Question: Kip, my retriever mix, loves to swim in a nearby lake, but the water recently turned green. Is it safe for him to swim?
Answer: I recommend you keep Kip from drinking or swimming in green water; the color may mean it’s contaminated with blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. Some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that can sicken or kill animals and humans. Cyanobacteria live in both salt and fresh water and thrive in warm, calm water. When an animal ingests contaminated water, algae, or fish, toxins are released and quickly absorbed and circulated throughout the body, causing liver damage and neurotoxicity. Clinical signs can begin within minutes and include diarrhea, weakness, muscle tremors, paralysis, and seizures. Death can occur within a few hours.
This article is featured in the September/October 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: PJ photography / Shutterstock
Question: Baxter, my 5-year-old retriever mix, broke a tooth while gnawing on a bone, and the vet said his enamel was badly worn, probably from chewing on tennis balls. Can you suggest safer chew toys?
Answer: The nylon fuzz on tennis balls damages enamel in two ways: It’s abrasive even when clean, and it picks up dirt that acts like sandpaper on teeth. The lesson: Anything harder than teeth breaks teeth. The list includes natural and nylon bones, dried pig ears, hard plastic chew toys, and even ice cubes. Safe chew toys, the rubber kind, have some “give.” (Kong black toys are good for power chewers.) Offer Baxter a twisted rope toy and some dental chews. Also, increase his physical activity to tire him out before he settles down for a chew.
This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Photology1971 / Shutterstock
I hate the downside of summer as much as anyone. The heat. The humidity. Heat indexes off the charts.
I have also come to have a strong dislike for the meteorologists who stand at their weather maps with the dazzling displays of incoming low fronts or stalled high fronts and wrap up the forecast for another week of high temperatures and oppressive humidity with a dismissive: “It’s the dog days of summer.”
The term goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Astrologically attuned to the heavens, the Greeks and Romans noticed that the star Sirius (dog) rose with the sun in the hot days of summer, and linked the star and heat. In Anglo-Saxon times, the “dog days of summer” ran from July 14- September 5. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says July 3-August 11.
And on behalf of Tippy, Topsy, and Taffy, “Honeybubs” (long story), Toby, and Tinker Bell, Tracy, Tuppence, and Mr. Buttons, the dogs that have so enriched my 94 years, not forgetting my current Cocker Spaniel, Winston, I have to protest the calling of the worst days of summer “dog days.”
Dogs deserve better.
All 76,811,305 of them. That’s the number listed by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which notes that almost 50 million households own a dog. (That’s 38.4 percent for the statistically minded.) How much we care for (and about) them may be deduced from the $95.7 billion we spent on them in 2019 for food, medicines, supplies, veterinary care, grooming, and boarding, according to the American Pet Products Association. The estimated total for 2020 is $99 billion. If you’re not up on your Department of Defense prices, $75.38 billion will get you two of the new Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear aircraft carriers.
Our love of dogs is truly writ large.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was clear: “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”
The great majority of presidents have had dogs. George Washington, in fact, is not only the father of our country but of the American Foxhound. He imported some Foxhounds from England, and then the Marquis de Lafayette gave him some French hounds for breeding.
Theodore Roosevelt had a veritable menagerie, many of them his children’s dogs, but the leader of the Rough Riders, not surprising for such an outsized figure in our history, had a typically outsized dog — a Saint Bernard, named Rollo. (His son Kermit’s Manchester Terrier, Blackjack, is reported to have ripped the pants of a French ambassador.)
Although he, too, met many a dignitary, Fala, the Scottish Terrier that was a gift to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, apparently was better mannered and became far more famous. Certainly, he was photographed often enough. Today, Fala may still be seen keeping his master company, this time sitting a few feet from him in the National Memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the nation’s capital — the only pet ever represented in a presidential memorial.
President George W. Bush brought another Scottie to the White House, Barney. Come Christmas time, with the help of an aide who followed with a video camera, Barney gave Americans a tour of the White House, the greens on the mantels, the fruit arrangements in the state rooms, and the big, beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
Had my black Cocker Spaniel Topsy had an aide videotaping her by the Christmas tree in our white clapboard house, it would have gone viral today. For while Topsy, a year old when I bought her with my high school graduation money, had been welcomed into the family by my parents and me, not so by my cat, Blinkee Puss. She spent most of those first summer weeks under the living room daybed. On Christmas Eve, Blinkee Puss was lying on the floor near me when Topsy approached to play … to her, a threatening move. And what does a cat do at a time like that? Look for a tree.
I can tell you, 78 years later, there was never any doubt about when she landed or how high she climbed. It gives new meaning to living Christmas tree. The branches bounced. The lights — the old red, yellow, blue, green Technicolor lights — danced. The tinsel shivered. The ornaments oscillated.
Fast forward five years. My father had been transferred. Topsy and Blinkee Puss had found a new home with a neighbor who would take both of them, because they’d grown so close no one wanted to split them up. Our Christmas tree was in a Chicago apartment. And I, now working for the Chicago Daily News, had used the bonus I received for our student press conference with President Harry S. Truman — the first, and to date, only formal press conference ever granted by a sitting President to student newspaper editors — to buy a three-month-old buff and white Cocker Spaniel puppy. He was named Taffy; understandably, his AKC papers listed him as Cavalier of Caramel.
Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, and thereby Snoopy, summed it all up nicely. “Happiness is a warm puppy.” If you prefer the more literary approach, there’s Rudyard Kipling. “Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching.” I offer as proof — certifiable, verifiable proof — Taffy’s second Christmas with us.
I’d suffered from pneumonia most of the fall and had only been back to work a few days when I noticed the receptionist coming through the frosted double doors to the Chicago Daily News editorial offices with a tantalizing array of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents. Sometimes his arms were filled with the gifts from people and organizations who’d dealt with the various editors, writers, and columnists during the year and wished to show their gratitude and appreciation. As the week wore on, I became all too aware that not one, as yet, was for me.
I later read that a bout with pneumonia leaves a person not only physically weakened but emotionally sensitive. I like to think that explains it. By week’s end I was on the verge of tears all the way home, and once there let them flow. My mother tried to comfort me. Taffy came over in great concern.
Then … Taffy went to the Christmas tree, surveyed the array of gifts beneath the lower branches, and finding one small enough to pick up, he turned and waddled back, sitting up (one of his best tricks) in front of me with his offering.
Well, I wasn’t that sorry for myself.
I reached down to take it. After a bit, my mother headed for the kitchen to start dinner. Then, the sadness returned, the tears. Taffy went back to the tree, selected another of the gifts and brought it over, sitting up to present it to me.
