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100 Years Ago: March 1919

This is my fiftieth brief review regarding a National Geographic Magazine which I have read to mark the centennial of its publishing.

The March 1919 issue of the National Geographic can rightly be called “The Dog Number”. It contains a field guide containing paintings and descriptions of 73 breeds. It also has three articles, all related to dogs, and an index with not only references to the field guide, but also to items in the articles. As a header before the list of contents on the cover there is a line stating “Thirty-two Pages in Color”.

The first item listed is an introductory article entitled “Mankind’s Best Friend”. It was written by Ernest Harold Baynes, who also coauthored the field guide. It has a subtitle reading, “Companion of His Solitude, Advanced Guard in the Hunt, and Ally of the Trenches”. It contains “11 Illustrations” of which ten are black-and-white photographs, two of them full-page. The final illustration is a sketch drawing of a dog charting its gross anatomy.

The author begins with a flight of fancy with the intellectual gulf between man and the animals being an actual widening chasm. All the other animals ignored man, but the dog looked yearningly at man, he danced and yelped. Man noticed him and called to him to jump. The dog leapt and barely caught the edge with his front claw. He hung there for a moment until the man bent down and picked him up. The dog was so happy and grateful that he pledged his loyalty to man.

Dogs are the oldest friends of man, very much older than the cat or the horse. Probably we shall never know when the friendship began, but dog bones have been found beside the bones of primitive man. This tends to show that it was in very remote times. They probably started as competitors or even adversaries in the wild. An unarmed man would quickly be overpowered by a pack of dogs, or he could climb a tree if one was nearby. Man was not unarmed however. He had clubs and spears, and fire.

Dogs soon learned to keep their distance from man, who can kill from afar. Since they were both carnivores and hunted for a living, sometimes dogs following men at a safe distance, would clean up after a human kill, taking the discarded scraps. Sometimes too, men would happen upon a dog kill, and chase the dogs away and take what they want, leaving the rest for the waiting pack. Over time this competition between man and dog gradually form a sort of partnership in the chase.

When man lived in caves, he was an untidy creature who after feeding would toss the bones and other refuse just outside his home. Dogs would take advantage of this free food and come and carry it off. In this way man would become used to, and even encourage the presence of dogs near his home. With so many wild dogs living nearby, it is certain that occasionally their dens would be found by the man and the puppies carried home to amuse the children. Such puppies would grow up with little fear of their human hosts, eventually earning a place as part of the household. Puppies of these dogs would be a little tamer so after many generations they would become domesticated, their wildness bred out.

Sooner or later man would discover that certain individual dogs were swifter or stronger and therefore more useful in the hunt. These would be encouraged to accompany man in the hunt while the others would be left at home. The less useful dogs would be gradually eliminated, driven away or killed. As dogs were required for other purposes – for guarding property, or even for household pets – other qualities might be encouraged and other breeds evolved.

In the inevitable intercourse between peoples of different regions there would surely be an exchange of dogs, accidentally or otherwise, and the result would be new varieties which in the course of ages and under widely varying conditions, including finally selective breeding, might eventually produce the many widely differing breeds we see today.

If you ever attended a dog show like the Westminster Kennel Club show in New York, you would see 3,000 dogs on benches and over a hundred breeds represented. Each breed is widely different from the next. A Saint Bernard weighs between 250 and 300 pounds while a Chihuahua barely tips the scale at a pound and a half. Compare a thick-coated Eskimo dog to the hairless dogs of Mexico and Africa. Almost every feature shows variation between breeds. The example the author uses is the ears, pointed on a German shepherd, falling forward at the tip on a collie, and pendulous on a bloodhound.

These and the endless other comparisons of the many different breeds may make us hesitate to accept which naturalists, led by Darwin, have arrived at, namely, that all domestic dogs are descended from a few wild forms, namely, wolves, jackals, and possibly dingos. For a long time, it was thought that foxes should be included among the ancestors of the dog. While similar in appearance and habit, dogs and foxes cannot be interbred. On the other hand, wolves, jackals, and dingos cross freely with domestic dogs and the progeny is fertile.

Both the American gray wolf and the smaller prairie wolf, or coyote, are easily domesticated, though not quite as tame as domestic dogs. Mr. Baynes had a coyote, named Romulus, for six years. He was very affectionate, and would wag his tail to express joy at meeting the author, and throw himself on his back as an invitation to caress him. He was playful too, given one end of a rope or strap would do his best to pull it away. Romulus was very destructive of poultry, and even to wild deer. The author finally gave him to a zoological garden, where he died six years later, at the age of twelve. Mr. Baynes would visit Romulus once or twice a year. Each time Romulus would role over on his back like a friendly puppy.

