Three great, dog-themed letters
Jonathan Self’s review of ‘Letters of Note: Dogs’, an anthology by Shaun Usher, together with three great dog-themed letters
Browsing in our local bookshop this week, I was delighted to come across a copy of Shaun Usher’s excellent little anthology: Letters of Note: Dogs. As I am an enthusiastic collector of what might be called ‘dog lit’ I can’t think how I missed it before. Anyway, I have found it now and am happy to recommend it. Shaun Usher, by the way, is the founder of a very popular website called Letters of Note – the place to go if you are into reading other people’s correspondence!
Letters of Note: Dogs contains 28 fascinating canine-themed letters from a wide range of contributors including Roald Dahl, President Bush, T. H. White, Marcel Proust and Lewis Carroll. The publishers are Canongate, who have produced some fantastic anthologies over the years, not least The Assassin’s Cloak, a brilliant selection from over 170 diarists (sadly out of print but available used from £1.16 on Amazon.co.uk).
Below you will find just three examples from Letters of Note: Dogs. The first is very funny, the second is very sad and the third is almost unbelievable!
E.B. White to the ASPCA
E.B. White, author of such classics as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, was an enthusiastic dog lover. He wrote many very amusing letters about his dogs, not least this one to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who accused him of failing to pay his dog tax and, as a result, was ‘harbouring’ an unlicensed dog.
I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by ‘harboring’ you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don’t get her a sweater instead. That’s a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn’t like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn’t get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven’t had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.
In spite of what your inspector reported, she has a license. She is licensed in the State of Maine as an unspayed bitch, or what is more commonly called an ‘unspaded’ bitch. She wears her metal license tag but I must say I don’t particularly care for it, as it is in the shape of a hydrant, which seems to me a feeble gag, besides being pointless in the case of a female. It is hard to believe that any state in the Union would circulate a gag like that and make people pay money for it, but Maine is always thinking of something. Maine puts up roadside crosses along the highways to mark the spots where people have lost their lives in motor accidents, so the highways are beginning to take on the appearance of a cemetery, and motoring in Maine has become a solemn experience, when one thinks mostly about death. I was driving along a road near Kittery the other day thinking about death and all of a sudden I heard the spring peepers. That changed me right away and I suddenly thought about life. It was the nicest feeling.
You asked about Minnie’s name, sex, breed, and phone number. She doesn’t answer the phone. She is a dachshund and can’t reach it, but she wouldn’t answer it even if she could, as she has no interest in outside calls. I did have a dachshund once, a male, who was interested in the telephone, and who got a great many calls, but Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred) and I can’t think of anything offhand that he wasn’t interested in. The telephone was only one of a thousand things. He loved life — that is, he loved life if by ‘life’ you mean ‘trouble’, and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble. Minnie loves life, too, but her idea of life is a warm bed, preferably with an electric pad, and a friend in bed with her, and plenty of shut-eye, night and days. She’s almost twelve. I guess I’ve already mentioned that. I got her from Dr Clarence Little in 1939. He was using dachshunds in his cancer-research experiments (that was before Alexander Winchell was running the thing) and he had a couple of extra puppies, so I wheedled Minnie out of him. She later had puppies by her own father, at Dr Little’s request. What do you think about that for a scandal? I know what Fred thought about it. He was some put out.
Richard Joseph to the man who killed his dog
When Richard Joseph’s beloved dog, Vicky, was killed by a hit and run driver in Connecticut in 1955 he wrote this letter to his local newspaper. It was reprinted in hundreds of other newspapers and inspired a book. The driver was never identified.
To the man who killed my dog,
I hope you were going someplace important when you drove so fast down Cross Highway across Bayberry Lane, Tuesday night.
I hope that when you got there the time you saved by speeding meant something to you or somebody else.
Maybe we’d feel better if we could imagine that you were a doctor rushing somewhere to deliver a baby or ease somebody’s pain. The life of our dog to shorten someone’s suffering – that mightn’t have been so bad.
But even though all we saw of you was your car’s black shadow and its jumping tail-lights as you roared down the road, we know too much about you to believe it.
