You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

lunedì 6 settembre 2010

Waldo, again, sort of

The internet is a mixed blessing, as anyone who uses it well knows. Now it’s possible to get hired (and fired) electronically[1]; it’s also possible to send messages that, a generation or so ago, would have dictated a handwritten note on lovely, Crane stationery (or its equivalent). One would write, with a ballpoint pen, “Congratulations on the birth of your son!” Or, “Heckuva promotion – way to go!”

Or, indeed, the condolence note, which always had to be handwritten, and written right away, mailed right away. Whereupon, on receipt, the bereaved would make a point of thanking each and every person who had troubled him/herself to do so.

Those days are gone. Now we have virtual Funeral Guest Books, where you don’t even have to bother to either go to the funeral, or put tongue to stamp to affix to envelope; you can write your words of condolence/empathy/sadness on the web, there for all to see. Ought grieving to be a public or a private thing? I am clueless.[2] If you want, you can go to, and write on guest books of people you’ve never even met. You can even click a button that sends “Sympathy Flowers Now.” (Oh, would that Jessica Mitford were still with us to muckrake this.)

If you read obituaries in most newspapers in the States (that is, if you’re lucky enough to still have a local newspaper), you might note that almost everyone these days – or so it seems – dies surrounded by family and, if they are even luckier, with friends as well. If they are Christian, they always go happily to Jesus (or so, at least, the obit writer alleges).

Guess it means you’re a loser if you die alone.[3] Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to be Ilaria del Carretto, and have a marvelous pup at our feet, sculpted into eternity.[4]

This got me thinking about canine monuments, a few of which I know, like the statue of Balto in Central Park.[5] Then there’s the lovely bronze statue in Torre del Lago dedicated to Pippo, who didn’t do really very much of anything except make a whole lot of people happy.[6] Wikipedia lists plenty more monuments dedicated to amazing canines. There’s Fala, FDR’s faithful Scottish terrier who is actually buried beside him (apparently the only presidential canine so honored). Other notables include George Tirebiter (a USC mascot), and Greyfriar Bobby, who’s honored with a statue in Edinburgh. There’s St. Guinefort unknown human martyr superimposed on a canine martyr venerated in the Dombes, north of Lyon until the mid 13th century when a Dominican preacher had the site of the cult destroyed. Wikipedia writes that although he was “never recognized officially by the Catholic Church” his cult persisted into the 1930s.[7]

A Welsh version of the St. Guinefort story with a brave wolf-hound named Gelert—unjustly killed by its owner, Prince Llywelyn, who thought the dog had killed his infant son when in fact Gelert had killed a wolf intent on eating the baby whose overturned cradle momentarily hid the child from view—is probably better known. ( suggests it’s a late 18th-century adaptation by an enterprising inn-keeper who had just moved to Beddgelert, Wales. Plenty of other heroic mutts have had monuments erected to them. Some of the more colorful include Red Dog (1971-1979) who had his own bank account with Wales Bank in Australia, and two U.S. standouts: Sergeant Stubby (c. 1916-1926) who, as Wikipedia notes, “was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat;” and Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier who served in the South Pacific. She was “credited with 12 combat missions and awarded 8 battle stars.”[8]

But back to the Internet and an end to this long parenthesis, here’s where the internet can be wonderful, especially when death comes knocking: people can get in touch with you immediately. And this is especially invaluable when you’re talking about a dog, who should never, ever be confused with a human being (even though your dog might have been nicer than most of the people you’ve ever tripped across).

After Waldo died, we got a lot of email messages from friends in Europe and in North America. Some of them were not Dog People, let alone Animal People. But write they did, anyway. And we found this really soothing.

Since dead people get funeral pages on the web, I thought: “Why not Waldo?” We got a lot of wonderful stuff, all heartfelt, some of it inscrutable (see Canadienne Red, below: it makes sense, alas, only to us, but we thought wtf and included it). Many friends telephoned, and others simply were geographically proximate.

Molly from Pistoia: “For now here’s to Waldo and all the dancing dogs in the clouds!!!!!”