We had him for almost 16 years, and never before nor during any of the Christmases that followed did he so much as touch a present under the tree.
I still wonder at how he knew.
But he did.
Dogs do. In ways we don’t know or understand, but recognize.
“I have found,” said Doris Day, star of so many lighthearted movie comedies, “that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in World War II — later, the 34th president of the United States — agreed wholeheartedly. He said, “The friendship of a dog is precious. It becomes even more so when one is so far removed from home …. I have a Scottie. In him I find consolation and devotion … he is the one person to whom I can talk without the conversation coming back to war.”
Some are formally called Comfort Dogs. The 23 Golden Retrievers flown to Orlando, Florida, to comfort the victims’ families following the tragedy at the Pulse club June 12, 2016, were part of a larger comfort corps — a program to provide canines for victims.
Some are Service Dogs. Who can forget the yellow Labrador who came into the home of President George Herbert Walker Bush following Barbara’s death to keep the 41st president company, watch over him. And who continued after his passing — photos without end showing him in the rotunda of the Capitol as the former president lay in state, the servicemen in their uniforms at the four corners, and Sully as close as he could still get to his master.
Others are Rescue Dogs. The death of the last surviving dog to work the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11, Bretagne, a Golden Retriever, was widely reported when she died June 6, 2016 — just shy of 17. She was two when she was deployed to Ground Zero as part of the Texas Task Force. She later helped with search and rescue in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Whatever the category of service, the role that dogs may play in our lives was key to a medical study in a PBS documentary from some years ago. Doctors had noticed that certain patients who survived a heart attack went on to live longer and more productive lives than others. Was there a reason?
Stopping to pick up a friend at the bus station, one of the doctors chanced to notice a man sitting on a bench in the waiting room, his dog seated beside him on the floor, the man stroking the dog’s head, absently, lovingly, clearly for the zillionth time. The doctor realized it was an unusual possibility. But he mentioned it to his colleagues at their next meeting. However taken aback, they’d found nothing else. They decided to check … and found their common denominator: a dog.
So forget “Dog days.” Here’s to dogs every day!
Winston seconds that.s
Featured image: Detail from “Backyard Dog Show” by Amos Sewell, from the July 8, 1950, cover of the Post (© SEPS)
I have found myself looking at Bella with great envy these past few weeks. As I try to tamp down my panic and get work done, Bella naps in her dog bed next to my desk. At certain intervals, spurred by some inner voice, she gets up and fetches her fuzzy blue Yeti toy and delivers it by my feet, her brown eyes full of hope. How can she be so calm while the world is falling apart, I wonder? But I’m grateful. Her calmness brings me down a notch.
Emotional support is the dog job of our times. For our long-ago ancestors, dogs may have performed other functions, such as co-hunting or pulling sledges, but now they are full-time furry mental health practitioners. As dogs offer us their grounding presence and help us weather the emotional storm of a global pandemic, we should reconsider what we owe them.
Now that we are keeping our human networks at arm’s length, our need for emotional closeness with our pets has increased. This is a boon for many homed dogs, because these steadfast companions are the ultimate anti-social distancers.
This inclination may be genetic. Scientists studying canine DNA have identified a gene for hyper-sociability; dogs are programmed for social closeness with humans, they need to be attached at the hip. Six feet, which is the new human definition of “personal space,” just doesn’t work for dogs. Being with us makes them calm and happy—just as being with them makes us calm and happy.
Our current solitude represents an opportunity to explore a certain one-sidedness in our social interactions with dogs. Why is “attention seeking” behavior in dogs—which is basically defined as them wanting our attention when we don’t feel like giving it to them—pathologized, with dogs sometimes punished and often medicated for it? Why do animal behaviorists advise us to ignore our dog’s advances?
I’m asking because now the shoe is on the other paw, and humans are suffering, in large numbers, from separation anxiety. We are separated from our friends, our social networks, and in many cases our parents or children. Maybe now we will get a taste of what millions of dogs are experiencing: the profound distress of being alone when we don’t want to be.
“Separation anxiety” is itself an example of the way we pathologize dogs’ behavior, which prevents us from understanding and empathizing with their experiences. A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science this January suggests that “separation anxiety” is not helpful clinically—because a diverse range of frustrations and distress experienced by dogs who are left alone too much are clumped under one vague label. Might we gain more sympathy for the canine set today, as we learn that our own experiences of social isolation are complex and multi-layered—and definitely uncomfortable?
We need the sympathy and safe companionship of dogs more now, as social distancing drives us into their furry paws. Those of us lucky enough to live with dogs already are reveling in more together time. The number of dogs being temporarily fostered has mushroomed over the past several weeks, as more and more people have been told to stay home. A New York Times story described how one animal shelter sent out a call for 200 foster placements and was surprised to receive 2000 applications.
This is wonderful and heartwarming. Yet I have some dark thoughts about it, too: Part of what is driving the fostering frenzy is the fact that people who work long hours away from the home and who have (rightfully, in my opinion) chosen not to have a dog are all of a sudden home all day. I fear that these dogs may get intensively loved on for a few weeks or months—until the virus does what it came to do. And then what? Many people who are fostering a dog while they are off work or working from home, who are “using” a dog for emotional comfort and social contact during this crisis, will have to return the dog to the shelter when all is said and done.
These people will have given dogs in need a beautiful gift by sharing their homes. But the sad thing is that the spark of hope and security that might be kindled in these open-hearted dogs will be dimmed when they must go back to the shelter. And although the home environment is, on average, going to be less stressful for a dog than the shelter environment, the transition from one to another can be very hard for dogs emotionally. Dogs shouldn’t be in shelters in the first place. When this is over we should do some collective soul-searching about a culture of dog ownership that leaves so many dogs adrift.
Even dogs who remain with their owners will struggle with adjustment when life returns to normal and people return to work. The rough consensus among trainers and dog advocates is that four hours alone is comfortable for most dogs, but long days home alone can compromise their welfare. Dogs’ frustration, anxiety, and loneliness can manifest in behaviors that, under non-covid19 circumstances, humans have labeled pathological. If the dogs remain in the home, separated from people and not getting enough attention, we may see an uptick in those so-called “behavior problems.”
Though this crisis is an opportunity for dogs to get more attention from humans, it is also a time of great risk for them. Reports out of China include heartbreaking details of dogs and cats who were abandoned during the lockdown and who are now starving to death. Here in the U.S., there already are reports of dogs being chained up outside, thrown out to the curb or being dropped off at shelters—all because of unfounded fears that the virus causing COVID-19 could sicken them. In truth, the giant packages of toilet paper that people are fighting over at the store are more likely vectors for the virus than a dog.
