“My name is Beautiful Joe, and I am a brown dog of medium size. I am not called Beautiful Joe because I am a beauty. Mr. Morris, the clergyman, in whose family I have lived for the last 12 years, says he thinks I must be called Beautiful Joe for the same reason that his grandfather, down South, called a very ugly colored slave-lad Cupid, and his mother Venus.
“I do not know what he means by that, but when he says it, people always look at me and smile. I know that I am not beautiful, and I know that I am not a thoroughbred. I am only a cur.”
– from Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders, written in 1893
The tiny red book which came to me as a gift from our dear Farm and Dairy friend Bill Choma has quickly become one of my very favorite possessions.
When the book arrived, it carried with it a note which read, “Caroline, Beautiful Joe writes good, but Murphy writes better. I liked it and your whole family will too. – Bill”
Many nights, unable to sleep, I pick up the little book to see what Joe might be able to tell me.
The story of Joe is one of horrid early abuse and a most fortunate rescue when a young man passing on a bicycle heard his screams of pain, bandaged his wounds and took him to a stable to begin healing. It was then that the unwanted, maimed and unnamed dog found a reason for living.
“They all came and bent over me, as I lay on the floor in my corner. I wasn’t much used to boys, and I didn’t know how they would treat me. But I soon found by the way they handled me and talked to me, that they knew a good deal about dogs and were accustomed to treat them kindly. It seemed very strange to have them pat me, and call me ‘good dog.’ No one had ever said that to me before today,” chapter four reads.
Joe learns what it means to be loved, to have fun, to be surrounded by children and other beloved animals, to have a Mrs. Morris in his life who sees to it that everyone cares for the “dumb” animals with a big heart.
Mrs. Morris not only encouraged her own children to care deeply for their animals, but she quite often talked other adults into pursuing the same path.
“Getting your Charlie a dog will be a good thing. I should not wish my boys to be without a good, faithful dog. A child can learn many a lesson from a dog. This one, pointing to (Joe), “might be held up as an example to many a human being. He is patient, quiet, obedient. My husband says that he reminds him of three words in the Bible, ‘through much tribulation.'”
Some of the best lessons I learned at such a young age I didn’t even realize I was learning. Dad was kind and gentle with all animals, even wildlife. I’ll never forget hearing him scold our dog for killing a field rabbit.
“That rabbit does not do one thing to hurt anything. Leave the rabbits alone.”
Amazingly, the lecture worked, and Bill never killed another rabbit.
I heard echoes of Dad when Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, told his children it would be a sin to kill a mockingbird because they don’t do anything damaging, but only sing to bring us music and joy.
It reminds me to this day of the message my dad carried to us in so many different ways, in so many different examples.
The world is made better by those who lead by example, and the book of “Beautiful Joe” is an early depiction of an evolving, humane world.
Now maybe it’s Murphy’s turn to write a few chapters…