pooch’s personality rather than its pedigree.  Newspapers promoted the idea that scrappy little street smart mutts didn't need no stinkin' training.  Unlike their purebred cousins, they were just born with an innate sense of justice. 

Loyalty stories made the front page, especially when dead owners were involved. This is an especially good article because Skippy receives his medal at the Oakland Kennel Club dog show amongst "the bluebloods."

The story reads, "Skippy's ancestors didn't bark alarms for the Pilgrim fathers to be up and to arms against the Indians.  Nor were any of them - so far as we know- at Valley Forge.  He didn't even have an ancestral representative at Bull Run.  In fact, even his mother and father are unknown.  But Skippy sat up there among the bluebloods yesterday and looked them in the eye.  Some dogdom circles sniffed when Skippy walked into the annual show at the Oakland Kennel Club, head held high, trim white ears erect, but with a sadness about him.  Even though Skippy was believed to be the the first dog of mixed breed ever to be exhibited at a blueblood show in the Nation, he was welcome for the most part.  Skippy is a hero... Skippy is the little white dog who kept guard over the frozen body of his mistress, Mrs. Winona Ferris, high in the Sierra near Quincy, staying by her side day after day, in the deep snow and bitter cold without food."

A friend owns a tattered scrapbook full of faded yellow newspaper clippings about hero dogs. All of the articles were cut out of the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune between 1924 and 1945 by some long forgotten dog lover. I post a few here from time to time because incredible dog stories, whether fib, fable, fiction or fact, are always worth a second printing.  See my other post Hero Dogs of the Great Depression


  1. Dogs are loyal and so many wonderful stories about them, really enjoyed your post and the last story, sad but sweet.