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Literature’s Best Hero Dogs

May 24, 2013

I excerpted this from a blog by JeremyCesarec. I think I’m going to get the book, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home.
from the Nook blog; Barnes & Noble

One of the loveliest books I’ve read recently is Sue Halpern’s A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home. In this engaging memoir, Halpern recounts the adventures of Pransky, her pet Labradoodle, who became a beloved therapy dog at a local nursing home. As is often the case, the human half of this inseparable duo had more to learn about life from her canine companion than she ever could have imagined.

To celebrate the book’s publication, I asked Halpern to name her favorite hero dogs, and she offered a fascinating list:

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was The Incredible Journey, about the perilous adventures of two dogs—okay, and a cat—as they traverse 300 miles of harsh Canadian wilderness in search of their owners. The dogs, Luath, a Labrador retriever who is quilled in the face by a porcupine, can’t eat, and comes close to starving to death, and Bodger, the nearly blind bull terrier he guides to safety, were for me then, and are still, models of fortitude, bravery, cunning and loyalty.  Much later my husband introduced me to Stickeen, the little dog who accompanied the naturalist John Muir across an Alaskan glacier, and inspired Muir to write a long magazine piece about what he saw as the emotional growth of the dog, from a wary fellow traveler to a deeply caring friend, which he told again in Stickeen, (1909) and again in Travels in Alaska which came out six years later. “Our storm battle for life brought him to light,” Muir wrote, “and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”

Loyalty and fealty are common themes in books about heroic dogs, a literary tradition that must have started with Homer. In perhaps the most heartbreaking scene in The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after his twenty year ordeal, finds his home overrun by dissolute suitors hoping to win the affections of his wife, Penelope, and his dog Argos, weak and sick and lying on a dung heap. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus endeavors to sneak into his own house and is unrecognized by all but one old friend—Argos. Not wanting to give himself away, Odysseus walks past the dog, pretending they are strangers. And then the dog, who has been patiently awaiting the arrival of his master for the better part of two decades, takes his last breath and dies. Talk about devotion.
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It has been ages since I read The Odyssey. I had forgotten that Odysseus did not speak to his dog. I felt sorry for the poor dog to be ignored at the end of his life. Do you have a hero dog to add?

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2 Comments
  1. This was a real life dog hero. We had a Pit Bull named Oltorf. My preteen daughter was cooking and left the skillet forgotten on the stove.Our wonderful Pit Bull went after her and insisted she return to the kitchen. Finally resorting in taking her hand and leading her back to the stove where the skillet was on fire. She was trained for emergencies and put the fire out correctly, but if our hero dog had not insisted my daughter would have been trapped in a burning house. And that’s just one of his brave feats he did to protect his family.

    • I think it’s amazing what animals can do. Some are even smarter than their human counterparts! I have thought about getting a service dog, but can’t make up my mind. Considering how many pots I have burned because I forgot about them, I probably should get one that can tell me when the water’s boiling.
      Oltorf sounds like an amazing dog and good friend. I noticed you referred to him in the past tense. My condolences. Our second dog died after 17 years with us. He was a good dog. Never did an heroic feat in his life other than giving unconditional love.

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