Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amazing Dogs A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities by Jan Bondeson

Jan Bondeson is one of my favorite non-fiction authors, he is a medical doctor with an interest in medical and historical oddities and an easily readable, honest, and straightforward style.

This book is all about some interesting characters from canine history. Highlights include the “Learned Dog” sensation that swept London in the 18th century, where various animals displayed their knack for spelling and math as well as the more traditional acrobatic tricks. One dog was even billed as a reincarnation of Phythagoras. Munito the poodle toured the world displaying his genius at spelling, calculus, and playing dominos, and telling fortunes. “The Egg Laying Dog of Vienna,” a mongrel who laid eggs out of his anus, which his owner proved were real by breaking them open, frying, and eating them before a paying audience. Carlos, the Newfoundland dog who became a stage star, the RIn Tin Tin of his day, appearing in several early Victorian melodramas in which he tackled villains and dove into an artificial lake to rescue a drowning child. Then along came Don, “The Speaking Dog” who made his debut in 1910 and toured the world, speaking his famous catchphrase “Hungry! Give me cakes!”

On a less theatrical note, there is also a chapter on dog saints, like St. Guinefort of France, who was slain by an over-hasty owner who mistakenly thought the devoted animal had killed the baby it was meant to be protecting. Actually, a wolf was the culprit. A similar tale, that of Prince Llewelyn of Wales, and his faithful greyhound Gelert, has led to the dog’s supposed gravesite becoming a popular tourist attraction.

And working dogs, like the now extinct turnspit dogs, once a fixture in every English kitchen, in which a dog ran round and round on a wheel, like a hamster, to turn a spit over the fire on which the night’s dinner was roasting, rat killing terriers, rescue dogs like Saint Bernards, and charity dogs, who once roamed the railway stations of Victorian and Edwardian London with boxes strapped onto their backs, to collect money for hospitals and other worthy causes.

There is also a chapter on cemetery dogs, exploring the popular theme of the devoted dog keeping vigil over its master’s grave, including the famous Greyfriars Bobby of Edinburgh which Mr. Bondeson later expanded into an entire book, a review of which you can find on this blog.

Whether you’re a dog or a history lover or both, this is a very interesting and well illustrated book that is definitely worth a look.

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