The author’s experience with domesticated timber wolves tends to show that they are not so affectionate as the coyotes. As puppies, they are rather playful, but as they get older, they are apt to take themselves very seriously. They differ greatly in character. Some become savage while others are gentle and friendly for life. One wolf he owned sometimes showed him marked affection, but it was only occasionally, and then only when they were entirely alone.

The dingo is the wild dog of Australia and may have been one of the ancestors of our domestic breeds. There is still some doubt about this, however, as it is not quite certain whether the animal originated in Australia or whether it descended from the dogs of Asia and was introduced by man at some very remote time. In any case, it is a true dog and is easily tamed. The native name for the animal is “warrigal”, dingo being the name given by the natives to any domesticated dog of the settlers. The dingos the author has seen were tawny brown in color and about the size of a collie. In the wild state dingos hunt in packs. They were so destructive to sheep that the stockmen began a war of extermination aided by a government bounty of five shillings for every dingo killed.

Many domesticated dogs resemble the wild forms of the same regions. The resemblance is nowhere stronger than the Eskimo dogs of Greenland and Alaska, which are believed to be simple domesticated wolves. Some Arctic explorers have called attention to the difficulty of distinguishing them from the wild wolves of the region. A few years ago, Admiral Peary took the author to Flag Island so he could see the pure-bred North Greenland Eskimo dogs which he brought back after his discovery of the North Pole. With its tail curled it looks like a dog, but with its tail lowered, to all appearances it is a gray wolf.

In a similar fashion. Some dogs found among the Indians further south closely resemble coyotes. Many of the pariah dogs of India look much like the wolves of that country. In southeastern Europe and the south of Asia, many breeds of dogs resemble the jackals of those districts. Some of the dogs of South America resemble the small wolves of that continent. All of this led Darwin to the conclusion that the domestic dogs of the world are descended from existing species of wolves and jackals, and perhaps from some extinct species.

Evidence for Stone Age domestication of dogs has been found in Denmark and in Switzerland. Ancient carvings from thousands of years ago depicting dogs have been found. Evidence of dogs in ancient times is everywhere, except for a few islands around the world. Art from the Assyrians and Egyptians show distinct and recognizable breeds. The Assyrians had at least two, the greyhound and the mastiff, while the Egyptians had several widely different breeds.

The worship of dogs seems to have originated in Egypt. The annual overflowing of the Nile was heralded by the appearance of Sirius, the dog star. The dog came to be regarded as a god and represented with the body of a man and the head of a dog, Anubis. Dog worship spread from Egypt to many other countries where it took different forms. The Romans and the Greeks both sacrificed dogs to their gods. A nation in Ethiopia was said to have set up a dog for its king. He signified his approval by wagging his tail and his disapproval by barking.

The article closes by mentioning the work of dogs in the war. Harness dogs, formerly used to haul milk, vegetables and other produce, were put to work hauling light artillery and other supplies for the troops. Dogs carried dispatches through barbwire and amid a hail of bullets, even carrying homing pigeons in baskets on their backs. Dogs would also be used to find the wounded after battle. Being trained to ignore the dead, these dogs saved countless lives. Many dogs have been decorated for bravery and distinguished service, and some have paid the ultimate price, for us.

The second item listed on the cover is the Field Guide itself. On the cover it is entitled “Intimate Studies of Dogs We Know”. Its title on page 201 reads simply “Our Common Dogs”. It was written by Louis Agassiz Fuertes and Ernest Harold Baynes, with Illustrations by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. The field guide is comprised of a brief introduction; a set of 32 pages containing 45 color paintings of 73 different breeds of dogs; descriptions for each breed comprised of a breed name, the page number of its illustration, and text documenting the breeds attributes and habits; and an index, which is found at the end of the issue.

The introduction is only four paragraphs long with a three-paragraph footnote. It documents the challenges faced in creating this guide.

The dog is a species without known beginning, and of man’s dependent animals the most varied in size, form, coat, and color. No breed can be considered a species, as any dog may breed with any other and produce fertile offspring, which in itself is the very definition of a species. The dog shows great plasticity and it presents the range of possibility and the readiness with which new “varieties” may be produced and stabilized.

The illustrator’s problem in preparing this series was not the production of a “standard of perfection” of the various breeds, but to show, as far as possible, the proper appearance of acceptable types that have been dignified by a name. There are other recognized varieties of dogs, but those shown are the kinds best known.

