Meet Mutt. He enjoys pride of place in this gallery because for years through the nineties he promoted The Lost Dogs’ Home on national television in a commercial that was judged, by media advertising writer Bob Walker in the Herald-Sun, as the “Most Touching” commercial of the year (1993). He also made another commercial promoting Buffet Dogs Food. In addition to that he featured for various reasons in print radio and television news stories. Click here to see The Lost Dogs’ Home commercial, and here to view the Buffet commercial 1 and the Buffet commercial 2.
Mutt “graduated” from the Home in 1989 and won several Dog Obedience Awards including the Canine Association’s GDX Obedience Degree. He died, aged nine, of a sudden illness in 1995. Feel free to browse the other pet memorials or add your own pet memorial.
A short story written by his owner won first State prize in a national literary competition. Another was one of ten runners up in a world wide American based writing contest. Below is the internationally published story.
REQUIEM FOR A MUTT
The question, like most questions from my alert and inquisitive seventeen-year-old granddaughter, came as a bolt out of the blue.
“Gramps, did you ever own a dog?”
I was also mildly surprised that she had burst into my study and interrupted the perusal of my personalised newspad update of what was going on out there in our crazy world.
Bright and puckish by nature Pixie was also always polite and respectful to us old folk, well trained in the inter-familial customs taught through the interactive education networks. Also her question was something of an anachronism. There is little talk or thought given these days to such outmoded concepts as “owning animals.” Indeed I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that she hadn’t heard of the concept at all.
“What brought that on?” I asked. Not that it was unusual for her to serve up something unexpected. But this was an unexpected unexpected topic so to speak.
For domestic animal ownership had been one of those aspects of life that the powers-that-be had, in their wisdom, ruthlessly expunged from the public psyche. Starved out by lack of a media stimulus, and strangled by restrictive laws, such ownership was, by the end of the first decade of our 21st century, virtually impossible.
She frowned, and ran her hand through the back of her hair – a sure signal of her irritation – perhaps even frustration. It occurred to me that she was probably wondering why I hadn’t answered her question instead of posing my own in return. Which made me start to wonder the same thing. But then she shrugged dismissively and conjured an old-fashioned non-digital picture print from her pocket and handed it to me.
“Our English teacher asked us to scan a family related photo taken at the turn of the century if possible. One that would tell us something of family life back then.” She smiled, all displeasure banished because she was a happy vibrant soul by nature.
“I thought that,” – coyly – “with your permission of course, I might digitalise and transmit this one.” I took it and saw the likeness of myself when a boy, much younger than the young woman now before me. I was, proudly posing on our front porch, hugging a new friend.
I had just named him Mutt because – well, let’s face it – that’s what he was. A shaggy, middle sized rusty coloured doggie with a nice beard but sans balls
because, in accordance with our State’s law, the poor chap had been desexed prior to being put up for sale by the Lost Dogs’ Home. My parents had bought him to give me my first taste of serious and permanent commitment and responsibility.
His dark brown expressive eyes reflected a sad close up knowledge of the human callousness that had landed him in the Lost Dogs’ Home. They had looked into mine that day begging for another chance. Young as I was I understood that I had been entrusted to atone for the suffering and heartache that humankind that had inflicted on him throughout his then brief two-years of life.
The old picture aroused memories that were still heart-wrenchingly vivid as they leapt across the three-quarters of a century since it was taken. Their clarity aroused the acute sense of bereavement that had hibernated within me since his tragic death..
“Where did you dig this up Pixie?” (Oops I’d done it again!).
I handed it back; ashamed that my unbidden tears must surely be making me look an old fool, and again rebuking myself for answering her with yet another niggling and unimportant question.
But as she took it from me her expression was one only of tender concern.
“I found it in an old album up in the attic. It seemed ideal for what I wanted”.
“Yes, of course. Of course. Please forgive me Pixie”.
Something in my voice moved her to put a comforting hand on my arm.
“Gramps please…..you O.K? Have I upset……….?”
I waved her into silence and smiled.
“Give me a minute Pix.”.
I breathed deeply, blew my nose and swallowed. ““Sorry. What an idiot you must think me!”
For a few seconds only the electronic purr of outside traffic, and the occasional beeps of our technological household servants going about their programmed tasks broke the silence of the mellow late fall afternoon.
“It’s just that……” I checked myself and changed up to a brighter tone, one that the memory of Mutt surely deserved,…. “ to answer your original question – yes I did own a dog. And Mutt was it”.
She looked at me inquiringly.
“Yes, I called him Mutt.” I smiled. “Understand that the name was not a very complimentary one. Back then if a dog were a stray, of uncertain breeding, or lacking in the social graces, they described him as a mutt.”
“It was a derisory a name then?”
I smiled. “Not when it was used affectionately. And who knows? Perhaps even then” I nodded towards the old photograph “I guessed he would endow the name with a dignity that would elevate it to one worthy of respect”.”
