Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Treatment of Dogs

I'm making a serious exception today. Despite Abraham Lincoln being a Republican (boooo), I'm honoring his 200th birthday. One, the statute of limitations rule. Two, everyone's entitled to one mistake. We've got Michael Phelps, A-Rod, Chris Brown, and now Abraham Lincoln. (And actually I'm not likely to forgive Chris Brown ... he can "Run It" right out of town and keep it going and not look back.)

But, hey, don't let me ruin a good Abraham Lincoln post with current events. It's almost 5 o'clock, time for me to walk my own dog, so let me be quick and to the point. This is a post about Abraham Lincoln's treatment of dogs.

I have been reading a biography of Lincoln -- and I'm really only about 50 pages into it, and I don't know if I'll finish it -- since tomorrow won't be his birthday anymore and I'm very fair weathered when it comes to this kind of stuff.

In this biography, written by Herndon (1800s), in the first 50 pages, there are two references to Lincoln with dogs. The first I'll mention is praiseworthy from my point of view and the second is more disgusting. (In fact, in chronological order, my second came first in actual time.)

The praiseworthy one: Lincoln and his family are moving to Illinois in 1830, traveling with oxen and a wagon. They have a little dog trailing behind somewhere, frolicking no doubt. There aren't bridges, so anytime they need to cross a stream, it's full bore, go for it, right across, oxen and all. On this occasion it was winter and there was ice. Oxen, being heavy in their adult form, crunch right through the ice, leaving behind a mess. The party has this little dog, and there he is still on the other side! He's whining and jumping "in great distress." I bet he was! "The poor animal was afraid to cross." The majority of the Lincoln party decided to go on without the dog! But Abraham Lincoln said, "I could not endure the idea of abandoning even a dog." (I don't like the word even there.) He relates, "Pulling off shoes and socks I waded across the stream and triumphantly returned with the shivering animal under my arm. His frantic leaps of joy and other evidences of a dog's gratitude amply repaid me for all the exposure I had undergone." (p. 94.)

Now the more disgusting one: Abraham and a cousin, when Abraham was nine or 10 years old, wanted to go coon hunting, but his father had a little housedog which always gave an alarm if they wanted to slip away unobserved. But one night they took the "insignificant little cur" (Herndon's words) with them. They located a coon, killed it, "and then in a sportive vein sewed the hide on the diminutive yellow dog." This is where it gets bad, although that was bad enough. "The latter struggled vigorously during the operation of sewing on, and being released from the hands of his captors made a bee-line for home. Other large and more important canines, on the way, scenting coon, tracked the little animal home, and possibly mistaking him for real coon, speedily demolished him." Lincoln's father was incensed to find a dead dog in the yard with a coon-skin overcoat. But Abraham Lincoln said, "We felt assured little yellow Joe would never be able again to sound the call for another coon hunt." (p. 63).

Wow, that's bad. My own dog is a "diminutive yellow dog," and to think of someone putting a coon-skin on her, then having other "more important" dogs "demolish" her, I can't stand the thought.

Clearly, Abraham Lincoln was no good. And whatever forgiveness I gave him for being a Republican, I'm rescinding.

(The book quoted is "Herndon's Life of Lincoln," 1965 Fawcett World Library edition, paperback.)

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