A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities
Dogs have a cherished role as close companions, and their sometimes startling abilities have been a never-ending source of fascination for their observers and friends through the ages. In Amazing Dogs, Jan Bondeson uncovers the stories of some of the most extraordinary dogs in history. In the 1750s, the Learned English Dog, a Border collie with the ability to spell and perform mathematical calculations, was a sensation in London and thought by some to be a reincarnation of Pythagoras. The acting Newfoundland dog Carlo, who performed in London from 1803 until 1811, had plays specially written for him; their plots called on him to tackle villains, liberate prisoners, and dive into artificial lakes onstage to save drowning children. Don the Speaking Dog toured the world barking out words like "Hungry! Give me cakes!" and had particular success in New York.
Some of the amazing dogs whose stories Bondeson chronicles belonged to the canine proletariat: turnspit dogs ceaselessly ran inside wheels to turn the roast meat, and terriers showed off their native abilities in rat-pits, with bets laid on the number of rats killed. The champion terrier Billy killed 100 rats in five and a half minutes in 1823, a record that stood until 1863, when it was broken by Jacko, another champion rat-killer. Before the days of UNICEF trick-or-treaters, dogs once collected for charity in London's railway stations, with boxes attached to their backs. Lord Byron's rowdy Newfoundland dog Boatswain belonged to the opposite end of the canine social spectrum, as did the superrich dogs that inherited money from their wealthy and eccentric owners.
Amazing Dogs, illustrated with more than 130 contemporary images, including thirty in color, suitably ends with a chapter on dog cemeteries and canine ghosts. A literary and visual treat for both dog lovers and those fascinated by the history of the strange and the uncanny, this book reaffirms the special bond between humans and dogs.
Jan Bondeson teaches at Cardiff University, Wales. He is the author of many books, including The Two-headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels; The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (both from Cornell); The London Monster; The Great Pretenders: The True Stories behind Famous Historical Mysteries, A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities; and Buried Alive.
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