Evolution of our canine companions

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“I will share crumbs from my table and bones from the stock pot while mother is looking away, for you are my shadow, my loyal friend.”

— William Seaforth, 1892

I have given a lot of thought to how much our interaction with dogs as pets has evolved over the past 100 years.

I remember sharing with my dear little Pekingese table scraps over the years, and honestly, don’t remember that we ever fed her from a dog food bag.

While going through the records of my paternal grandmother’s dog business, I found tucked in the back of one of the ledger books her recipe for dog food. She would make enormous batches at a time, and there simply wasn’t such a thing as purchased dog chow in her day.

Our entire perception of what a dog means to us has changed over these many years, and with that, an astoundingly enormous industry has grown. The dog food industry, in figures from 2016, stood at an incredible $24.6 billion. There is no doubt, according to forecasters who can weigh in on such things, that it stands to continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Only the very wealthy traveled with their pets when air travel first came to be. Now, many people would not consider an extended get-away without their beloved canine companion.

Who at that time would have considered hiring a photographer just to capture pictures of a beloved dog or cat? Only those with money to burn, as the saying goes. In today’s world, dog photographers are in demand, with some publishing their work in lovely coffee table books.

Also in my grandmother’s ledger books, I found a very old photograph of a nicely-dressed (and clearly proud) gentleman, in a white shirt and a stylish fedora, a table in front of him lined with raccoon pelts. Standing over this display of dozens of pelts was a sleek and healthy-looking English Shepherd.

The man’s name, which meant nothing to me, was scrawled on the back, followed by the words, “on his way to New York fur buyer, 1938….riches earned by one of our dogs!”

This is another thing that has changed over the years but to the other extreme. Prices for fur, once a bonus for those willing to hunt, has hit the lowest of the lows.

I took my share of ribbing over the years, a dog lover from the time I could talk. It was unusual at the time, but I would often make a little cake to celebrate birthdays of our dogs on the farm.

Now, believe it or not, dog birthday party celebration and all that goes with it has become a highly competitive, market cottage industry. I was simply ahead of my time and never made a dime. I jumped ship too soon from this little sideline!

Dog walkers can now make a decent living in certain cities, which in itself seems foreign to me. We never leash-trained any of our dogs on the farm, and we certainly never had to find time to walk them. They walked themselves, tagging along on chores, or going hunting on their own.

Dad taught our herding shepherd to leave all rabbits alone, while instead taking down the groundhog population, one nuisance at a time. Our dog, proud of himself when he comprehended the lesson, used a soft mouth to bring an unharmed bunny to my father.

On the flip side, Bill-dog felt it his duty to show off his groundhog accomplishment until Dad found a way to convey it wasn’t necessary for him to see each one on the lawn at the end of the day. That was a big “no thank you!”

Dog treats, another winning ticket for businesses who crank them out one box at a time, was unheard of in our place and time, so Bill-dog didn’t even get a treat for his hunting prowess.

No blue ribbon, no trophy, not a single title to his name.

What he got was an “atta boy!” and a pat on the head before he headed back to the fields to do a job he seemed mighty proud to carry out.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this story. Truly brings back memories, past, and present. Here is a good quote from Henry David Thoreau, “It often happens that a man develops a deeper love and friendship with his pet cat or dog than he does with most of the other humans in his life.” This definitely describes me.

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