by Peggy Tibbetts
|Lord Byron and Boatswain|
When it comes to wearing their hearts on their sleeves, writers have gone to the dogs. Lord Byron was enormously fond of his Newfoundland named Boatswain, whom he nursed until his death after he was infected with rabies. The poet inscribed Boatswain’s headstone with one of his best-known texts, “Epitaph to a Dog.” Like Byron before him, American playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote a touching eulogy to his Dalmatian, Blemie. Sword and sorcery fiction writer Robert E. Howard’s dog Patches was named after the famous jester who disappointed the king and was sent outside to sleep with the dogs.
Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson had a Newfoundland named Carlo. Together they roamed the meadows and woods surrounding her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson remarked that dogs are better than people because “they know – but do not tell.” New England novelist Edith Wharton’s husband suffered from acute depression so she found companionship in her six lapdogs, including Chihuahuas, Pekingese, and Poodles. Emily Brontë kept a ferocious canine brute named Keeper. It was she who tamed him of his aggression and it is widely believed he changed her life.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Cocker Spaniel, Flush was her devoted friend while she was confined to her sickbed in London. Browning wrote about Flush’s adventures in letters to her friends. Her beloved dog was dognapped twice and ransomed. She eulogized Flush in a slushy poem, “To Flush, My Dog.” Virginia Woolf’s first published essay was an obituary of her dog. Years later, her tribute to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her famous canine companion, Flush: A Biography was published. Though largely ignored in her bibliography Flush remains Woolf’s bestselling book to date.
Dog lover and psychologist Maureen Adams wrote about these wonderful women writers and their dogs in Shaggy Muses: The Dogs WhoInspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, EdithWharton, and Emily Brontë.
When the New York chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) charged E. B. White with non-payment of the dog tax, he wrote a letter defending his dachsund, Minnie. His charming letter was published in the anthology Letters of a Nation. It begins:
2 April 1951
I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by “harboring” you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don’t get her a sweater instead. That’s a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn’t like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn’t get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven’t had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.
Read the rest of the letter HERE.
For your added enjoyment here are links to more photos of writers and their pets:
Peggy Tibbetts is the author of the nonfiction dogoir, Crazy Bitch: Living with Canine Compulsive Disorder. The Kindle Award for Excellence in nonfiction was awarded to Crazy Bitch in July 2014.
“Crazy Bitch is a great read. Not only is it an excellent look into the world of canine mental illness, but also in coping with bully behavior. Tibbetts writes in a style that draws you in, as if you’re a friend. Within a few pages, you’ll find yourself caring more than perhaps you’d like to about Venus and cheering on the author in her quest to provide her dog with the best life possible.” -- Sue Kottwitz, “Talking DogsBlog”