“How so Gramps?” She sat down on the settee tucking her leg beneath her. She seemed as intrigued by the thought that I had “owned” a dog, as I would have been at her age had I discovered that my grandfather had owned slaves.
“It’s a long story. Do you really want to listen to an old man ramble on about his long forgotten dog?”
“You bet!. As a matter of fact it would be great! We need to submit a story with the picture, About what it tells us of an aspect of life in those days.’ She gave a cheeky grin. “Sounds like your ramblings would really fit the bill!”
Where to begin? By filling in the background I supposed.
“First you should realise Pixie that owning a dog was not unusual in the 20th Century. Far from it. Perhaps that’s because no-one considered dogs could be really dangerous in those days.”
“Now that’s hard to believe Gramps. I mean they were obviously bigger, stronger and could kill and maim people. There’s many stories…….”
“Yes, yes, and most of them proliferated in the first decade of this century and the one preceding it. Oddly enough prior to those times dogs had always been known as “man’s best friend”.
“Man’s best friend?” Her brow wrinkled. “Couldn’t women own them then?”
I corrected myself. “Yes, they could and did. Understand it really meant a “human’s best friend”. I remind you up until the final decades of the last century the masculine gender was also generic to pronouns covering both genders. It wasn’t a matter of sexism. Just a convenient use of the language”.
Pixie rose. strode across to me and kissed me on the cheek. “I knew what you meant silly! You’re showing your age a bit! Nowadays the trend’s well on the way back to that custom. Can’t I pull your leg?”
“Any time you like” I smiled. I enjoyed her banter. And it was interesting that the old expressions seemed to be creeping back into the lexicon of the young. “Anyway, most households had dogs – and cats – as pets, as well as other
animals. But then came what you’ve been taught was “The Age of Insane Litigation” where…..”
“Everybody sued everybody else because they wanted to pin the consequences of their misfortune on someone else?”
“Well put. That’s how it was. So when an animal did attack anyone it got to be big news with big lawsuits involved. Juries awarded huge amounts of money to people who just didn’t know how to act around an animal. This was often the real cause of dog attacks. No fault of the dog. No fault of the owners.”
“To cope with the situation the laws covering animal ownership became stricter and stricter. It got to be that the only way you could own an animal and remain beyond reach of the possibility of ruinous litigation would be to keep your “best friend” locked in a cellar without the possibility of physical contact with any other living thing, or, for that matter, any inanimate object that could be damaged by a dog or cat.”
Pixie nodded knowingly. I was covering ground familiar to her.
“Interesting. At school they teach us that “The Age of Insane Litigation” was the cause of the great slumps of our first decade. Insurance companies going broke, businesses forced to close through the consequent lack of their protection. Supply therefore falling as demand increased. Hence rising prices”
“Quite right.” I was proud of the mature level of her response. Perhaps there was something to be said for modern education after all.
“The virtual abolition of domestic animal ownership was regarded as a minor consequence of that, maybe even a blessing, because of the media’s attitude towards dogs. There were almost daily reports of dog attacks, pictures of young children being mauled by the so called “fighting” or “dangerous” types of dog”
“But are you saying Gramps that during the 20th Century it wasn’t dangerous to own such animals? I mean how could you stop them from attacking you whenever they felt like it?”
I laughed. “ What’s to prevent you from attacking me whenever you feel like it? You are undoubtedly bigger, stronger and fitter, and you’ve already passed the urban self-defence course to instructor eligibility standard”.
“Oh really Grampus!” That’s no answer!” She assumed a mock frown. “Although maybe I should think about it!”
“Spare an old man who loves you! But understand that animals don’t attack friends. Especially those who sustain their life-style. But now let me tell you what a famous New York newspaper publisher said about dog ownership in
the nineteenth century and how far away his concept was to that which prevails these days. As a budding news-gatherer you’ll find it interesting”.
She leaned forward towards to me obviously stimulated by the debate.
“Go on!” Her story was taking shape.
“His name was Charles Dana. He said that when a dog bites a man that’s not news. But when a man bites a dog that is news. About a hundred years later– which is to say the nineteen-eighties and nineties – the reverse was made into the truth.
“That’s why dog ownership declined. Media reports of dogs biting people, especially children, scared them. Others were fearful of legal consequences in an age where householders were successfully sued by burglars who had been attacked by dogs whilst breaking into their homes”.
Pixie gasped. “Really. That is crazy! No wonder they called it The Age of Insane Litigation”.
“I applaud your reaction Pixie. If you want to flesh that aspect out I’m sure you could find it and other like cases, in the web’s archives.”
“Fascinating. But you loved Mutt all the same? No fear of him landing you in the soup? ”
“Not at all. “Hand me his picture again would you?”
I took the old photo back and looked at it.
