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
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 London 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!” Newfoundland
On a less theatrical note, there is also a chapter on dog saints, like St. Guinefort of
, 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 France , and his faithful greyhound
Gelert, has led to the dog’s supposed gravesite becoming a popular tourist
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
Bondeson later expanded into an entire book, a review of which you can find on
this blog. Edinburgh
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.