Body-Surfing Susie from San Diego: “ … he looked so sweet in those picture you have …”

Heather Souvlaki from Toronto: “I am absolutely stunned, and very saddened, and am sitting here thinking about all the wonderful times we had at night with mini-dog [Waldo] … I know that anyone who met him isn’t going to forget him soon … but please remember that he had five years of being one of the happiest dogs I have ever met …”

Aunt Bets from Toronto (and, at present, Virginia): “ … I was/am sorry about what happened to wee Waldo … [he] was a really great little button of a spunky pup and in the short time I got to know him, he really endeared himself to me. And me to him, I like to think, given the way he let me pick him up and tote him around during the last visit I made.”

Cousin Susie from Bethlehem, PA: “I am so sorry … dogs are so much more than our best friends. I am crying with you.”

Canadienne Red from Chicago: “ … And I am remembering that Bad Dog Waldito J He is gone to The Doggy Dog World outside of The Doggy Dog World J And I am thinking, too, of Lulu – she has lost a companion. And Zoe has lost her brother.”

Bell Guy from Chicago: “I loved that devilish Waldo, and will miss him lounging on my lap and wiggling when he meets me. I know he was happy … Rest in Peace you little Canine Terror.”

Josie from Seattle: "We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan..." The Once Again Prince, Separate Lifetimes, by Irving Townsend.

Marion from Brooklyn: “I've always enjoyed getting Waldo stories from Kerry, particularly how in his tender youth he thought his name was "No Waldo"! It's so sad when we first lose our beloved pups, but it's a relief when over time you can laugh at those stories; just getting to speak their names to all those who loved them feels comforting. “

Treasured High School Pal from New York: “My grief and sadness for you run river deep. I am so very, very sorry for your terrible loss, and I know it's even worse because you were not there to hold his paws and comfort him. I know there is nothing I can say to take away the deep heart break. You have my love and hugs from far away, and I mourn with you … Sending all the love in my heart to you. Holding your hand, cross oceans.”

Daisy Pugh (from the Happy Hunting Ground): “Oh, Waldo, I’ve been thinking about you all the time these past two days. You were a great dog. I’ll miss everything about you, especially Patti’s cooing, “no, Waldo, no” as we spoke most mornings. You are breaking our hearts.”

This last needs some explication. Poisoning dogs in Italy is, sadly, somewhat commonplace. Truffle dogs are routinely taken out this way (we met a marvelous truffle dog last fall who was trained not to take food from anyone’s hand except Her Person’s); a number of dogs in and around Florence have died this summer due to poisoning. In the next (and last) condolence, “polpettone” refers to meatloaf … either meatloaf, or meat balls, a not unusual way to poison a dog.

Terracotta Sculptress from near Arezzo: “My deepest condolences to you for the loss of Waldo. I’m assuming it was a poisoned polpettone, and I hope the bastard’s balls fall off.”

Yup, us too.

Recipes of something next time, I swear. Happy Labor Day, all.

[1] A favorite pastime in the Republic of Letters. We have many friends who have both been hired/fired using this method.
[2] Perhaps we should have had this upon the death of Pope John Paul II? Future fodder for Benedict XVI?
[3] Insert Paul McCartney singing “Eleanor Rigby” here.
[4] Some of us know this, but for those of you who don’t: the dog is a symbol of fidelity, especially in Renaissance art. Ilaria’s tomb can be found in Lucca’s Duomo, sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia. I hope either he or Ilaria herself had a small dog in his/her life
[5] According to Wikipedia, he lived from 1919-1933, and was the lead Siberian husky who ran diptheria serum to Nome (Alaska). His trip – who knew – gave rise to the Iditarod.
[6] “Pippo, cane senza padrone, dal mantello marrone e dagli occhi dorati colori da dolori antichi e di un pace ritrovata, visse circa 20 anni sul belvedere Puccini. Comparso nel 1977 con un profonda ferita da arma da fuoco sulla schiena, seppe perdonare e conservare fiducia negli uomini. Adottato dagli abitanti del lago neon compi gesta straordinaria ma insegui a tutti il vero significato di bontà, perdona, amicizia e libertà …” See
[7] Here might be a cult worth reviving. For more on St. Guinefort, see Jacques Dubois, “Saint Guinefort Vénéré des Dombes. Comment un martyr inconnu fut substitué à un chien-martyr ,” Journal des savants 1980, Volume1, Numéro 1-2, pp. 141-155. (Accessed at Guinefort’s feast day was August 22, the first “dog day” of summer.
[8] She has a monument in Lakewood, Ohio.
Photo of Canadienne Red and Waldo tripping the light fantastic many moons ago.

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