Dogs in Art, Literature and, in Life – A Passion for Pooches

The poor dog, in life the firmest friend. The first to welcome, foremost to defend*

In the State Art Gallery at Sydney there is a painting that ever since I was a little girl I have visited often, first with my grandmother, then with my own children and more lately by myself.

When it disappeared a few years ago for a while I hoped that it was just having a little holiday, or being cleaned.

Seems that must have been the case, because it was back again when last I was in Sydney.

The image is called “Requiescat”.

The dog’s master is lying on a field of honour, a fabulous embroidered textile.

The look on the dog’s face is a mixture of pride and pain so be prepared if you plan to see it in the flesh so to speak, because it will, more than likely, quite take you down.

The Bloodhound is one of the most noble. dignified and oldest breeds of dogs domestically. They are first referred to in fourteenth century literature.

For a knight on crusade so far from home and loved ones, to have had such a companion as this noble bloodhound must have been truly wonderful.

In the scheme of things it is not a very well known painting. Some might even think it very ‘old fashioned’, just like me. But there it is j’adore it.

Its connection for me is deeply spiritual and it has at times moved me to tears. It hangs in the Heritage galleries, which are on the right hand side of the entrance if you are visiting soon.

Apparently the gallery purchased this wonderful work from the artist directly around 1897-8.

It features a huge bloodhound leaning against the funeral byre of its master, a knight who has been laid out following his demise in full armour. He would have been a valued friend, who also helped to keep the knight safe and warm, cuddling close when chilling out around a temporary campfire at night.

Sympathy c1878 courtesy Tate at London presented by Sir Henry Tate 1897  The first version was shown at the Royal Academy in 1878, but the picture exhibited here is a study Riviere made for a second version.

It was painted by a man born in London of French Huguenot (Protestant) descent Briton Riviére (1840- 1920).

Apart from the beautiful rendering of the dog himself, the detailing of the knight’s armour and the sumptuous nature of the superb textile that he is lying on, reveals that he may have been someone very important back in the day.

Briton Riviére exhibited at the Royal Academy at London during the second half of the nineteenth century.

He said “you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it”.

He was known to be a brilliant technician and the public responded warmly to his numerous animal scenes, especially those containing dogs.

‘Sympathy’, showing a little girl sent in disgrace to sit on the stairs while being comforted by her dog, was among the most popular of all.

From classical literature to contemporary times dogs such as Lassie, who epitomized love and loyalty and traversed the whole length of Britain to go home, have been stealing our hearts for a long long time.

Fang from Harry Potter was one huge hound, whose despite his size and ferocity was actually timid and a coward. Then there are those dogs meticulously detailed by such classic authors as Charles Dickens, Will Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling as well as the pooches, who have been critical characters in animated movies or popular comic strips.

The earliest dog in movies that I remember was Asta in the Thin Man series of the 1930’s , which my brother and I often saw as a second feature when we were kids during the 50’s at the Boomerang movie theatre at Coogee Beach.

Asta’s owners were the very chic sophisticated duo Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, my mother’s favourite pair of Hollywood sweethearts. Asta was very adept at taking cues and getting in the way or helping his owners solving crimes.

He became so popular he gathered a huge ‘cult’ following and today, yes you have guessed it, there is a ‘I Love Asta’ official website.

He was especially cute when Mrs Asta had puppies, that included one wholly black – proof of her ‘infedelity’?

Toto was lucky he didn’t have to sing

Toto from the Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland also won many hearts. He was a lucky dog in that he didn’t have to sing.

Then there was one of my favourite of all movie dogs that slobbering slithering huge Hooch from Turner & Hooch.

He was busy upstaging a youthful Scott Turner, a neat obsessive police investigator played by Tom Hanks.

Hooch is witness to a murder and when he moves into Scott’s home it is total mayhem.

Snowy was the companion to comic strip favourite Tin Tin. He was a terrier with a taste for Scotch, whisky that is, as well as a talent for mimicry.

He provided comic relief for a master, who was an optimist and his friend Captain Haddock, the biggest cynic of all time.

Talking about cynics, what about Jack Nicholson with that fabulous Brussels Griffon terrier in the 1997 movie “As Good As it Gets”.

On TV just recently, I couldn’t help but watch it and laugh aloud all over again.  They looked so alike that it was scary.

It hit home as I have a dear friend who has a Griffon – and they are just adorable dogs.

Eddie was another smart pooch, who starred alongside human friends in the TV series Frasier.

He was one problematic terrier, who reputedly received far more fan mail than stars of the show Frasier and his brother Niles or Dad Martin, to whom Eddie belonged.

