Historical Pooches

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from HowStuffWorks.com.

Candace: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm editor, Candace Keener, joined by fellow editor, Katie Lambert.

Katie: Hey Candace.

Candace: Hey Katie. I have a question for you.

Katie: All right.

Candace: Who let the dogs out of the history books?

Katie: It's funny you should ask, because today we're going to talk about historical pooches.

Candace: I love, love, love my pooch and I love historical pooches, too. Pooches are humanizing, in a way, you take a historical figure - like Hitler, for instance, who we're going to discuss - who had a dog, and when you learn the way he felt about his dog, it somehow makes him a little bit more human - not a lot more human, because he was a pretty terrible individual - but it helps aid in our understanding to know how a person treats his or her pet. For instance, remember when President Obama said that after he'd won the election, he was going to get Malia and Sasha a puppy? Everyone was up in arms about what kind of dog they were going to get. Everyone had an opinion. And now that Bo is there, he makes a regular appearance in different articles in the New York Times. He's had his own presidential pet portrait taken. People just love pooches. And why not?

Katie: It was embarrassing almost how excited people got about his choosing a dog. I know I got really excited. I was like, "Well, what kinds of hypoallergenic dogs are there?" And then I felt kind of silly.

Candace: But you shouldn't. To begin with, to help put this in some context other than us just gushing about how cute pooches are, we're going to talk a bit about animal domestication which is actually a topic that has been requested before by one of you - I don't remember who - but specifically canine domestication. Animal domestication in general can be a hot button issue for some people. Humans used to use animals just as food sources, but then they realized they could be put to use to clothe them and to work for them, to transport them and to even protect them. Some animal rights advocacy groups, such as PETA, would argue that you're putting animals in captivity when you use them and you domesticate them in this way, whereas others would argue on behalf of domestication saying that when a human is caring for an animal that animal doesn't have to worry about where its next meal is going to come from, whether or not it's going to get too hot or too cold, whether or not it will be protected; it has someone to do that for them.

Katie: And according to Jane McGrath's wonderful article on animal domestication on the site, humans have only domesticated 14 animal species of about 148. The shift to domesticating animals came after humans became domesticated - when we went from being hunter-gatherers to being farmers.

Candace: I like that comparison. I like thinking of myself as a domesticated animal.

Katie: The first domesticated dogs were probably in Southwest Asia. Dogs are actually decendents of the gray wolf. DNA evidence posits that dogs became distinct from wolves anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000 years ago. It's so hard to picture Jupiter as a wolf.

Candace: I know. My little JRT! I imagine him sometimes as a wolf and he bites me with his sharp teeth. But the oldest domesticated dog fossil that we have in the fossil record is 14,000 years old. Scientists like to wonder how dogs got to be dogs from wolves which are such wild and what we may think of as ferocious animals.

Katie: Animals change throughout the process of domestication. It seems that domesticated animals' brains become smaller actually and they lose some of their sensory abilities the more domesticated they are. Some common changes - again, according to Jane's article - are floppy ears, curly hair and changing in size and mating habits the longer down the generations you go.

Candace: So, there's a bit of behavioral change as well as biology taking place, and as far as behavioral changes go, experts suspect that early humans would leave piles of food scraps around and wolves might come root around in them and discover that humans were actually kind of nice, because they would give them food, or else humans took in wolf pups and kept them as pets or kept them around. So, it could have made them a little more docile. The relationship with humans could've evolved like that or natural selection could've taken place to create the first kind of dog. What's so interesting about wolves is that they have pack behavior. They decide who the leader of their pack is, and they have this hardwired sense of social hierarchy in place. So, when humans came along and became their new masters, it was just natural for the wolf to defer to the human and there you go. The dog eventually develops.

Katie: It wasn't until the 19th Century that we saw a bunch of new dog breeds actually, and dog shows started to come into vogue.

Candace: People would make their own breeds of dogs to do specific purposes, whether that was hunting or protecting or keeping them company. And we know that today, there are designer dog breeds where people mix breeds with different breeds and we get things like cockapoos and labradoodles.

Katie: And teeny, teeny tiny versions of dogs.

Candace: It's like things from Dr. Seuss. I don't quite understand it. But pets have a long and ancient history. The Egyptians actually kept dogs as pets, and they really lived the high life with attendance and bejeweled collars. In some instances, dogs were even mummified and entombed with their masters. I've always been fascinated by the etymology of pets - first, because I'm ridiculous and I get fascinated by things like that, but I'd always suspected that the word "pet" and the concept of pet evolved from an object or an animal that you actually pat, like the verb, and that's not actually true. I was way off base. Whoa, Candace, whoa! The Online Etymology Dictionary says that "pet" is from Scotland and North England, and in 1508, it was used to mean an indulged child. In 1539, it was used to refer to an animal kept as a favorite. And not until 1629 was it used as a verb that meant "to treat as a pet." And not until 1818 was it a verb meant "to stroke." So, there you go. Everything you ever wanted to know about the word "pet." So, without further ado, now that we know how dogs came to be and what a pet actually is, let's get into the historical pooches.

Katie: To start off with someone who seriously needs some humanizing, we'll talk about Adolf Hitler's German Shepherd, Blondie. In the summer of 1943, pretty much the only time he left his bunker was to walk Blondie. His girlfriend, Eva Braun, did not like her at all. The story about Blondie is that Hitler was thinking about committing suicide with cyanide capsules and he wanted to test them out to make sure they hadn't been contaminated by other sources so they still worked or that they were what they said they were, because at this point, he was a bit paranoid that people were trying to kill him - understandably. So, they gave the cyanide capsules to Blondie who died immediately. Although, Candace, I think you were saying that might not actually be the case.