And this is just the initial wave. If past disasters and economic downturns are reasonable precedents, the numbers of dogs relinquished to the shelters or abandoned on street corners and rural highways after this crisis will swell.
Panic and upheaval can bring out the best in people as well as the worst. This is especially true in relation to our dogs. The crisis for dogs may look different and follow a different trajectory, but we need to be attentive to what it is like for them as well as for ourselves. The emotional ecosystem of dog and human is mutualistic and beneficial to both organisms. In times of crisis, they need us as much as we need them.
Originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.
Featured image: Shutterstock
Dear Daisy Dog: How can I stop Chester, my young pointer mix, from jumping on me and other people? I was told to knee him in the chest when he jumps, but that’s not working.
Daisy Responds: Chester is jumping on people because he wants attention. So let’s use that information and some positive reinforcement — which is always more effective than aversive training — to get what you want. When Chester jumps on you, turn your back to him, so you’re not making eye contact. Don’t speak to him. Raise your hands into your armpits so you don’t inadvertently pet him if he rubs his head against your hand. As soon as he has all “four on the floor,” turn around and ask him to sit. When he’s sitting, praise him and pet him. If he jumps again, repeat the process. He’ll soon learn that the best way to get your attention is to sit.
Ask the Vet’s Pets is written by Daisy Dog and Christopher Cat, with a little help from veterinarian Lee Pickett, VMD. Send questions to Daisy and Christopher at [email protected]
This article is featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Shutterstock
One of the common themes in Saturday Evening Post history is dogs. And to celebrate our Dogs special issue, we wanted to give you the chance to vote for your favorite pup in Saturday Evening Post history.
To vote, follow us on Instagram and click on the Stories feature. May the best doggo win!
The war correspondent and author MacKinlay Kantor wrote several novels on the American Civil War, like Gettysburg and his Pulitzer Prize-winning Andersonville. He also wrote crime stories, having gotten his start in pulp magazines. His story “That Greek Dog” looks at a small Midwestern town in the 1920s as its people grapple with a rising hate group.
Published on August 9, 1941
“He received . . . praise that will never die, and with it the grandest of all sepulchers, not that in which his mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men.”
-Thucydides (more or less).
In those first years after the first World War, Bill Barbilis could still get into his uniform; he was ornate and handsome when he wore it. Bill’s left sleeve, reading down from the shoulder, had patches and patterns of color to catch any eye. At the top there was an arc — bent stripes of scarlet, yellow and purple; next came a single red chevron with the apex pointing up; and at the cuff were three gold chevrons pointing the other way.
On his right cuff was another gold chevron, only slightly corroded. And we must not forget those triple chevrons on an olive-drab field which grew halfway up the sleeve.
People militarily sophisticated, there in Mahaska Falls, could recognize immediately that Mr. Basilio Barbilis had been a sergeant, that he had served with the Forty-second Division, that he had been once wounded, that he had sojourned overseas for at least eighteen months, and that he had been discharged with honor.
His khaki blouse, however, was worn only on days of patriotic importance. The coat he donned at other times was white — white, that is, until cherry sirup and caramel speckled it. Mr. Barbilis was owner, manager and staff of the Sugar Bowl.
He had a soda fountain with the most glittering spigots in town. He had a bank of candy cases, a machine for toasting sandwiches, ten small tables complete with steel-backed chairs, and a ceiling festooned with leaves of gilt and bronze paper.
Beginning in 1920, he had also a peculiar dog. Bill’s living quarters were in the rear of the Sugar Bowl, and the dog came bleating and shivering to the Barbilis door one March night. The dog was no larger than a quart of ice cream and, Bill said, just as cold.
My medical office and apartment were directly over the Sugar Bowl. I made the foundling’s acquaintance the next day, when I stopped in for a cup of chocolate. Bill had the dog bedded in a candy carton behind the fountain; he was heating milk when I came in, and wouldn’t fix my chocolate until his new pet was fed.
Bill swore that it was a puppy. I wasn’t so certain. It looked something like a mud turtle wearing furs.
“I think he is hunting dog,” said Bill, with pride. “He was cold last night, but not so cold now. Look, I make him nice warm bed. I got my old pajamas for him to lie on.”
He waited upon the sniffling little beast with more tender consideration than ever he showed to any customer. Some people say that Greeks are mercenary. I don’t know. That puppy wasn’t paying board.
The dog grew up, burly and quizzical. Bill named him Duboko. It sounded like that; I don’t know how to spell the name correctly, nor did anyone else in Mahaska Falls.
The word, Bill said, was slang. It meant “tough” or “hard-boiled.” This animal had the face of a clown and the body of a hyena. Growing up, his downy coat changing to wire and bristles, Duboko resembled a fat Hamburg steak with onions which had been left too long on the griddle.
At an early age, Duboko began to manifest a violent interest in community assemblage of any kind or color. This trait may have been fostered by his master, who was proud to be a Moose, an Odd Fellow, a Woodman, and an upstanding member of the Mahaska Falls Commercial League.
When we needed the services of a bugler in our newly formed American Legion post and no bona fide bugler would volunteer, Bill Barbilis agreed to purchase the best brass instrument available and to practice in the bleak and cindery space behind his store. Since my office was upstairs, I found no great satisfaction in Bill’s musical enterprise. It happened that Duboko also lent his voice in support; a Greek chorus, so to speak, complete with strophe and antistrophe.
Nevertheless, I could register no complaint, since with other members of the Legion I had voted to retain Bill as our bugler. I could not even kick Duboko downstairs with my one good leg when I discovered him in my reception room lunching off my mail.
Indeed, most people found it hard to punish Duboko. He had the ingratiating, hopeful confidence of an immigrant just off the boat and assured that he had found the Promised Land. He boasted beady eyes, lubberly crooked paws, an immense mouth formed of black rubber, and pearly and enormous fangs which he was fond of exhibiting in a kind of senseless leer. He smelled, too. This characteristic I called sharply to the attention of his master, with the result that Duboko was laundered weekly in Bill’s uncertain little bathtub, the process being marked by vocal lament which might have arisen from the gloomiest passage of the Antigone.
Mahaska Falls soon became aware of the creature, in a general municipal sense, and learned that it had him to reckon with. Duboko attended every gathering at which six or more people were in congregation. No fire, picnic, memorial service, Rotary conclave or public chicken-pie supper went ungraced by his presence.
