Columns

Dogs have their purpose in life 2015.11.18

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I learned something rather disturbing about bulldogs the other day. Not "the Bulldogs," as in Morenci sports teams, but about the breed itself.

In Victorian England, the bulldog was bred for blood sports such as bull-baiting. Chain a bull to a post to allow 20 or 30 feet of movement, then set the bulldogs free. This breed would stoop low to the ground before lunging forward to bite the nose and face of the bull. The bull would often manage to kill several dogs before finally succumbing to the attack.

I'm not sure if that makes our school mascot stand out as something more fierce or if it's just embarrassing. How can people be so cruel, just for their own entertainment?

Eventually blood sports were outlawed in England (1835) and the bulldog lost its prominence for a while, but there were breeders who were fond of the dog and the breed was revived into the dog we know today.

Looking through the list of breeds included in an article I'm reading from Atlas Obscura, I wonder how bulldogs became such a popular sports mascot and others haven't. What's wrong with the Pugnacious Pugs? Why are there no Fighting Cocker Spaniels or Mighty Mastiffs?

The only other dog name that comes to mind is the Litchfield Terriers. Let's see how appropriate that is for a fierce athletic competitor. Are they Yorkshire Terriers? Small in stature, short legs—they're said to be perfect for ratting, and I presume fierce when playing against the Holland Black River Rats or the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats.

Maybe it's the bull terrier that Litchfield favors. My source says this breed has a darker history than most because now we're back to the blood sports. Bull terriers were great for bear-baiting, badger-baiting, and dogfighting. It's a breed that's hard to train and doesn't get along with others. We would have to ask some Litchfield coaches if that seems appropriate.

The Bulldog is one of the most popular school mascots in the state, right up there with Eagles and Panthers, but there are a few other dogs, such as the Eaton Rapids Greyhounds—known for their speed and keen eyesight—and the Morey Charter School Malamutes. I can't think of any Huskies in this area, but 10 Michigan schools have them as a mascot.

There might be a few other dogs. I'm just not sure what these are: Watersmeet Nimrods, Zeeland Chix and Stambaugh West Iron County Wykons. And then there are the Goodrich Martians. There are some really strange mascots here and there around the state, but no Beagles, Dalmatians or Poodles.

The article about dog breeds is titled "What is the point of a pug?" Pugs are from the mastiff family, but not too scary. They're one of the few breeds that were bred merely to be a pet. The rest of the canine genus had a purpose: guard dogs, herding dogs, hunting dogs, etc. 

Domesticated dogs are thought to have originated in China many thousands of years ago and later moved on into Africa. Most of the breeds we know today are but a century or two old, when dog breeding became a big thing in western Europe.

Setters and pointers point out prey. Cocker spaniels were used to scare up woodcock and retrieve the prey. Basset hounds are hunters and their short legs allowed the human owners to better keep up with them in the field. Beagles are said to be good for hunters who prefer the hunt over the kill. There are better hunters, but beagles are great companions.

The dachshund was bred to hunt badgers. It's a weird mix of several breeds. The mastiff is a variant of a herding dog, but it doesn't herd as much as protect the flock from predators. The poor poodle has taken a diversion. It's a good retriever and even has web toes that help in retrieving waterfowl. But once it moved on from Germany to France, it became a "frou-frou lap dog."

This makes me think about Sam, my sister's crazy dog when we were in high school. Sam was apparently bred to run in mad circles around the back yard and to throw up dead birds on the living room floor. A bulldog would be no match.

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