The footnote lists the many books used as references in creating this guide. It also lists many of the people who provided photographs and other material to the artist. The artist ends by apologizing for not listing everyone who helped, but it would “occupy more space than the finished article!”

As mentioned before, aside from the paintings, the heart of the field guide is the set of descriptions. Each one starts with a bold, capitalized name of the breed followed by an italicized illustration page number. These are followed by four or five paragraph descriptions of the breed, its unique features, its habits, and its uses by man. The artist also adds memories of his own interactions with some of the breeds.

The next article listed on the cover is entitled “Loyalty, Sagacity, and Courage: The Heritage of Dogkind”. Its title on page 253 is shortened to “The Sagacity and Courage of Dogs” but it has a lengthy subtitle reading, “Instances of Remarkable Intelligence and Unselfish Devotion of Man’s Best Friend Among Dumb Animals”. The article has no byline. It contains thirteen black-and-white photographs of which two are full-page in size. Also embedded in the article are six pages of color paintings that are part of the field guide.

Other articles in this issue have pictured the outward dog. They have shown the great gap between the stub-nosed, short-legged pug and the long-muzzled, lank-limbed greyhound. They have contrasted the bare-skinned, pocket-sized Chihuahua with the rough-coated, massive-built Newfoundland. But this article attempts to portray the inner dog – its nature rather than its form. Here too there is much diversity as with the gap between the tenacious bulldog that dares to die in the grips of a foe and the timorous toy spaniel that would run from a rabbit.

Pointers and setters have had their olfactory organs developed to fit the needs of man. Galloping across a field at ten miles an hour, as he seeks living targets for his master’s gun. Amid a riot of odors, a well-breed, well-trained pointer can detect a quail at ten paces or more. After the shot, he can distinguish the scent of a dead bird and a wounded one, and rush in to retrieve a corpse but stay on point near a wounded bird so his master can finish the job.

The bloodhound’s ability to hit a trail and keep on it is one of the marvels of nature. The track can be hours old and had been overlaid by a veritable mélange of odors but the hound is relentlessly without deviation toward his quarry. Man’s sense of smell is highly developed but it is irresponsive to the scents that stir the trained dog to action. One cannot too highly extol the work of the hunting dog.

The writer now pivots to the many letters he’s received with tales of dog’s bravery and intelligence. Many of the tales of exceptional intelligence seem to reflect the enthusiasm of the dog lover rather than critical observation. One story tells of a bulldog who accompanied his owner to a physician where the owner had a broken arm set. Several weeks later the surgeon heard scratching at his door. Upon opening the door, he found the bulldog with a canine friend needing its leg set.

The many stories of dogs at the battlefront form one of the epics of the great struggle. There were about ten thousand dogs employed at the front by the time the armistice was signed. They ranged from Alaskan malamute to St. Bernard and from Scotch collie to fox terrier. Many of them were placed on regimental rosters like soldiers. In the trenches they shared all the perils and hardships of the soldiers. Red Cross dogs rendered invaluable service in feeding and aiding the wounded. Dogs also served as sentinels and couriers. The sled dog proved indispensable in the high Alps going where no lorry, horse, or man could go.

In an age before Lassie and Rin Tin Tin the writer discusses dogs as actors on the stage such as Teddy, seen in the Mack Sennett comedies. Jasper is another celebrated canine actor. He has entertained Presidents, Cardinals, and Supreme Court Justices. Shep, in “The Road to Happiness”, played his role for three years without missing a rehearsal or performance. Jack, in “The Little Shepard of Kingdom Come”, distinguished himself by his ability to portray the faithful devotion of a dog for his master.

Many dogs have developed a fondness for traveling, acknowledging as master for the moment anyone who would help them on their way. Bob, a dog born in rabbit country, Australia, attached himself to a railroad employee, and began to ride on the tender of a locomotive. His license was always bought and paid for by the men, and his collar bore the inscription, “Stop me not, but let me jog; I am Bob, the drivers’ dog.”

In the United States there is Owney, who was adopted as a puppy by the post office staff of Albany, New York. One day he went down to the train with a mail wagon and decided he would go out with the boys in the postal car. He enjoyed it so much that the clerks decided to have him tagged on every run. It was soon found he had visited every big city in the country. After being awarded a special harness by the Postmaster General in Washington to replace his overloaded collar, Owney traveled around the world in 132 days, visiting China, Singapore, Suez, and Western Europe.