If, as sometimes happened on a crowded Saturday night, a pedestrian was brushed by a car, Duboko was on the scene with a speed to put the insurance-company representatives to shame. If there was a lodge meeting which he did not visit and from which he was not noisily ejected, I never heard of it. At Commercial League dinners he lay pensive with his head beneath the chair of Bill Barbilis. But, suffering fewer inhibitions than his master, he also visited funerals, and even the marriage of Miss Glaydys Stumpf.
Old Charles P. Stumpf owned the sieve factory. He was the richest man in town; the nuptials of his daughter exuded an especial aura of social magnificence. It is a matter of historical record that Duboko sampled the creamed chicken before any of the guests did; he was banished only after the striped and rented trousers of two ushers had undergone renting in quite another sense of the word. Grieved, Duboko forswore the Stumpfs after that; he refused to attend a reception for the bride and bridegroom when they returned from the Wisconsin Dells two weeks later.
There was one other place in town where Duboko was decidedly persona non grata. This was a business house, a rival establishment of the Sugar Bowl, owned and operated by Earl and John Klugge. The All-American Kandy Kitchen, they called it.
The Brothers Klugge held forth at a corner location a block distant from the Sugar Bowl. Here lounged and tittered ill-favored representatives of the town’s citizenry; dice rattled on a soiled mat at the cigar counter; it was whispered that refreshment other than soda could be purchased by the chosen.
The business career of Earl and John Klugge did not flourish, no matter what inducement they offered their customers. Loudly they declared that their failure to enrich themselves was due solely to the presence in our community of a Greek — a blackhaired, dark-skinned Mediterranean who thought nothing of resorting to the most unfair business practices, such as serving good fudge sundaes, for instance, to anyone who would buy them.
One fine afternoon people along the main street were troubled at observing Duboko limp rapidly westward, fairly wreathed in howls. Bill called me down to examine the dog. Duboko was only bruised, although at first I feared that his ribs were mashed on one side. Possibly someone had thrown a heavy chair at him. Bill journeyed to the Clive Street corner with fire in his eye. But no one could be found who would admit to seeing an attack on Duboko; no one would even say for a certainty that Duboko had issued from the doorway of the All-American Kandy Kitchen, although circumstantial evidence seemed to suggest it.
Friends dissuaded Bill Barbilis from invading the precinct of his enemies, and at length he was placated by pleasant fiction about a kicking horse in the market square.
We all observed, however, that Duboko did not call at the Kandy Kitchen again, not even on rare nights when the dice rattled loudly and when the whoops and catcalls of customers caused girls to pass by, like pretty Levites, on the other side.
There might have been a different tale to tell if this assault had come later, when Duboko was fully grown. His frame stretched and extended steadily for a year; it became almost as mighty as the earnest Americanism of his master. He was never vicious. He was never known to bite a child. But frequently his defensive attitude was that of a mother cat who fancies her kitten in danger; Duboko’s hypothetical kitten was his right to be present when good fellows — or bad — got together.
Pool halls knew him; so did the Epworth League. At football games an extra linesman was appointed for the sole purpose of discouraging Duboko’s athletic ardor. Through some occult sense, he could become aware of an approaching festivity before even the vanguard assembled. Musicians of our brass band never lugged their instruments to the old bandstand in Courthouse Park without finding Duboko there before them, lounging in an attitude of expectancy. It was Wednesday night, it was eight o’clock, it was July; the veriest dullard might know at what hour and place the band would begin its attack on the Light Cavalry Overture.
Duboko’s taste in music was catholic and extensive. He made a fortuitous appearance at a spring musicale, presented by the high-school orchestra and glee clubs, before an audience which sat in the righteous hush of people grimly determined to serve the arts, if only for a night.
The boys’ glee club was rendering selections from Carmen — in English, of course — and dramatically they announced the appearance of the bull. The line goes, “Now the beast enters, wild and enraged,” or something like that; Duboko chose this moment to lope grandly down the center aisle on castanetting toenails. He sprang to the platform … Mahaska Falls wiped away more tears than did Mérimée’s heroine.
In his adult stage, Duboko weighed forty pounds. His color suggested peanut brittle drenched with chocolate; I have heard people swear that his ears were four feet long, but that is an exaggeration. Often those ears hung like limp brown drawers dangling from a clothesline; again they were braced rigidly atop his skull.
Mastiff he was, and also German shepherd, with a noticeable influence of English bull, bloodhound and great Dane. Far and wide he was known as “that Greek dog,” and not alone because he operated out of the Sugar Bowl and under the aegis of Bill Barbilis. Duboko looked like a Greek.
He had Greek eyes, Greek eyebrows, and a grinning Greek mouth. Old Mayor Wingate proclaimed in his cups that, in fact, he had heard Duboko bark in Greek; he was willing to demonstrate, if anyone would only catch Duboko by sprinkling a little Attic salt on his tail.
That Greek dog seldom slept at night; he preferred to accompany the town’s watchman on his rounds, or to sit in the window of the Sugar Bowl along with cardboard ladies who brandished aloft their cardboard sodas. Sometimes, when I had been called out in the middle of the night and came back from seeing a patient, I would stop and peer through the window and exchange a few signals with Duboko.
“Yes,” he seemed to say, “I’m here. Bill forgot and locked me in. I don’t mind, unless, of course, there’s a fire. See you at Legion meeting tomorrow night, if not at the County Medical Association luncheon tomorrow noon.”
At this time there was a new arrival in the Sugar Bowl household — Bill’s own father, recruited all the way from Greece, now that Bill’s mother was dead.
Spiros Barbilis was slight, silver-headed, round-shouldered, with drooping mustachios which always seemed oozing with black dye. Bill put up another cot in the back room and bought another chiffonier from the secondhand store. He and Duboko escorted the old man up and down Main Street throughout the better part of one forenoon.
“I want you to meet friend of mine,” Bill said. “He is my father, but he don’t speak no English. I want him to meet all my good friends here in Mahaska Falls, because he will live here always.”
Old Mr. Barbilis grew deft at helping Bill with the Sugar Bowl. He carried trays and managed tables, grinning inveterately, wearing an apron stiff with starch. But he failed to learn much English except “hello” and “goodbye” and a few cuss words; I think that he was lonely for the land he had left, which certainly Bill was not.
One night — it was two o’clock in the morning — I came back to climb my stairs, stepping carefully from my car to the icy sidewalk in front of the Sugar Bowl. I moved gingerly, because I had left one foot in the Toul sector when a dressing station was shelled; I did not like icy sidewalks.