Candace: I've ready other conflicting sources that explained that Hitler wanted a humane death for his dog, and so he had her put down because he was afraid that if he turned her loose - he didn't know what the people in Berlin would do to her in retaliation against him.

Katie: And after Blondie died, either way, they took Blondie's puppies and shot all of them and then also killed Eva Braun's dogs. This was at the very end of Hitler's life, period, in April of 1945. That's when he learned that Mussolini was killed. That night, he married his girlfriend, dictated his will, they said their goodbyes, and then he shot himself and Eva took the cyanide, and their dog was cremated actually with them.

Candace: Another historical pooch story that is a little bit warmer and fuzzier is one that came as a request from a listener who wanted to hear us talk about Greyfriars Bobby. And when I read the story of Greyfriars Bobby, it transported me back in time to early spring 2007 I the very first stages of the Stuff You Should Know podcast when I was doing it with Chris Pollette and Josh Clark - ages ago, I'll telling you - and we talked about this Akita named Hachiko. And basically the story behind Hachiko is that her master died, and she waited very patiently for him every day at the subway so she expected him to come back - very, very sad stuff. The Bobby story is very similar, too. In 1858, John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard in Scotland. He had a little terrier named Bobby, and even though John Gray didn't have a very elaborate burial plot - and some people would say it was vastly indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape surrounding it - Bobby always knew where his master was, and he waited there and never left except for food. People would actually come and watch and observe this dog holding vigil by his master's grave.

Katie: Even a cold-hearted robot like me has to tear up a little at that one.

Candace: For 14 years, Greyfriars Bobby waited there, and today there are little monuments to him and his loyalty to his master.

Katie: Speaking of monuments, there is actually a statue of FDR's little black Scottie, Fala, near the FDR memorial. The first presidential pet biography was actually written about Fala. The dog was much beloved by the nation and got FDR in trouble once, because Fala accompanied him on a trip to the Aleutian Islands and the rumor spread around in the media was that Fala was left and the president sent back a destroyer ship to go get Fala, thereby wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. The president actually answered in a speech which is known as the Fala Speech, when he was talking to the teamsters union and saying that he was perfectly fine with being criticized but you leave his dog out of it!

Candace: If you've never been to the FDR Memorial in Washington, you should go, but don't make the mistake I did which was walking through it backward. I accidentally started at the end instead of the beginning, because I am brilliant, so I started at the end and it's very haunting and poignant scenes of what life would've been like in the Great Depression. But then when you get to the beginning, there's a very nice statue of FDR with Fala. So, if you want to be depressed and then cheered up, go from the end to the beginning. But if you want the reverse experience, actually go the way the artists intended for you to follow the path. So, there you have it.

Katie: And Fala actually had a pretty nice life. He had his own bone delivered every day on the president's breakfast tray, and the staff was actually told not to feed him anymore. Because he was so cute, everyone kept giving him stuff and he got ill.

Candace: Oh, no! Another dog that got ill is George Herbert Lord Carnarvon's dog. Lorn Carnarvon actually financed Howard Carter's excavation of King Tut's tomb, and while he was with the excavation party, he was bitten by a mosquito and later became very ill and died. Then his dog, Susie, who was a fox terrier, died, too. According to eye-witness reports, Susie supposedly let out a very loud and plaintiff howl and then just dropped dead. The media at the time, and Arthur Conan Doyle who you know is famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, popularized the idea of the mummy's curse and how it had affected not only Lord Carnarvon but also his dog. So, as green editor Sarah Dowdey who wrote that article said, "Who knew the mummy's curse extends to dogs?"

Katie: Speaking of curses, we'll go to the Kennedy curse, because JFK Jr. had a little dog named Pushinka who was given to him by Kruschev, and there were some very cute pictures of little JFK Jr. holding the little dog.

Candace: This might be my favorite fact I came across doing this research. Fran├žois Mitterand's dog, Baltic, actually ate off porcelain, drank only mineral water and had his own chauffeur, according to this particular website. In his will, Mitterand asked that Baltic walk in his funeral procession. Very Leona Helmsley-like! If only he'd left it gobs and gobs of money. But not all presidential pooches, like Fala, for instance, had it quite so easy. Little Fido Lincoln was actually stabbed by a drunk man, which is tragic, and then there was a media frenzy around Checkers Nixon.

Katie: And Nixon was accused of taking cash from private donors and basically just having this giant stock of money that he could use for his own personal purposes, so on September 23rd, 1952, he got on TV to defend himself and went into great detail about what all of his money was used for and what kind of contributions he took and what expenses he had and made sure to put in a plug for his sweet dog, Checkers, that his daughters so loved. The public completely ate it up. Some people say he was one of the first to use the media to manipulate his message in such a helpful way. Although, of course, with his debate with Kennedy in 1960, Kennedy won that one!

Candace: You see what I mean about pooches humanizing historical figures?

Katie: Exactly.

Candace: And so, we think that all of you out there who have pooches, well, you should email us and tell us all about your adorable pooches because we love stuff like that. Also, tell us who your favorite historical pooch is. Actually, speaking of pooches making history and having a hold over people, I have to say that over the past almost year and a half that I've been doing this podcast, it has been such a blast, but I have a sweet little Jack Russel named Jupiter at home, and I've been so busy regaling all of you with tales of history that I've sadly been missing his formative years. So, without further ado, I bid you all ado and I leave the podcast in Katie's very capable hands. Joining us, will be one of our wonderful fellow editors, Sarah Dowdey. So, thank you all for listening and for your kind emails and ideas over the past year. If you want more information about historical pooches and other historical figures, be sure to visit the website at HowStuffWorks.

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