We Never Walk Alone

It's been a long time!

For something more than twelve millennia, the human race, homo sapiens sapiens, for those who care about technical terms, has never walked alone. For all of this incredibly long period, man, and woman, has always had by his or her side the race's oldest and best friend: the dog. Archaeological evidence indicates that as far back as 10,000 BC, Stone Age folk already had their hunting dogs as their regular companions.

Just archaeology, I hear you say. Well.....yes, just archaeology.

At all events, however, we know for a fact that some 8,000 years ago, round about 6,000 BC, the ancient Egyptians regularly used dogs as hunting companions. As best as current evidence shows, dogs, as we know them, are descended from a species of wolf that lived in Asia long, long ago, with some contributions from other wolf species that they have come into contact with.

Chihuahua puppy
Chihuahua puppy
St Bernard
St Bernard

One Race!

All living dogs are members of the same single specie. In fact, dogs can be viewed as being merely another species of wolf since there are no genetic barriers between dogs and wolves; wolves and dogs can interbreed.

A Mexican Chihuahua, weighing no more than one kilogram, is no different, biologically speaking, from a Saint Bernard which tops 90 kilograms. What this means, in fact, is that any dog can cross breed with another dog, in much the same way that dogs' best friend does, although the differences in sizes between different dog breeds makes some potential crossings frankly bizarre to think about.

However, modern in-vitro fertilization techniques clearly offer some quite interesting possibilities. Such a scenario is not as unlikely as it may seem at first hand. Every single dog breed in the world today has been brought to its modern form as a result of humans playing the genetics game!

German Shepherd         (Alsatian)
German Shepherd (Alsatian)

There are numerous breeds of dogs, some more popular than others. Perhaps the most popular of breeds is the German Shepherd, also known in many places as the Alsatian. Originally bred in Alsace-Lorraine, a frontier region between France and Germany (thus the name Alsatian), the breed was first introduced into Britain by soldiers returning from World War 1 who had been impressed by the dog’s sterling performance on the frontlines as message carriers for the German Army. Given the prevailing anti-German feelings in the UK at the time, the official name, German Shepherd, was not used. However, in July 1977, the Kennel Club of Great Britain officially restored its proper name although the name Alsatian remains in use in many English speaking areas.

The German Shepherd is widely used by by law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Doberman
Doberman

Also extremely popular as a guard dog all over the world is the Doberman also known as the Doberman Pinscher. This breed is named for the man who developed it sometime around 1870, Ludwig Dobermann, a German tax collector. Given the historical animosity ordinary folk harbor towards tax collectors (see, for instance, Matthew 9: 9-11), Herr Dobermann clearly felt that he required some form of protection as he went about his rounds. The breed was recognized by the German Kennel Club in 1900 The result of his efforts resulted in a breed which is extremely well loved and is used extensively by police and military formations all over the world.

Pekingese
Pekingese

You take that dog and we'll have your head in return!

The period between 1898 and 1900 was quite a turbulent one in China for it was during this period that the disturbances that were later characterized as the Boxer Revolution took place.However, notwithstanding the disruption that the turmoil of the times caused the workaday Chinese, the tumultuous events resulted in the coming of the Pekingese to the west.

Prior to the disturbances occasioned by the revolution, the breed had been reserved exclusively for royalty. The breed was considered to be so valuable, that the theft of a Pekingese was punishable by death!

In the aftermath of the turmoil, however, all being fair in war, some Brits abducted 5 dogs from the ladies’ apartments at the Summer Palace and today anyone with a bit of cash can keep a Pekingese with no fear of losing his or her head.

Labrador
Labrador

I'm from Newfoundland, actually!

There are quite interesting trivia associated with man’s best friend. Spaniels, for instance, are named for Spain where they were first bred sometime in the fourteenth century whilst Labradors, a Canadian breed do not come, as might have been expected, from the Canadian province of that name. the dogs actually come from the neighbouring province of Newfoundland. Well………..

Let's Dine!

Dogs have proven extremely useful to humans in a variety of ways, not least as a meal; yes, a meal!

In certain parts of the world, Korea and parts of Nigeria for instance, dog meat is considered a special delicacy. Indeed, when South Korea hosted the world in 1988 (the Summer Olympics), the government of that country went to great lengths to cover up or otherwise minimize evidence of the eating of dogs in order to assuage the feelings of dog-loving westerners. I am not certain if the efforts were kept up after the games.

I'll see for you!

On a different note altogether, the role of dogs as guides for blind humans has simply added another accolade to the uncountable ones that man’s best friend has earned in a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Sometime during World War 1, a German doctor who had to leave a blind patient with his German Shepherd dog for a short while discovered that the dog was able to manage his patient very well indeed. Thus dogs started to be used as part of the rehabilitation therapy of blinded returning veterans. The idea soon spread to the US and the UK mainly as a result of the work of Dorothy Eustis (1886 - 1946), an American dog breeder living in Switzerland, who wrote an article in 1927 in the US publication, The Saturday Evening Post describing the use of dogs in Germany in the process of rehabilitating blinded veterans. The UK Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded in 1934.

Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Labradors are the breeds most commonly used as guide dogs although several other breeds are also used.

Of course, man’s oldest and best friend has been an unwavering supporter in man’s scientific odyssey. For instance, dogs have been used extensively in medical research. In the US alone, over 195,000 dogs were used for medical research purposes in 1972. Although these numbers have decreased over the years, still, almost 65,000 were used in 2004. Indeed, dogs were so much desired for medical experimentation that dognapping, that is the stealing dogs to sell to research facilities, was a very common crime in the US and required legislative action to bring it to a stop (Animal Welfare Act, 1966).


Space Dog Laika
Space Dog Laika | Source

To boldly go where no dog has gone before!

But, undoubtedly, the greatest exploit of man’s best friend in the scientific field took place on 3rd November 1957. On that day, Laika, a Russian dog, begame the first known animal to go into space and orbit the earth. Three years later, in August 1960, two more dogs, Strelka and Belka also went into space. It was not until almost a year later,before a human would go where his best and oldest friend had gone before.

On April 12, 1961, Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin became the first human to go into space. Of course, he was only following in the steps of man’s best and oldest friend.



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