Many famous men have owned dogs. George Washington maintained a pack of foxhounds at Mt. Vernon. During the Revolutionary War, while at dinner a very fine sporting dog came to the presents of General Washington. He was hungry and his collar bore the inscription “General Howe”. After being fed, the dog was returned under a flag of truce. Washington receive a letter of thanks from General Howe in acknowledgement of his kindness.

King Edward VII owned a little wire-haired terrier named Caesar. On his collar was the inscription, “I am Caesar, and I belong to the King.” When the sovereign died, Caesar and the king’s favorite charger marched in the procession just behind the King’s coffin. Caesar took precedence over nine kings and nearly all the princes in the world.

The author finishes article by discussing the dogs of the Polar regions. A Commander is quoted as saying, “They afford the only line of communications between many of the army posts, there being three hundred of them constantly in the service.” Man stands powerless before the ice and snow without the dogs of the North. In some parts, dogs are loaded with packs instead of hitched to sleds. One of the principal sports of the North is dog racing. One sled race is a 412-mile run over snow and ice from Nome to Candle and return. It is usually is a contest between Alaskan malamutes and Siberian wolf-dogs, with the Siberian wolf-dogs winning the last four out of seven years. In a recent year one of these teams made the round trip in 80 hours and 27 minutes.

The dogs of the FAR North are devoted to their masters, but the eternal cold and unbroken solitude of the lonely places within the Circle often make the devotion mutual. A case in point, Captain Robert Bartlett was in command of the Karluk when the ship was caught in drift ice. When the ship sank, he saw his crew to reasonable safety and set out with a team of dogs and one Eskimo. His lead dog fell in the water trying to jump an ice-lane. The dog was rescued but the sea-water on his hair immediately froze. To save the dog from freezing, the two men successfully chewed the ice out of their four-footed ally’s coat

The last article in this issue is entitled “Sheep-Killers: The Pariahs of the Canine World” on the cover. On page 275 the title reads “Sheep-Killers – The Pariahs of Dogkind”. It also has no byline. It contains three black-and-white photographs of which two are full-page.

The article is a counterpoint to the other articles in this issue. Not exactly red meat for the dog hater but at least a quantum of solace for the cat lovers among the readers. While the title specifically mentions dogs that kill sheep, the article touches on many ways that dogs can be harmful, even dangerous.

With the cost of wool so high and the demand for new meat production so great, it is surprising that the farm east of the Missouri River having a flock of sheep is the exception and not the rule. Farmers are deterred from raising sheep by the unrestricted dogs. A hundred thousand sheep are killed annually by dogs. Some dogs kill just one or two in a flock while others continue the attack until all the sheep are destroyed. Dogs work singly and in groups in attacking sheep.

The dogs that are homeless and the ones that are permitted out of bounds are a menace not only to the sheep industry, but to the health of man and beast as well. Dogs spread many diseases, the most terrible of these being Rabies. In a recent year, 111 people in the United States died from hydrophobia. Tens of thousands of dogs suffering from this disease are destroyed. The disease was a problem in England until a stringent muzzling law was enacted and a quarantine on imported dogs established. The result is that the disease has almost disappeared. Australia and New Zealand have similar quarantines, and the disease has never reached those lands. Other diseases dogs are known to spread are hyatid, gid, tapeworm and roundworm.

The United States Department of Agriculture has formulated a model dog law. Tax assessors should list dogs; unspayed female should be subject to a higher tax; all dogs should be required to wear collars and tags bearing their owners’ names; all dogs, unless under leash or control of their owners, should be confined from sunset to sunrise; sheep-killing dogs may be killed by anyone, without liability to the owner; that any dog running at large upon the enclosed lands of a person other than the dog’s owner may be killed; dog owners are liable to the county for all money paid out for damages done by the dog; and sheep owners may set out poison on their farms after public notice of such intention.

As mentioned before, this issue’s field guide ends with an index, just as most of the prior field guides published in the National Geographic Magazine. Unlike the indices in those other field guides, this one contains numerous entries referencing topics in all three articles of the magazine. This is in addition to all the regular, field guide entries (Breed name, Painting page number, and Description page number). There is also an entry for the “Chart of a dog”.

Tom Wilson

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LOVE this issue ! Perhaps my most favorite issue . . . 

I love it too.  Notice I've started to embed a few photos since Phil is no longer able to add any.

Yes, I did notice that, and as a reader/fellow 'Corner member, I appreciate your effort.

NOTE:  this issue was so popular with Society members, that it was reissued in book format as "The Book of Dogs". There were several versions, including a deluxe Molloy-binding edition.

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