DEAR DR. FOX: I read your column weekly, and continue to learn about animal care from you. One recent article brought to mind the true story of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier born near Edinburgh, Scotland.
This wee dog was a faithful companion to his buddy, Auld Jock, a shepherd in the 1800s. They were together day and night, and when Jock eventually died, Bobby slept on his grave for the rest of his life. For 14 years after the death of his master in 1858, the dog guarded the grave in a cemetery, leaving only for an hour or two to visit the tavern keeper who fed him and the sexton who built him a shelter.
There is a memorial to Bobby outside Greyfriars churchyard, and Walt Disney made a film of Bobby's life 1961. I have a novel about Bobby, originally written by Eleanor Atkinson in 1912. The story is full of twists, turns and tears, but is a must-read for animal lovers. I've just talked myself into reading it again. -- I.L., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR I.L.: I appreciate you bringing up the story of this remarkable dog and how the local community respected and cared for this grieving animal. I included a photograph of his monument in my book "Dog Body, Dog Mind" in the chapter discussing grief in our canine companions.
There is a monument to a dog named Hachiko in Tokyo, which I visited while lecturing there some years ago on animal care and behavior.
"Professor Eizaburo Ueno of Tokyo University adopted Hachiko in Akita prefecture in the early 1920s. The two were inseparable, with Hachiko accompanying his master to Shibuya Station each day when the professor would head off to work at Tokyo's Imperial University. The faithful dog would come back to the station each afternoon at 3 p.m. to greet Ueno upon his return. The professor died in 1925 while at the university and never returned for a final goodbye with his dog. But the loyal Hachiko continued to visit the station daily until his own death nearly 10 years later. His own death made headlines, and he was cremated and buried next to his beloved owner."
I find it appalling that there is not yet a memorial monument, along with all the memorials to soldiers killed in various wars, on the National Mall in Washington D.C. We should honor the dogs -- some of whom I helped in a military program to improve their stress-resistance and performance in combat during the Vietnam War -- along with the many equines, pigeons, trained dolphins and other animals who have served with us in times of conflict.
Many of us hold animals close to our hearts who have comforted, protected and stayed by us unflinchingly in times of crisis. And the wild ones, from soaring eagles to howling wolves, have inspired our spirits for millennia with what some experience as a sense of the sacred. Yet there are some who shoot wild animals for sport and treat companion animals in ways child protection agencies would call criminal.
I often wonder how much better this world would be if we all had the kind of loyalty, love and devotion so many dogs have given us over the centuries.
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