You saw the dog, you stepped on your brakes, you felt a thump, you heard a yelp and then my wife’s scream. Your reflexes are good, we know, because you jumped on the gas again and got out of there fast.
Whoever you are, mister, and whatever you do for a living, we know you are a killer. And in your hands, driving the way you drove Tuesday night, your car is a murder weapon.
You didn’t bother to look, so I’ll tell you what the thump and the yelp were. They were Vicky, a six-months-old Basset puppy; white, with brown and black markings. An aristocrat, with twelve champions among her forebears; but she clowned and she chased, and she loved people and kids and other dogs as much as any mongrel on earth.
I’m sorry you didn’t stick around to see the job you did, though a dog dying by the side of the road isn’t a very pretty sight. In less than two seconds you and that car of yours transformed a living being that had been beautiful, warm, white, clean, soft and loving into something dirty, ugly, broken and bloody. A poor, shocked and mad thing that tried to sink its teeth into the hand it had nuzzled and licked all its life.
I hope to God that when you hit my dog you had for a moment the sick, dead feeling in the throat and down to the stomach that we have known ever since. And that you feel it whenever you think about speeding down a winding country road again.
Because the next time some eight-year-old boy might be wobbling along on his first bicycle. Or a very little one might wander out past the gate and into the road in the moment it takes his father to bend down to pull a weed out of the driveway, the way my puppy got away from me.
Or maybe you’ll be real lucky again, and only kill another dog, and break the heart of another family.
Richard Joseph Westport, Conn.
David McLachan to The Scottish Fancier and Rural Gazette
‘The Scottish Fancier and Rural Gazette’ was a magazine dedicated to ‘The breeding, management, and exhibition of Dogs, Poultry, Pigeons, Cage Birds, and other Pet Stock’. In its issue of May 1887, it published this letter, written by the disgruntled owner of an Irish terrier who had recently been exhibited at a dog show in Ayr, Scotland.
As I was an exhibitor of Irish Terriers at Ayr yesterday, and as I was very much disappointed with the awards, I feel it a duty to demand an explanation from you for acting in the manner you did. In the dog class you gave Garryford first, which was right enough, provided Garryford had a right to be there, which is very doubtful, he being a champion dog. Were it not that Garryford’s new owner is a direct descendant of ‘King Agrippa’ he would not have been there, as no gentleman would send a champion dog to compete in such classes. As for Gifford – had it not been that his chain was in Mr Lumsden’s left hand, he would not have been looked at, as no man who knows anything about an Irish Terrier would look at him. You gave third to a dog with nothing but legs to look at; whereas Fagan got fourth – a dog that has been first in England before a competent judge. Either you know nothing about an Irish Terrier, or, if you do, it was evident that it was the owner and not the dog, that got the prize.
In the bitch class you placed Randy fourth after being changed from fifth – a bitch that was second at Glasgow in a class of twenty dogs. You put her first at Wishaw and gave nothing to Erin; yesterday you gave Erin second over the same bitch Randy, and made the lame excuse that you did not know Erin – a bitch wide in chest and with a very bad leg, and has a face like a monkey. You told me in the ring that Randy’s coat was soft; there was no difference in her coat from Wishaw show. I have bred Fox, Skyes and Irish Terriers before you knew what a dog was. I should like to know how you have the audacity to pose before the public as a judge of Irish Terriers. Did you ever breed or own one? Do you know anything about their points? If you do, the trust reposed in you was sadly misdirected. Do you imagine for a moment that I am going to be sat upon by an amateur like you? I have no objection to other people paying for your education, but I do not intend to do so. I made careful search yesterday after I got my dogs on their benches, for the purpose of having an explanation from you. You may consider yourself very lucky I did not find you – and future exhibitors of Irish Terriers were unfortunate that I did not – as I would have given you a few practical hints that you would have remembered every time you saw an Irish Terrier. However I will make it my special study to see you on the subject. Meantime I demand an explanation from you. I do not intend to speak behind your back, as you did of me in the ring yesterday, but to inform you that I intend to write to the “Stockkeeper” and other papers on the subject.
You told Mr Lumsden yesterday that you had made a mess of it so Mr Lumsden told me. Well, it is my turn now. And explanation I demand at once.