Dogs are descendants of one of the most feared beings on earth:
From the diminutive dachshund to the massive Saint Bernard, all dogs are descended from the European grey wolf. At some point in the past, humans and wolves crossed paths, and then somehow, somewhere, the wolf began to change.
From “Did Dogs Choose Us?” by Helen Pilcher for Literary Hub
There are more questions than answers here, but that’s going to be the case for some time. The depth of our bond with dogs means sorting out the ground zero events of their domestication will take all the resources we can muster.
If current divisions between species are murky, the past lies in deep darkness. Scientists generally agree that there is good evidence that dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. By 14,000 years ago, people were burying dogs, sometimes along with humans. But some biologists argue, based on DNA evidence and the shape of ancient skulls, that dog domestication occurred well over 30,000 years ago.
And as to where the process occurred, researchers studying dog and wolf DNA — most of it modern but some from ancient sources — have argued in recent years that dogs originated in East Asia, Mongolia, Siberia, Europe and Africa.
One reason for the conflicting theories, according to Greger Larson, a biologist in the archaeology department at the University of Oxford, is that dog genetics are a mess. In an interview at his office here in November, he noted that most dog breeds were invented in the 19th century during a period of dog obsession that he called “the giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy.”
That blender, as well as random breeding by dogs themselves, and interbreeding with wolves at different times over at least the last 15,000 years, created a “tomato soup” of dog genetics, for which the ingredients are very hard to identify, Dr. Larson said.
From “The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From” by James Gorman, New York Times
In folklore, dogs have second sight (Scotland), have been steeds for fairy riders (Wales), and have the ability to heal human wounds with their tongues. According to Marie-Louise von Franz in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, the dog is “the essence of relationship.” But not all relationships are positive.
The hell hound of British folklore haunts the moors and is associated with the devil, the likely inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s Sirius Black and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. And let’s not forget Cerberus, the three-headed dog of ancient Greece, guardian of Hades, the dreaded underworld (also appearing in the Harry Potter series as Fluffy).
In the western canon, the following are the most familiar fairy tales featuring dogs:
- From Andrew Lang’s Green Fairy Book, “The Three Dogs” tells the story of a poor shepherd who, upon dying, leaves his son and daughter with only a small house and three sheep. The humble son trades the sheep for three mysterious dogs: Salt who will bring him food, Pepper who will protect him, and Mustard who can chew through iron. The dogs guide the boy to his happily ever after–marriage to a princess.
- The Grimms “The Dog and the Sparrow” is a dark tale and, despite the title, is really more about the bird. The poor dog belongs to a shepherd who rarely feeds him. The sparrow comes to the rescue, until a brute of a carter, despite the bird’s warning, runs over the dog in the street. The rest of the story is about the horrific ways in which the bird avenges the dog’s death. (Maria Tatar doesn’t even bother to include this one in The Annotated Grimm Brothers.)
- Also from the Grimms, “The Bremen Town Musicians” is a reverse Animal Farm in which a donkey, a dog, a rooster and a cat unite harmoniously to defeat a band of witless robbers to take over a hideout and make it their home.
- From Hans Christian Andersen, “The Tinderbox” is a brutal story about a soldier returning from battle, a witch who guides him to riches, and three dogs–one with eyes as big as teacups, another with eyes as big as millwheels, and a third with eyes as big as round towers–who guard treasures of copper, silver, and gold. The soldier fetches the riches for himself and the tinderbox for the witch. When the old woman won’t reveal why she wants the box, the soldier chops off her head. After the soldier spends all his coin, he quickly learns that the tinderbox can summon the dogs and replenish his riches, forever. After defeating the king and queen, the soldier gets his happily ever after with the princess and the dogs.
On December 3rd, 2015 Terri Windling gave us the dog girl illustration, because it was her birthday and she wanted to follow what is a tradition for many indigenous cultures: the giving of birthday gifts by the birthday person. She indicated the illustration could be downloaded and printed out from her website Myth and Moor. And she encouraged us to write a dog girl story of our own. This is mine.
Once upon a time there was a dog child who lived in a tiny little house on a tiny little hill in a tiny little village on Dartmoor…
But before she became a dog child she was a small girl from a large family, whose mother, due to the worries of finding food to eat and fuel for the fire, had spoken sharp, hurtful words. Upon receiving her mother’s rebuke, the girl turned and ran farther and faster than she had ever done in the whole of her life. And before long she was alone and lost on the darkening moor.
The season was spring, but the night air was crisp. As the last slip of sunlight disappeared, the stars began to come out of hiding, one by one. The girl shivered.
Something stirred in the bracken. The moor was vast, with hidden dangers her mother had warned her about. All she could do was lay down where she was, wrap her arms around her knees, and hope for sleep to arrive.
When morning came, the sun blazed, warming the girl from head to toe, awakening her to the sweet breeze and the soothing sound it made.
“I wonder if mama will ever find me,” said the girl to the nearest being, a blush-pink spindle tree. The spindle replied, “Do you wish to be found?”
The girl was so puzzled by what it said she forgot to be amazed that it could say anything at all.
“Of course I do,” said the girl.
“Then so be it,” said the spindle, and then it shuddered and grew silent.
A granite tor in the distance caught her eye, and the girl spent most of the morning walking to the place, which, on arrival, loomed like a mountain. She found shelter in a place carved by wind and rain and settled in to rest. But she was not alone.
“What are you doing in my cave?” said a voice both soft and scratchy, like wool.
“I’m lost,” said the girl.
“That’s not an answer.”
“I don’t have another.”
“Well then,” said the voice, “I suppose you can stay a little while.” This was followed by other, softer voices that made the girl long to see what made them.
In time, the girl’s eyes grew adjusted to the light in the cave. And as they did, she saw shapes that slowly became a creature with a long snout and an even longer tail, and five smaller creatures lying alongside it. At the sight of the creature mother and her children, the girl’s heart grew soft as honey. They were strange beasts, yet also familiar. The young ones, she could see now, suckled while their mother lay on her side, a grin of contentment puckering the skin at the edges of her snout.
More time passed and the creature mother rested while her children slept, all but one who had climbed into the girl’s lap and was stroking her hands with its tongue.
“Do you hear that?” the creature mother said to the girl after a while. “Someone is out on the moor calling for you.”
The girl tilted her head to listen, but all she could hear was the wind.
“Whoever it is smells like you,” said the creature mother.
The girl left the cave, and when she saw her mother, ran to greet her. They embraced, and then the girl brought her mother into the cave to meet the creature mother and her young. The creature told them she was a dog and that her children were puppies. She invited the girl to return in the future to visit her again. “You’ve been a good guest,” she said to the girl. “I will miss you.”
Back home the girl did what she had always done: tended the sheep, carded wool, helped her mother bake rye bread, and watched over her younger siblings. But nothing could stop her from longing to visit the dogs. She had left a part of her heart back in the cave. In fact, the girl’s desire to hear the dogs’ voices on the wind and to smell their approach was so great that, in time, she grew dog ears and a dog nose.
Then one day, while the girl was rounding sheep into the pen for the night, a brown creature crept out from the gorse. It was the puppy who had stroked her hands with its tongue, now a fully grown dog. The girl greeted the dog with hugs. The dog greeted the girl with tail wags. They would never be parted again.
“Everything I know I learned from dogs.” –Nora Roberts
- First image: Photo of Chip by Cathrin Hagey
- Second Image: Sketch for a Cerberus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
- Third image: Dog Child by Terri Windling
- Fourth Image: Bremen Town Musicians by TeeFarm at Pixabay.com