This night I put my face close to the show window to greet Duboko, to meet those sly and mournful eyes which, on a bitter night, would certainly be waiting there instead of shining in a drifted alley where the watchman prowled.
Two pairs of solemn eyes confronted me when I looked in. Old Mr. Barbilis sat there, too — in his night clothes, but blanketed with an overcoat — he and Duboko, wrapped together among the jars of colored candy and the tinted cardboard girls. They stared out, aloof and dignified in the darkness, musing on a thousand lives that slept nearby. I enjoy imagining that they both loved the street, even in its midnight desertion, though doubtless Duboko loved it the more.
In 1923 we were treated to a mystifying phenomenon. There had never been a riot in Mahaska Falls, nor any conflict between racial and religious groups. Actually we had no racial or religious groups; we were all Americans, or thought we were. But, suddenly and amazingly, fiery crosses flared in the darkness of our pasture lands.
I was invited to attend a meeting and did so eagerly, wondering if I might explore this outlandish nonsense in a single evening. When my car stopped at a cornfield gate and ghostly figures came to admit me, I heard voice after voice whispering bashfully, “Hello, doc,” “Evening, doc. Glad you came.” I was shocked at recognizing the voices. I had known the fathers and grandfathers of these youths — hard-working farmers they were, who found a long-sought freedom on the American prairies, and never fumed about the presence of the hard-working Catholics, Jews and black men who were also members of that pioneer community.
There was one public meeting in the town itself. They never tried to hold another; there was too much objection; the voice of Bill Barbilis rang beneath the stars.
A speaker with a pimply face stood illuminated by the flare of gasoline torches on a makeshift rostrum, and dramatically he spread a dollar bill between his hands. “Here,” he cried, “is the flag of the Jews!”
Bill Barbilis spoke sharply from the crowd: “Be careful, mister. There is United States seal on that bill.”
In discomfiture, the speaker put away his bank note. He ignored Bill as long as he could. He set his own private eagles to screaming, and he talked of battles won, and he wept for the mothers of American boys who lay in France. He said that patriotic 100 per cent Americans must honor and protect those mothers.
Bill Barbilis climbed to the fender of a car. “Sure,” he agreed clearly, “we got to take care of those mothers! Also, other mothers we got to take care of — Catholic mothers, Greek mothers, Jew mothers. We got the mothers of Company C, One Hundred Sixty-eighth Infantry. We got to take care of them. How about Jimmy Clancy? He was Catholic. He got killed in the Lorraine sector. Hyman Levinsky, he got killed the same day. Mr. Speaker, you don’t know him because you do not come from Mahaska Falls. We had Buzz Griffin, colored boy used to shine shoes. He go to Chicago and enlist, and he is wounded in the Ninety-second Division!”
It was asking too much for any public speaker to contend against opposition of that sort; and the crowd thought so, too, and Duboko made a joyful noise. The out-of-town organizers withdrew. Fiery crosses blazed less frequently, and the flash of white robes frightened fewer cattle week by week.
Seeds had been sown, however, and now a kind of poison ivy grew within our midnight. Bill Barbilis and Duboko came up to my office one morning, the latter looking annoyed, the former holding a soiled sheet of paper in his hand. “Look what I got, doc.”
The message was printed crudely in red ink:
We don’t want you here anymore. This town is only for 100 per cent law-abiding white Americans. Get out of town! Anti-Greek League.
It had been shoved under the front door of the Sugar Bowl sometime during the previous night.
“Bill,” I told him, “don’t worry about it. You know the source, probably; at least you can guess.”
“Nobody is going to run me out of town,” said Bill. “This is my town, and I am American citizen, and I am bugler in American Legion. I bring my old father here from Greece to be American, too, and now he has first papers.” His voice trembled slightly.
“Here. Throw it in the wastepaper basket and forget about it.”
There was sweat on his forehead. He wiped his face, and then he was able to laugh. “Doc, I guess you are right. Doc, I guess I am a fool.”
He threw the paper away and squared his shoulders and went downstairs. I rescued a rubber glove from Duboko and threw Duboko into the hall, where he licked disinfectant from his jaws and leered at me through the screen.
A second threatening letter was shoved under Bill’s door, but after that old Mr. Spiros Barbilis and Duboko did sentry duty, and pedestrians could see them entrenched behind the window. So the third warning came by mail: it told Bill that he was being given twenty-four hours to get out of town for good.
I was a little perturbed when I found Bill loading an Army .45 behind his soda fountain.
“They come around here,” he said, “and I blow hell out of them.”
He laughed when he said it, but I didn’t like the brightness of his eyes, nor the steady, thrice-assured activity of his big clean fingers.
On Friday morning Bill came up to my office again; his face was distressed. But my fears, so far as the Anti-Greeks were concerned, were groundless.
“Do you die,” he asked, “when you catch a crisis of pneumonia?”
It was one of his numerous cousins, in Sioux Falls. There had been a long-distance telephone call; the cousin was very ill, and the family wanted Bill to come. Bill left promptly in his battered, rakish roadster.
Late that night I was awakened by a clatter of cream cans under my window. I glanced at the illuminated dial of my watch, and lay wondering why the milkman had appeared some two hours before his habit. I was about to drop off to sleep when sounds of a scuffle in the alley and a roar from Duboko in the Barbilis quarters took me to the window in one leap.
There were four white figures down there in the alley yard; they dragged a fifth man — night-shirted, gagged, struggling — along with them. I yelled, and pawed around for my glasses, spurred to action by the reverberating hysterics of Duboko. I got the glasses on just before those men dragged old Mr. Barbilis into their car. The car’s license plates were plastered thick with mud; at once I knew what had happened.
It was customary for the milkman to clank his bottles and cans on approaching the rear door of the Sugar Bowl; Bill or his father would get out of bed and fetch the milk to the refrigerator, for there were numerous cream-hungry cats along that alley. It was a clinking summons of this sort which had lured the lonely Mr. Barbilis from his bed.
He had gone out sleepily, probably wondering, as I had wondered, why the milkman had come so early. The sound of milk bottles lulled Duboko for a moment.
Then the muffled agony of that struggle, when the visitors clapped a pillow over the old man’s face, had been enough to set Duboko bellowing.
But he was shut in; all that he could do was to threaten and curse and hurl himself against the screen. I grabbed for my foot — not the one that God gave me, but the one bought by Uncle Sam — and of course I kicked it under the bed far out of reach.
My car was parked at the opposite end of the building, out in front. I paused only to tear the telephone receiver from its hook and cry to a surprised Central that she must turn on the red light which summoned the night watchman; that someone was kidnaping old Mr. Barbilis.