Other talented TV dog heroes include Commissar Rex, a German Shepherd who lives at  home with his detective handler at Vienna. He is always saving the day, while indulging his passion for the people he works with, playing tug of war and pinching ham rolls.

Inspector Rex is a long-running Austrian crime drama that Aussies have taken to their hearts.

Rex is more than just a trained  pooch, he helps clean up the crimes. He’s a hero with a sense of humour, big brown eyes that take you down and, a sucker for anyone in need of help.

He’s far superior intellectually to all his human colleagues who don’t seem to mind at all.

Protective by nature with intelligence, speed and strength despite being bred originally to herd and protect sheep, with their owners Shepherds are wonderfully gentle.

I understand Rex quite well because the only dog that I ever owned personally (my kids really owned all the others even though I bathed and fed them) was a long haired German Shepherd named Chelsea.

She was a truly superb animal, who was as faithful as she was true, guarding me with lots of love and with her life.

She did not come along as a very fetching puppy until after my three sons had left home. Going jogging in Centennial Park at Sydney with her each morning was a real treat. She also came to work with me most days and I always felt safe and secure when she was at my side. When I moved interstate in 1999 I had to find her a new home as it was not possible for her to be with me where I was going.

The people who took her lived in the country too. Six months later they called because they knew I would be anxious. They told me she was having a lovely life on their farm near Tamworth, where I had spent much of my time during teenage years.

This helped me to settle, because I knew it was beautiful countryside and that she was obviously happy.

Knowing how much I missed her a friend who lived at Mt Tambourine outside Brisbane used to bring her beloved Shepherd for me to mind when I lived in The Turret at St Johns Cathedral if ever she had to come to town.

From the Archbishop to the receptionist everyone enjoyed her visits. I know she lost her darling dog recently and understand just how bereft she must feel.

Shepherds seem to have a sixth sense about their owners, for whom they are very loyal and wonderfully affectionate.

What is it about dogs at all?

They quite often seem to be part of the programming of our DNA. They have ever changing expressions that can tear out the most hardened heart and turn it to mush.

My small ‘grand dog’ of the moment is a two year old long haired Daschund named Reggie who lives with number two son and his wife.

As a puppy Reggie became a celebrity of sorts at Sydney when his mother won a competition with a splendid photograph of him, that was put to good use on the cover of the Centennial Park ‘Dogs in the Park’ brochure.

These days when I arrive in town to visit, or specifically to mind him while his parents are away, you can see the look on his face change immediately. He hangs his head and goes off to sulk in his bed near the door, because he now associates my arrival with the removal of his parents.

It’s a conundrum for us both, and it usually takes a day or two for him to met morph out of his sadness to eventually land on my lap, or lie next to me on the leather lounge. Begrudgingly he finally accepts I am not about to leave anytime soon and gives in, but with very little grace.

When his parents do finally return, all is forgiven as he leaps around wildly and happily with a huge smile all over his face.

At that point I usually am blessed with a lick of approval and then a truly withering look that says, now get out of here. Reggie is a far cry from some of the other dogs who have lived with my growing family.

My large ‘grand dog’ of the moment is a six year old labrador named Honey. She lives with number three son, is a great companion and guards him with her life.

During the floods at Brisbane in 2011 she featured on the front page of the newspaper, swimming happily in the muddy water that overflowed the street in which they lived at the time.

She reminds him of the divine labrador that he and his two brothers grew up with.

Where are those Minties? – A lovely Lab hot on the trail…

Lady came along when I was pregnant with my first baby. She was a golden labrador, with huge brown eyes that leaped with love for the people she lived with and, most especially for her very favourite treat, Minties.

When my sons were growing up and we had birthday parties Lady would lead the charge to find the lollies on the Mintie trail that led to a present.

She beat them ever time, eating all the Minties on the way, paper wrapping included.

The boys all learned to walk hanging onto her collar and she was also their ally in mischief and when having fun.

She would creep in quietly to sleep on the foot of number one son’s bed, and got away with it, because it was just too hard for any of us to refuse her anything at all really.

After Lady went to the big dog kennel in the sky we were all gutted.

At the time a bachelor partner of my husband’s firm had just bought his first terrace home in Sydney. He had purchased a golden cocker spaniel dog, whom he called “Honey”.

You can understand why when I tell you that he trained it to meet him at the front door each night to take his shoes upstairs to his bedroom and then bring down his slippers. She was one sweet dog, the most stunning looking spaniel – truly beautiful, with a coat that was just like rich golden thick honey.

She informed our next choice for a doggie companion for the kids. He was Jasper, the black grey and white cocker spaniel.

