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PAGE 2

Pets
by [?]

I love the St. Bernard; he is a noble creature, and his beautiful life-saving instinct is such that I have seen a huge member of the breed jump off a high bridge to save a puppy which he considered to be drowning. The St. Bernard will allow a little child to lead him and to smite him on the nose without his uttering so much as a whine by way of remonstrance. If another dog attacks him, he will not retaliate by biting–that would be undignified, and like a mere bull-dog; he lies down on his antagonist and waits a little; then that other dog gets up when it has recovered breath, and, after thinking the matter over, it concludes that it must have attacked a sort of hairy traction-engine. All these traits of the St. Bernard are very sweet and engaging, and I must, moreover, congratulate him on his scientific method of treating burglars; but I do object with all the pathos at my disposal to the St. Bernard considered as a pet. His master will bring him into rooms. Now, when he is bounding about on glaciers, or infringing the Licensing Act by giving travellers brandy without scrutinizing their return-tickets, or acting as pony for frozen little boys, or doing duty as special constable when burglars pay an evening call, he is admirable; but, when he enters a room, he has all the general effects of an earthquake without any picturesque accessories. His beauty is of course praised, and, like any other big lumbering male, he is flattered; his vast tail makes a sweep like the blade of a screw-propeller, and away goes a vase. A maid brings in tea, and the St. Bernard is pleased to approve the expression of Mary’s countenance; with one colossal spring he places his paws on her shoulders, and she has visions of immediate execution. Not being equal to the part of an early martyr, she observes, “Ow!” The St. Bernard regards this brief statement as a compliment, and, in an ecstasy of self-approval, he sends poor Mary staggering. Of course, when he is sent out, after causing this little excitement, he proceeds to eat anything that happens to be handy; and, as the cook does not wish to be eaten herself, she bears her bitter wrong in silence, only hoping that the two pounds of butter which the animal took as dessert may make him excessively unwell.

Now I ask any man and brother, or lady and sister, is a St. Bernard a legitimate pet in the proper sense of the word? As to the bull-dog, I say little. He at least is a good water-dog, and, when he is taught, he will retrieve birds through the heaviest sea as long as his master cares to shoot. But his appearance is sardonic, to say the least of it; he puts me in mind of a prize-fighter coming up for the tenth round when he has got matters all his own way. Happily he is not often kept as a pet; he is usually taken out by fast young men in riverside places, for his company is believed to give an air of dash and fashion to his master; and he waddles along apparently engaged in thinking out some scheme of reform for sporting circles in general. In a drawing-room he looks unnatural, and his imperturbable good humour fails to secure him favour. Dr. Jessopp tells a story of a clergyman’s wife who usually kept from fifteen to twenty brindled bull-dogs; but this lady was an original character, and her mode of using a red-hot iron bar when any of her pets had an argument was marked by punctuality and despatch.

The genuine collie is an ideal pet, but the cross-grained fleecy brutes bred for the show-bench are good neither for one thing nor another. The real, homely, ugly collie never snaps at friends; the mongrel brute with the cross of Gordon setter is not safe for an hour at a time. The real collie takes to sheep-driving by instinct; he will run three miles out and three miles in, and secure his master’s property accurately after very little teaching; the present champion of all the collies would run away from a sheep as if he had seen a troop of lions. In any case, even when a collie is a genuine affectionate pet, his place is not in the house. Let him have all the open air possible, and he will remain healthy, delightful in his manners, and preternaturally intelligent. The dog of the day is the fox-terrier, and a charming little fellow he is. Unfortunately it happens that most smart youths who possess fox-terriers have an exalted idea of their friends’ pugilistic powers, and hence the sweet little black, white, and tan beauty too often has life concerted into a battle and a march. Still no one who understands the fox-terrier can help respecting and admiring him. If I might hint a fault, it is that the fox-terrier lacks balance of character. The ejaculation “Cats!” causes him to behave in a way which is devoid of well-bred repose, and his conduct when in presence of rabbits is enough to make a meditative lurcher or retriever grieve. When a lurcher sees a rabbit in the daytime, he leers at him from his villainous oblique eye, and seems to say, “Shan’t follow you just now–may have the pleasure of looking you up this evening.” But the fox-terrier converts himself into a kind of hurricane in fur, and he gives tongue like a stump-orator in full cry. I may say that, when once the fox-terrier becomes a drawing-room pet, he loses all character–he might just as well be a pug at once. The Bedlington is perhaps the best of all terriers, but his disreputable aspect renders him rather out of place in a refined room. It is only when his deep sagacious eyes are seen that he looks attractive. He can run, swim, dive, catch rabbits, retrieve, or do anything. I grieve to say that he is a dog of an intriguing disposition; and no prudent lady would introduce him among dogs who have not learned mischief. The Bedlington seems to have the power of command, and he takes a fiendish delight in ordering young dogs to play pranks. He will whisper to a young collie, and in an instant you will see that collie chasing sheep or hens, or hunting among flower-beds, or baiting a cow, or something equally outrageous. Decidedly the Bedlington does not shine as a pet; and he should be kept only where there are plenty of things to be murdered daily–then he lives with placid joy, varied by sublime Berserker rage.