The kidnapers’ car roared eastward down the alley while I was bawling to the operator. And then another sound — the wrench of a heavy body sundering the metal screening. There was only empty silence as I stumbled down the stairway in my pajamas, bouncing on one foot and holding to the stair rails.
I fell into my car and turned on the headlights. The eastern block before me stretched deserted in the pale glow of single bulbs on each electric-light post. But as my car rushed into that deserted block, a small brown shape sped bulletlike across the next intersection. It was Duboko.
I swung right at the corner, and Duboko was not far ahead of me now. Down the dark, empty tunnel of Clive Street the red taillight of another car diminished rapidly. It hitched away to the left; that would mean that Mr. Barbilis was being carried along the road that crossed the city dump.
Slowing down, I howled at Duboko when I came abreast of him. It seemed that he was a Barbilis, an Americanized Greek, like them, and that he must be outraged at this occurrence, and eager to effect a rescue.
But he only slobbered up at me, and labored along on his four driving legs, with spume flying behind. I stepped on the gas again and almost struck the dog, for he would not turn out of the road. I skidded through heavy dust on the dump lane, with filmier dust still billowing back from the kidnapers’ car.
For their purpose, the selection of the dump had a strategic excuse as well as a symbolic one. At the nearest boundary of the area there was a big steel gate and barbed-wire fence; you had to get out and open that gate to go through. But if you wished to vanish into the region of river timber and country roads beyond, you could drive across the wasteland without opening the gate again. I suppose that the kidnapers guessed who their pursuer was; they knew of my physical incapacity. They had shut the gate carefully behind them, and I could not go through it without getting out of my car.
But I could see them in the glare of my headlights — four white figures, sheeted and hooded.
Already they had tied Spiros Barbilis to the middle of a fence panel. They had straps, and a whip, and everything else they needed. One man was tying the feet of old Spiros to restrain his kicks; two stood ready to proceed with the flogging; and the fourth blank, hideous, white-hooded creature moved toward the gate to restrain me from interfering. That was the situation when Duboko arrived.
I ponder now the various wickednesses Duboko committed throughout his notorious career. Then for comfort I turn to the words of a Greek — him who preached the most famous funeral oration chanted among the ancients — the words of a man who was Greek in his blood and his pride, and yet who might have honored Duboko eagerly when the dog came seeking, as it were, a kind of sentimental Attican naturalization.
“For even when life’s previous record showed faults and failures,” said Pericles, with the voice of Thucydides, to the citizens of the fifth century, “it is just to weigh the last brave hour of devotion against them all.”
Though it was not an hour by any means. No more than ten minutes had elapsed since old Mr. Barbilis was dragged from his backyard. The militant action of Duboko, now beginning, did not occupy more than a few minutes more, at the most. It makes me wonder how long men fought at Marathon, since Pheidippides died before he could tell.
And not even a heavy screen might long contain Duboko; it is no wonder that a barbed-wire fence was as reeds before his charge.
He struck the first white figure somewhere above the knees. There was a snarl and a shriek, and then Duboko was springing toward the next man.
I didn’t see what happened then. I was getting out of the car and hopping toward the gate. My bare foot came down on broken glass, and that halted me for a moment. The noise of the encounter, too, seemed to build an actual, visible barrier before my eyes.
Our little world was one turmoil of flapping, torn white robes — a whirling insanity of sheets and flesh and outcry, with Duboko revolving at the hub. One of the men dodged out of the melee, and stumbled back, brandishing a club which he had snatched from the rubble close at hand. I threw a bottle, and I like to think that that discouraged him; I remember how he pranced and swore.
Mr. Barbilis managed to get the swathing off his head and the gag out of his mouth. His frail voice sang minor encouragement, and he struggled to unfasten his strapped hands from the fence.
The conflict was moving now — moving toward the kidnapers’ car. First one man staggered away, fleeing; then another who limped badly. It was an unequal struggle at best. No four members of the Anti-Greek League, however young and brawny, could justly be matched against a four-footed warrior who used his jaws as the original Lacedaemonians must have used their daggers, and who fought with the right on his side, which Lacedaemonians did not always do.
Four of the combatants were scrambling into their car; the fifth was still afoot and reluctant to abandon the contest. By that time I had been able to get through the gate, and both Mr. Barbilis and I pleaded with Duboko to give up a war he had won. But this he would not do; he challenged still, and tried to fight the car; and so, as they drove away, they ran him down.
It was 10 a.m. before Bill Barbilis returned from Sioux Falls. I had ample opportunity to impound Bill’s .45 automatic before he came.
His father broke the news to him. I found Bill sobbing with his head on the fountain. I tried to soothe him, in English, and so did Spiros Barbilis, in Greek; but the trouble was that Duboko could no longer speak his own brand of language from the little bier where he rested.
Then Bill went wild, hunting for his pistol and not being able to find it; all the time, his father eagerly and shrilly informed Bill of the identifications he had made when his assailants’ gowns were ripped away. Of course, too, there was the evidence of bites and abrasions.
Earl Klugge was limping as he moved about his All-American Kandy Kitchen, and John Klugge smelled of arnica and iodine. A day or two passed before the identity of the other kidnapers leaked out. They were hangers-on at the All-American; they didn’t hang on there any longer.
I should have enjoyed seeing what took place, down there at the Clive Street corner. I was only halfway down the block when Bill threw Earl and John Klugge through their own plateglass window.
A little crowd of men gathered, with our Mayor Wingate among them. There was no talk of damages or of punitive measures to be meted out to Bill Barbilis. I don’t know just what train the Klugge brothers left on. But their restaurant was locked by noon, and the windows boarded up.
A military funeral and interment took place that afternoon behind the Sugar Bowl. There was no flag, though I think Bill would have liked to display one. But the crowd of mourners would have done credit to Athens in the age when her dead heroes were burned; all the time that Bill was blowing Taps on his bugle, I had a queer feeling that the ghosts of Pericles and Thucydides were somewhere around.
Quiet! Quiet on the set!” the assistant director shouted. “This is a take.” Director William Beaudine, an old-timer who once directed Mary Pickford, nodded approval and called out, “Okay, bring on the meat hound!”
Silence engulfed the Lassie set. No one talks that way about Lassie; not within earshot of Rudd Weatherwax, the collie’s taciturn owner-trainer. Stiffly, with a command to Lassie, dog and master marched out of Desilu studios and stayed away two weeks.