He was very very beautiful, but as he grew to adulthood we began to slowly realise that something was very wrong. He was quite literally mad.

He would try to burrow through the floor by tearing a hole in the linoleum. He would also attack the back door, trying to tear it to pieces, rather than learn to go through his dog door. And there were many other traits that were truly terrifying.

He learned that when the boys came home from school in the afternoon in summer and jumped into their swimmers they were going out the backyard and into the pool. Spaniels love water and so immediately he would tear through the house ahead of them, out the door and dive head first straight into the swimming pool, where his frantic excited clawing put them all in mortal danger.

He spent so much time on his lead attached to his roomy kennel with these, and other crazy actions that we were all in despair about his wellbeing. So we sought advice from the Vet, who after much inspection, and introspection advised putting him down. He believed that he was ‘inbred’. We said we would sleep on it for a few days and shared our horrible decision with those around us.

A friend who lived in the country would have none of it. She offered a solution. She believed the only thing that Jasper needed was far more room to run around. So she took him to live in the hills on her very large farm.

However after a few weeks she phoned one day in huge distress and demanded we take him back. She had locked him in the garage the night before to stop his continual baying at the moon. The next morning they found that had completely removed all the paintwork off the side of her husband’s prize Porsche. Enough said.

You would have thought that as a family we had by now learned a lesson and be happy to just remember how lovely our beautiful lab Lady was. It seems our luck with dogs was not working.

But no, we gave into weeping children and that was when the most divine liver and white spotted Dalmatian -Rusty came to stay.

He was simply gorgeous and we all adored him.

When he was about 15 months old we moved into a new house on the north shore in Sydney, where just like Superman, Rusty decided he needed to leap tall buildings in a single bound, as well as the six foot high side fence attached to his spacious garden and yard.

He was looking to sow his wild oats it seems.

Castrating a male dog in those days was still frowned upon. As I lived in an all male family (3 sons and husband), it was a ‘touchy’ issue that had not yet been resolved and was still in negotiation.

In the meantime the local council ‘dog snatchers’ proved just how smart they were. When this passionate pooch decided it was time to go on patrol to find a girlfriend, and at all odd times of the day, they soon learned to sit outside to wait for him, and arrest him.

Entrapment of dogs it seems was quite legal.

In leafy Killara the council were very strict about such a thing as you breaking out of your house and roaming the streets looking for love, if you were a dog that is.

We all hated the idea of tying him up all the time, as we had provided a huge chunk of the garden, a very smart house and tons of toys for his amusement.

After we had been fined increasingly huge sums of money by the council and were lined up to go to court at great cost the next time, it became quite obvious to us all that Rusty needed more room away from those who would take him down.

The lovely people who came for him had recently lost their Dalmatian in an accident and their 11 year old son was fretting. So it seemed the perfect fit as they also lived on acreage.

They came to fetch Rusty in a ‘vintage’ ambulance and he left in great fashion and style.

As we all waved him off we got together for a pow wow and firmly decided our family doggy days were over.

However it didn’t put my boys off as adults and that means today, my only personal doggie moments, are when I visit my two ‘grand dog’s, one in Queensland the other in NSW.

Of all the movies my three sons saw about passionate pooches, when they were little, Lady and the Tramp by Walt Disney had the biggest impact of all. This was in the 70’s, despite the movie having been made in 1955 when I was 11 and it had also impacted on me.

The down and out bitza scruffy mutt called Tramp, was busily hobnobbing with his upper east side society Lady girlfriend, a delicious golden cocker spaniel. (we had named our golden dog ‘Lady’ after her).

She was completely captivating and so entirely disarming that you just couldn’t help falling in love with her too.

The values and lessons she taught the dashing Tramp were very poignant.

Then there was Jock the wise and good Scottish terrier, who looks after them all, including the Siren of Song Peg, a puffed up high prancing Pekingese pooch voiced by the legendary Peggy Lee, who spent a lot of time in the pound.

Co-incidentally from our original Knight story where this tale began, Tramp has a great friend who is a bloodhound.

He’s called Trusty, because of his tag of always being ‘reliable and true.

Re mastered for the Digital age, Lady and the Tramp won many hearts and minds all over again when it was re released in 2012.

Tramp, well he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and the relationship he has with Lady echoes that human condition where opposites attract.

Lady sees only the good in her handsome hound.

He’s her knight in shining armour, the one who always keeps her safe and takes her on incredible adventures, usually unheard of for a passionate pooch from the posh side of town.

Images of dogs in literature, art and entertainment demonstrate the love and respect we humans have for our canine pals.

They prove conclusively that for us, and for a long long time, dogs been always been far more than pets.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012-2013

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