The Pawprints of History shines a new light on a favorite subject -- the relationship between humans and their four-legged best friends. Stanley Coren, a renowned expert on dog-human interactions, has combed the annals of history and found captivating stories of how dogs have lent a helping paw and influenced the actions, decisions, and fates of well-known figures from every era and throughout the world.
As history's great figures strut across the stage, Coren guides us from the wings, adoringly picking out the canine cameos and giving every dog of distinction its day. In this unparalleled chronicle, we see how Florence Nightingale's chance encounter with a wounded dog changed her life by leading her to the vocation of nursing. We learn why Dr. Freud's Chow Chow attended all of his therapy sessions and how the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama was saved by a dog who shared his bed. Dogs have even found their way to the battlefield -- great military leaders such as Robert the Bruce and Omar Bradley have shared their lives, exploits, and gunfire with dogs. From Wagner, who admitted that one of the arias in the opera Siegfried was "written" by one of his dogs, to the dogs that inspired and lived with Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Clinton, these loving canines do double duty as loyal pets and creative muses.
From war to art, across the spectrum of human endeavor and achievement, there often stands, not only at his side but leading the way, man's beloved "best friend." For those who believe that behind every great person is a good dog, the uplifting stories in The Pawprints of History will be a lasting delight.
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March 24, 2003
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Excerpt from The Pawprints of History by Stanley Coren
A grizzled, unshaven man sits in a crude hut and huddles next to a tiny fire. He is clothed only in the skin of an animal. Nearby his wife sleeps, and on the other side of the shelter sleeps his nearly grown son with his younger son and tiny daughter.
Sharing the fire with him is a dog with pointed ears, but of no recognizable breed. It has just awakened and is now standing and looking in the direction of a faint sound, one too weak for the man to hear. The dog sits back down, its head still cocked to follow the sound. Then, as humans have always done, the man speaks to the dog quietly: "What do you hear, my dog? You will tell me if I should worry?"
Bones and artifacts suggest that this scene could have taken place in Iraq fourteen thousand years ago, in France or Denmark twelve thousand years ago, in Utah eleven thousand years ago or in China ten thousand years ago. It has been that long that the group of animals that we know as dogs have been sharing our living space and shaping the individual and collective histories of humans.
As the scene (which could have happened thousands of times in our past) unfolds, the man looks at the guardian and hunter beside the flickering fire. Talking to the dog again for company, he asks: "What would life be like without you?
"I remember the stories of the grandfathers. They said that there was a time when there were no dogs. Then men had no warning when animals came to hunt them, or when other tribes came to raid us. But then your grandfather came with his family. They ate the garbage, the bones and skin from our hunts that we tossed outside the village. My grandfathers thought that this was good. It kept the smells down and kept the insects away. They said that because you ate the leavings, we could stay in a village for a much longer time before we had to move.
"Then my grandfathers heard you bark. Every time an animal or a man approached, you barked. What a wonderful thing, they thought. If you stayed close and barked, then nothing could surprise us in the dark. So, to keep your family close we threw extra food to you. Soon the grandfathers took some of your ancestor's puppies and brought them into their homes. They thought, 'If a dog will protect the village with its bark, then another dog will protect my own home.' Soon the puppies who lived with us were no longer wild.
"The grandfathers say that it happened one day that we were chasing a wounded deer, and your grandfathers had trailed behind us. The deer was clever, like many are, and turned off the path. My grandfathers did not see this and ran past, but your grandfathers knew in their noses where the deer had gone and ran after it. My grandfathers followed your ancestors, and ever since we have learned to hunt together.
"The grandfathers say that there used to be other, ugly men [Neanderthals] here. But they are gone now because they never had dogs to protect them or help them hunt. So they were killed by great beasts or men who hid in ambush, and when the animals that we hunt became few, they starved.
"Today I watched you and your brothers hunt the little sheep. I saw how you circled their flock to keep them together, then drove them toward the trees where you could slow them and scatter them to make them easier to kill. And I thought, my dog, if I could get you to do this gathering of sheep without killing them, then perhaps we could keep some alive, to give birth to other sheep. Then we would not need to hunt so often. We must try this soon."
The dog settled to the ground, placing its head down on its paws, and the man knew that there was no danger near. He yawned and stirred the fire, then lay down to sleep as well, secure in the knowledge that his guardian would warn him if anything dangerous lurked by. In the morning they would hunt together and, if they were successful, in the afternoon his dog and his daughter would have time to play together. His rough hand reached out and stroked the dog's fur, and that touch made them both feel content.
The history of men and dogs had begun. Their fates would be entwined as long as each species chose to share the other's company. At some time in the far future, the history of even kings or nations might show the pattern of a dog's pawprints on it.