This little behind-the-scenes drama brought home a point. Lassie is the only television animal who is treated with the deference accorded human stars — and for a very good reason. Having earned some $100 million for a variety of movie and television entrepreneurs, Lassie is unmistakably the most valuable animal performer in show-business history, Rin-Tin-Tin included.
The dog’s every move is calculated as carefully as the promotion of Ann-Margaret. The Lassie image has been created by a brain trust comprised of the Campbell Soup Co., the BBD&O advertising agency, CBS-TV, and 46-year-old Texas oil millionaire Jack Wrather — collectively a syndicate whose function is to present Lassie as the best of man’s best friends.
“Lassie was great, but my God, you were playing fifth banana to a dog. I’m a Phi Beta Kappa, but the dog was smarter on the screen than I was.”
That Lassie is big business is evident in the nearly $7 million Campbell paid for the series last season. The company’s sales zoomed almost 70 percent in the decade Lassie has been televised. For these reasons, the trust plays down Lassie’s secret life as a female impersonator. It refuses to acknowledge that one Lassie died of cancer and another was fired for a nervous disorder — that actually there have been four Lassies.
It all began in 1938 when the late Eric Knight wrote a dog story for his young daughter. It was published as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post and later expanded into a children’s book titled Lassie Come Home. MGM studios bought film rights from Knight in 1941 for less than $10,000. Knight never received another penny.
To find a star, producer Sam Marx and director Fred Wilcox held a mass audition at the old Hollywood Stars baseball park. Of the 300 dogs brought to the park, half were mongrels. Every collie was disqualified, including a scruffy specimen belonging to Rudd Weatherwax, an established trainer of movie dogs. Weatherwax, it happened, had been stuck with a collie pup two years earlier in exchange for an unpaid $10 kennel bill. His name was Pal, and he chased motorcycles. When Pal appeared at the ball park, his unpatrician appearance eliminated him from the running without a second glance.
“Then the San Joaquin River in Northern California flooded its banks and gave us a great opportunity for some spectacular footage,” Marx recalls. “We needed a collie fast. As a last resort, we signed with Weatherwax for one scene, using Pal to swim the flooded river. What the hell, all wet collies look alike. We figured we could match long shots of Pal with close-ups of the dog we eventually picked.”
“Pal swam through the water, climbed out on the bank with his tail between his legs, and dropped down directly in front of the camera,” Weatherwax says. “He put his head between his outstretched paws and slowly closed his eyes.”
Marx adds, “He had that dog so well trained that he didn’t even shake himself when he came out of the river. It would have ruined the scene, because the dog was supposed to be so exhausted he could barely breathe.”
Pal gave the performance of his life and was signed for the starring role. Old hands at MGM quote director Wilcox as saying, “Pal jumped into that river, but it was Lassie who climbed out.”
Lassie Come Home was budgeted as a B picture with a cast of standard English character actors (plus, oddly enough, a youngster named Elizabeth Taylor who was making her movie debut).
Marx says crusty old Louis B. Mayer wept at the preview and increased the budget for additional scenes before the picture was released. One of the studio’s hits of 1943, it inspired six sequels before wearing out its popularity. In 1952, the Lassie movie series was shelved. To settle an uncompleted contract, MGM gave the name Lassie to Weatherwax.
Less than a year later, Weatherwax sold his interest in Lassie to Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman TV series, for a projected TV show. Weatherwax was to be paid $1,500 per show and 10 percent of the net profits.
Once the show was sold, Pal was replaced by Lassie II, a look-alike collie winnowed from scores of Pal’s puppies. Because a year or more had passed since the last Lassie movie, viewers failed to note the switch.
Despite being plunked into the desolate 7 o’clock Sunday-night slot, Lassie won immediate popularity and earned Emmy awards for the best children’s show of 1954 and 1955. From the beginning, surveys revealed more adults were watching than children.
In the middle of the third year, Maxwell, convinced he had exhausted script possibilities, offered to sell Lassie back to MGM for $2 million. The company blew a second chance at the golden collie. Maxwell finally sold out to Wrather for $3.25 million, and agreed to stay on for a year as producer. Weatherwax went along, selling his 10 percent of the profits to the new management. Like MGM and Maxwell, he underestimated the collie’s extraordinary staying power.
“The families on the show changed faster than the weather in Chicago,” says character actor George Chandler, who played Uncle Petrie in one family for two seasons. “Lassie was great, but my God, you were playing fifth banana to a dog. I’m a Phi Beta Kappa, but the dog was smarter on the screen than I was.”
“They had to find reasons for us to be morons so the dog could outsmart us,” says Cloris Leachman, who portrayed the mother but was dropped after 26 weeks because she occasionally played the show for laughs. “I can’t say I miss the dog. We never were that close.”
Then, in 1959, tragedy and panic struck the series when Lassie II died of cancer. A third collie, bred and hurriedly trained by Weatherwax, was rushed into the show. This time viewers did notice the difference in dogs, and several thousand wrote asking what happened.
But this was only the beginning of the show’s troubles. Lassie III was a high-strung collie who jumped out of his skin at the sound of gunshots (an integral part of the show). He swooned when arc lights exploded on the set. In 1961, after two uneasy years as a star, Lassie III departed, trembling, into fitful retirement, to be succeeded by the fourth and current Lassie. Crew members and cast agree that Lassie IV is the brightest, best natured, and most beautiful of all the dogs. Wrather says the collie looks as if he’s thinking — possibly about more money.
Lassie IV, almost five years old, does have a definite canine charm. He is friendly with the crew, aloof with strangers, and appears to sense he is a cut above other dogs. When he completes a demanding scene, the stagehands applaud, as they did last year when Lassie, obeying shouted commands from Weatherwax, jumped through flaming underbrush in a forest-fire scene and emerged with smoke curling from his singed coat.
Because Lassie is better trained than his doubles, he does almost all of his own stunts. Two years ago, Lassie was almost crushed to death between logs in a millpond sequence, but escaped injury by ducking underwater and climbing to safety when the logs sloshed apart.
“All the Lassies have had a sense of humor,” says Weatherwax. “This one knows what the director means by ‘cut,’ and he stops whatever he’s doing to relax. The first TV Lassie had to carry a live snake in his mouth for a scene. When he got out of camera range, he dropped the damned thing into the lap of an associate producer. She hated snakes, and Lassie knew it.”
On the sound stage Lassie greets visitors with a sedate lick on the hand, leaving the lickee with a distinct feeling that he has met a star. When not working, the star rests undisturbed on a green baize platform, a foot off the ground, to prevent crew members from accidentally stepping on him.