“Apart from your grandmother – may she rest in peace – Mutt was the best friend I ever had.” I noticed a quick indulgent smile. “Yes I know Pixie. But don’t forget –you weren’t born then!”
“Thank you. But it’s true. He added such a dimension to my life. TV appearances. Newspaper pictures – standing next to the Premier, Awards galore. It was like owning a comet and hanging on to its tail as it streaked across the heavens!
I looked again at the picture whilst Pixie stared at me astonished. Had the old boy gone nuts?
“Are we still talking about owning a dog?”
I smiled. “ Indeed we are. Bear with me. I started his dog obedience lessons just after this picture was taken. In those days those who loved their dogs did that. They progressed through graded lessons – starting with basic commands, and over times graduating to more complicated exercises.” I paused as I recollected those far off days and customs.
“But “obedience” was arguably the least important aspect of the training. The close relationship it created was infinitely more satisfying”. I looked across at Pixie. She had somehow got hold of a pad and was taking down what I was saying. Obviously she wasn’t bored.
“Go on Gramps”. She looked up then gestured with her pad. “You don’t mind do you?”
“Not at all”. Indeed not. I was flattered by her interest as I continued.
“Mutt and I developed a friendship that was true and real, based on shared experiences, shared hopes, shared victories, shared disappointments. Both of us in our own way grappled with the huge task of bridging the obvious communication gap between a human being and an animal. Such a gap will always exist, no matter how well training, hand signs, and tones of voice on our part can narrow it.
“Our increasingly demanding journey towards the titles of Dog Obedience and Dog Agility Champions heightened the feelings and emotions we shared. Hence the communication wall between us became thinner and thinner.” I looked at her as she took her notes, very much the reporter she was to become.
“Mutt’s television career started in the manner common to most such careers.” Pixie looked up, eyebrows raised.
“His audition for a fund raising TV commercial for his alma mater – the Lost Dogs Home – was the first step. A lonely dog, obviously lost, limping along a deserted country road. A car picking him up. A voice-over message from the Lost Dogs Home, as the car with Mutt and his rescuer drove off into a golden sunset.
“I was so very proud of him. After that came other ads for Dog Foods, Soft Drinks, and Dog-care products. Press publicity in which he appeared as the canine representative among human civic dignitaries. Even a part in an election commercial – ‘You can trust the present Government’ ”.
“Gosh, what a time you must have had Gramps!” Pixie had put down her pad and was staring at me in astonishment as I recalled that managing Mutt became almost the job of an impressario.
However my recollections of that pitifully brief five-year period so long ago were not so much of the fame and triumph aspects as that of the deep bond, understanding, and level of communication grew and blossomed between us.
It was good to hear kids in the street walk by and say, just within earshot, ‘Hey, did you see the Lost Dog?’ or someone coming up and asking ‘Excuse me – is that Mutt?’
“Gramps! That’s just about as cool as it gets! Do you have any of his trophies? Film clips? Archive material?”
“Maybe. Somewhere. I certainly wouldn’t have thrown anything out intentionally. However the tide of time is apt to wash items away when you’re not looking” . I tried to think. “I’ll see what I can find”.
“Thanks” She hesitated slightly, then checked her notes and asked
“You mentioned five years. Was that all the time you and Mutt were together? Didn’t dogs live longer than that?”
“Oh yes” Now I was coming to the painful memories. “In those days we could expect say fifteen years. Life expectancy of animals had increased enormously with the advance of veterinary science.” I braced myself for the ending.
“But one day he just fell ill. For no reason we could fathom He was only about seven at the time – barely half way through his life. The vets tried in vain to save him. But he died quietly in my arms when he returned from treatment. He could have been poisoned by snail bait or poison laid by those who wanted to cull the number of foxes that proliferated in our area at that time. Or eaten some fatal plants. Whatever”
“Oh Gramps!” I could see the tears forming in her eyes. Or were they in my eyes – generated by the sad memories.
“ Must have been sadder because Mutt was so clever and famous”.
I shook my head. “That sort of sadness could never be graded. All animal owners felt it to much the same degree. All had shared important experiences with their animals. All had developed a unique bond. How such bonds were forged is not important. The breaking was just as hard.”
“I understand Grandfather”.
I looked up surprised How very formal.. How appropriate. Pixie looked at me with a mature sympathetic sadness. A young woman, perhaps trying to imagine the kind of relationship about which her generation knows nothing. A formality that saluted the value of what she had just discovered.
Later I found that she did a lot more research on what I had told her that afternoon. She won her school’s prize for my old photo of myself and Mutt – plus her version of its story. She titled her piece “When We Bonded with the Animals”
It was a good omen, encouraging my talented granddaughter in her ambitions concerning her future reporting career. A career that now brings her to your screens every evening to tell you what’s been happening in the world all day. I was pleased. For Pixie of course. But for Mutt too.
“Well done old friend” I sometimes whisper to his ghost. Almost seventy years on – and your magic still prevails”.