*Somerset, PA Daily American, May 8, 2010
as "Dogs: The Noble Species"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
In the middle of a mini-park along Market Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania is the memorial to Morley's Dog. This bronzed life-sized statue of a French Bloodhound has been the source of a host of tales, from the heroic to the mundane. In the movie "Slap Shot" the dog was credited with having saved his master, or several people during the Great Flood of 1889. The urban legends that surround this iconic statue have seemed to multiply over the years, but the current definitive "truth" is that the dog was never real to begin with.
It seems that a Johnstown resident named James Morley, a Bethlehem Steel executive, purchased the original statue and had it placed in his yard. During the flood, the statue was washed from it's resting place, ending up in the massive pile of debris at the stone railroad bridge, where it was retrieved and put back. The hero legend gets confused with a true hero dog, a Newfoundland named Romey. During the flood, the Kress family was trying to climb to the roof of their home to escape the roiling waters. Mrs. Kress and one of their children, along with one of their servants, were all swept from the roof. Romey dived into the water and saved all three of them.
This is a common story. Over the centuries, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories of dogs risking and even losing their lives in defense of their owners. I found a website, http://www.dogguide.net/25-hero-dogs.php that contains the stories of 25 such hero dogs. I won't steal the site's thunder by copying those stories here. You have the link, I encourage you to follow it.
Dogs have always seemed to have a streak of nobility. Even in fiction, dogs are regularly portrayed heroically. Argos, the faithful companion of Odysseus, Jack London's Buck from "Call of the Wild," Laura Ingalls Wilder's protective Bulldog, Jack, and of course, the legendary Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin.
In our house, we are "protected" by a scrappy little terrier of uncertain parentage whom we call Tweeter. He is enormously affectionate and (to use that overexposed descripter) disarmingly cute. He is usually friendly and regularly charms the socks off of everyone he meets.
But even in his abundant good nature, he seems to be convinced that he is the first line of defense of our household. We live on an alley, and people who walk or drive by are notified by his ferocious and persistant bark that he is on duty. The mail carrier has given him his own name: The Carnivore. I don't know what the source of the enmity is that dogs seem to have for these harmless blue-suited public servants, but Tweeter goes absolutely bazonkers when he hears the mail slot open by the front door.
Halt! Who goes there?To my wife, he is her guardian. When I'm home, passersby are treated to a muted "whuff." But as long as she's at home, he turns into Rin-Tin-Tin.
We also have a cat, a pure white domestic short-hair named (naturally) Leia. Leia is the exact opposite. When company comes, she flees to the basement or out the back door, refusing to come back until company leaves. One weekend, when we had family over, my wife had to march out through the deep snow and retrieve this shivering feline from the top of a snow drift, lest she freeze to death. Like all cats, she gives affection only on her terms and on her schedule. One of her favorite things is to wait until I'm in bed, then curl up on my chest, her face inches away from mine, purring contentedly. This is exasperating because she always picks the direct line of sight between me and the television. I could delude myself into thinking that such behavior is her way of expressing love and devotion, but I'm smart enough to recognize when I'm being used as warm furniture on a cold night. She's not much protection. I watched her one day as she let a mouse run across the basement floor not even three feet in front of her nose. She never even twitched. The only thing she's ever attacked has been our furniture, which she does regularly.
As pets, dogs and cats are pretty much polar opposites. Tweeter and Leia tolerate each other most of the time, although at least once a quarter, Tweeter will, out of the clear blue, leap up and chase her around the house and eventually out the back door. I don't know why; perhaps a political disagreement? But a random thought drifted into my brain this morning while walking by Morley's Dog:
Why are there never any stories about heroic cats?
Heroic cats are uncommon characters in either print or electronic media. The only one that comes to mind was the Siamese that accompanied to two dogs in the novel "Incredible Journey." In Andre Norton's novel "Daybreak: 2250 A.D.," housecats have morphed into Puma-sized animals with ESP. But outside of those two examples, I can't think of very many others. Or any others.
Could it be that they lack the streak of nobility and valor that dogs seem to have written into their DNA? Or perhaps because dogs are pack animals, while cats seem to be solitary independent creatures? I've given up trying to analyze Leia, while I think I have a firm grasp on Tweeter's state of mind.
I should add here that the presence of both animals in our home are as a result of reverse inheritance. We also had a similarly-obtained second cat, a pure black one named...(no, not Darth Vader)...Ebenezer. Ebbers, as we called him, was far easier to understand. He was a gregarious pet, very affectionate; a pure Tom, who loved to go galavanting at night. Often, he'd come home with battle wounds incurred in ongoing disputes with Somerset's herd of feral cats. Try as we could, we couldn't change his nature and one day he just didn't come home. Whether he was the victim of other cats, or a motor vehicle...we will never know. But we miss him, just the same.
Perhaps there are stories of heroic cats out there. I just couldn't find any. But, as life has taught me, if I find myself in a pickle, I'll expect heroism from my dog. And the cat?
I'll let you know as soon as she crawls back out of the linen closet.