Resting is the dog’s favorite pastime in the San Fernando Valley ranch-style home he shares with Weatherwax and his wife. Lassie’s boudoir is a standard-sized bedroom with a king-sized bed and chest of drawers. A persimmon carpet matches the bedspread, and an oil portrait of Lassie IV (painted on black velvet) hangs on one wall. A hi-fi set throbs soft Hawaiian music to keep the dog tranquilized.
The collie even has his own pet dog, a hero-worshipping Australian silky named “Silky,” who prances adoringly after the star. “He plays with that little dog for hours sometimes,” Weatherwax says. “It’s good relaxation for him.”
A half-dozen other dogs, collie-breeding stock, prowl the yard and kennels. Weatherwax identifies one shy female as “Girlie,” Lassie’s wife. Girlie and other white females are bred with Lassie with the idea of producing an additional supply of male puppies with white blazes on their faces — the distinguishing characteristic of any dog destined to play Lassie.
Crew members and cast agree that Lassie IV is the brightest, best natured, and most beautiful of all the dogs. Wrather says the collie looks as if he’s thinking — possibly about more money.
“If Lassie dropped dead now, it would be like losing a human star,” the trainer says. “The series would have to close down, because I haven’t got another dog ready to take his place — not yet, anyhow.”
When not working or making personal appearances, Lassie sometimes gets into mischief. There are times when he raids the large kitchen refrigerator by opening the latch with his teeth. Special locks have been installed on doors leading to the yard to prevent Lassie from opening the house to other dogs.
Lassie’s once-a-day meal is a stew concocted of beef chuck, carrots, onions, celery, green beans, and garlic, supplemented by cottage cheese and vitamins. Bottled water and ground beef are taken along when the dog goes on the road.
This fall, Lassie’s current family will be eased out of the series when they pack off to Australia, where quarantine laws make it almost impossible to import a dog. The collie will remain behind to take up with a forest ranger, played by Robert Bray, who appeared in the series last season.
The new format is the result of a Wrather experiment the past two seasons with episodes which isolated Lassie from farm and family. The ratings showed that the dog — and only the dog — was the star of the show. As one member of the cast puts it, “All that show really needs is a collie and a camera.”
—“The Saga of Lassie,” October 3, 1964
Featured image credit: Lawrence J. Schiller, © SEPS
A Midwesterner through and through, Robert L. Dickey displayed a peculiar commitment to thick Scottish dialect in portraying his characters Sandy and Jean McNab. The McNabs were a spousal pair of Scottish Terriers in Dickey’s comic strip, “McNab and His Neighbors” that ran in this magazine through the 1920s. Whether the McNabs were beloved because of their innate cuteness or the silliness of lines of dialogue that would nowadays have readers running for a translator app (“It will seem guid to see some one frae home”) is difficult to say. But Dickey — in spite of his decades of animal illustration that may have changed the way we see our pets — has been all but forgotten. The once-celebrated artist has nary a Wikipedia page or accessible obituary.
Before drawing adorable pooches, Dickey made his name as a horse illustrator for Chicago’s The Horse Review. As a child, he was enamored with animals, and at a young age he won first prize at the county fair for a drawing of Goldsmith Maid, a legendary mare of harness racing in the 19th century. His winnings amounted to one dollar and a ribbon, but he soon found himself taking commissions from race horse owners and local farmers from his hometown of Marshall, Michigan.
Though he sustained an enthusiasm for horse racing, Dickey’s true artistic muse became the canine. One specific canine, in fact: a white bull terrier named Chimmie Fadden. In the pages of this magazine, in 1929, Dickey proclaimed that his former pet had been a most important art teacher: “His one brindle eye and his two brindle ears could, to me and my family, express all the human emotions; admiration, adoration, adulation were all expressed in the big brown eyes, half hidden beneath the narrow lids of his breed. He could cock one brow in incredulity, and with eye, ear and tail express the utmost contempt.” Of his beloved Chimmie, Dickey also said, “He taught me all the vital things — the things that I have tried hard to get into my drawings — the expression and aliveness that are so important.”
Dickey moved to New York and began publishing comics and illustrations with Life, at the encouragement of editors John Ames Mitchell and Thomas L. Masson. In Dogs from “Life” (1920), Masson calls Dickey “perhaps the best dog artist in this country,” and he credits that success to Life’s guidance, of course. Masson writes that Mitchell advised Dickey to give his dog illustrations more realistic qualities instead of making caricatures: “Don’t make your dogs humorous. You are too good an artist to attempt that sort of thing. Make your dogs true to life — just as they are.”
If Dickey followed the Life editor’s advice, he promptly disregarded it for his work in The Saturday Evening Post. After a few tries at political cartoons, Dickey settled in with some recurring characters for the “Short Turns and Encores” section. Throughout the ’20s, in strips like “Timmie and Tatters,” “McNab and His Neighbors,” and “Mr. and Mrs. Beans,” Dickey portrayed cute dogs of various breeds with the humorous hangups and eccentricities of everyday people. With an affinity for terriers, Dickey’s strips showed the lighter side of relationships, middle-class vanity, and machismo.
Beans and Violet, Dickey’s signature Boston Terriers in “Mr. and Mrs. Beans,” were named after his own Boston Terriers that travelled with the artist any time he left New York City. Dog historian Cathy Flamholtz credits Dickey for the immense popularity of the breed in the 1920s and ’30s (in Boston Terriers: The Early Years), writing, “While the critics may have scoffed at Robert Dickey’s drawings, the public loved them! Confirmed readers of the most popular magazines fell in love with the clownish dogs seen in the pages of their favorite publications. They wanted one of these dogs and they bought ‘America’s Dog’ in large numbers. Soon, Boston Terriers were one of the most popular breeds in the country.” Flamholtz notes of Dickey’s work in comic strips, tobacco ads, and magazine covers, “The drawings reflect the charm, curiosity, mischievousness, and intelligence of the Boston Terrier. They could only have been made by someone who knew the breed so intimately.”
In spite of Dickey’s contributions to American illustration, he is scarcely remembered. His crowd-pleasing comics filled with “puppy dog eyes” and deviant hounds changed the way dogs were rendered in publication and likely altered the way people thought about their four-legged friends. His strips were printed in newspapers around the country as well as Ladies’ Home Journal, Century, and other magazines. He also illustrated the Barse edition of Black Beauty and books like Lad: A Dog and A Dog Named Chips by Albert Payson Terhune. But in his characters, Beans, Violet, and Sandy McNab, Dickey opened the door in the public imagination to the possibility of a dog expressing human faults, joys, and sorrows — and maybe even sporting a Scottish accent.