Dog Fidelity: Tales in France from the 1700 and 1800s

Since the domestication of the dog, there have been numerous stories about dogs and their masters or mistresses, who included such elite people as the Princesse de Lamballe, Eliza de Feuillide, and Marie Antoinette. Dogs are known for providing friendship and companionship to humans and that is partially why they have earned the title of “man’s best friend.” But besides companionship and friendship, the trait that is usually considered most pleasing in dogs is their fidelity. In fact, dog fidelity has resulted in numerous anecdotes, and among these are several tale about dogs and their owners living in France during the 1700 and 1800s.

dog fidelity

Variety of dogs. Author’s collection.

One story about dog fidelity occurred during the last significant European outbreak of the Bubonic plague, known as the Great Plague of Marseille (spelled Marseilles by the English). When it struck this French city in 1720, it was deadly and killed 100,000 people. Among its victims were a “whole family, consisting of the father, mother, three sons, and two grand-children.”[1] They died within six or seven days of one each other, and the only survivor was the family’s pet, a spaniel. The dog followed each coffin to the grave and “returned on each occasion to the house, uttering the most lamentable howls.”[2] When the last victim was buried, the dog completely forsook the house and began living at the cemetery. The dog soon earned the moniker, “The Dog of the Tombs,” because he resided there for seven years, stretching out over the graves of his master and his family and only abandoning their graves to eat.

English Shepherd's Dog, Public Domain

English Shepherd. Public domain.

In 1821, in Ain, France, the wife of a man named Fleurot was anxiously awaiting his return, when his dog arrived covered in blood and full of stab wounds, “especially in the belly, whence his bowels protruded.”[3] The wife immediately realized her husband had met with foul play and was distraught knowing that he had likely been murdered. She followed the wounded dog to the spot where the alleged crime occurred, and, where soon after, the dog expired. The wife was able to deduce that a great struggle ensued:

“[T]races of men and of a dog struggling, were very evident … [and] bore testimony to the courage with which the dog had fought for his master; and his wound and death showed, that after having defended him at the expense of his life, the faithful animal employed his last moments in avenging him.”[4]

Newfoundland Dog, Public Domain

Newfoundland dog. Public domain.

The same year that Napoleon Bonaparte would become First Consul in November was also the same year that another tale of dog fidelity occurred. In January of 1799 it was so cold the Seine frozen over. One youth, following the example of his friends, decided to skate on the ice near the quay of the Hotel des Monnaies of Paris. The youth had taken his faithful spaniel with him, and, he had not taken more than 20 steps when the ice broke. The boy fell through the ice plunging into the bitter coldness below. The spaniel let loose the most frightful of howls, “ran along the river as if he was mad, and … at last … establish[ed] himself at the hole where he had seen [his master] … disappear.”[5] No one could convince the dog to leave his dead master, and ever after, the spaniel spent every night sleeping on the banks of the Seine at the spot where his master disappeared.

Dog fidelity - Water Spaniel

Water Spaniel. Author’s collection.

During the time of Maximilien Robespierre, a revolutionary tribunal was held in northern France. A respectable magistrate, who was accused of conspiracy, was brought to face the tribunal. He was imprisoned and sentenced to die. While imprisoned, the magistrate’s faithful dog would visit each day with hopes of seeing him. The dog would wait an hour and although he never saw his master, he would return every day. One day the guard’s heart was softened, and he allowed the dog admittance. Thereafter, the dog returned every day to see his master and every day the dog licked his master’s hand. On the day his master was sentenced to die, the dog did not leave him and followed him to his grave. There the dog sat all day and night for months, leaving only to eat in the morning. But as time passed the dog grew “more sad, more meagre, more languishing.”[6] The last the dog was seen was by locals digging up the earth before he “breathed out his last gasp, [only after] … he had found his master.”[7]

Dog fidelity - English Water Spaniel

English Water Spaniel. Author’s collection.

One story of dog fidelity did not necessarily work out for the best when it came to the dog’s mistress. The wife of a French butcher was accompanied by a large fierce dog as she walked between Chateaugiron and Corps-Nuds in 1843. Along the way she suddenly fell to the ground suffering from an “apoplectic attack” and several people rushed to help her but “the dog kept everyone at bay, and prevented all approach, though assailed with sticks and stones and other weapons.”[8] No one could get near her until an innkeeper from Chateaugiron who was familiar with the dog appeared. Unfortunately, it was too late as “this occasioned so much loss of time that all chance of restoring animation to the woman was lost.”[9]

Another interesting tale of dog fidelity did not end well for a faithful dog. A French merchant after settling some business satisfactorily, tied his money bag to his horse and rode off with his dog following behind. The merchant rode for a while and then stopped to rest under the shade of a tree. He placed his money bag near a hedge and forget it when he left. The dog, realizing his master’s forgetfulness, refused to go and began crying, barking, and howling. The dog’s strange behavior caused the merchant to think his dog was rabid or mad, and to prevent further “mischief” the merchant shot the dog. The merchant then left, but as he rode, he became distraught at having shot his dog and thought to himself that he would have rather lost his money than his dog. It was at that point he realized his money was missing and immediately returned to the spot where he found his wounded dog: The dog had “crawled all bloody … to the forgotten bag, and in the agonies of death he lay watching beside it.”[10] His master approached and received a wag from his dog’s tail, who also “stretched out his tongue to lick the hand [of his master] that was now fondling him in the agonies of regret … [before his dog] closed his eyes forever.”[11]

Dog fidelity - From left to right: Skye Terrier, French Poodle, Spaniels, Italian Greyhound, and Pug

From left to right: Skye Terrier, French Poodle, Spaniels, Italian Greyhound, and Pug. Author’s

The final tale of dog fidelity resulted in a lawsuit between two dog lovers in the late 1800s. According to the Dundee Courier, a Monsieur Gagniot of Paris owned a dog of which he was very fond. When he was forced to travel, he entrusted his dog to a cousin but learned upon his return that his cousin had given his dog to a Monsieur Duplessis. Gagniot therefore went to Duplessis’ home to retrieve his dog, but Duplessis said he did not have his dog and claimed that he had a similar dog that he had bred. Fortunately for Gagniot, “at this moment, the dog in question ran out from the kitchen, recognised his old master, and followed him home.”[12] Duplessis was angry and instituted a lawsuit against Gagniot for theft and unlawfully entering his home, but when the case went to court, it was decided in Gagniot’s favor. Duplessis appealed to a higher court, but found it was the same result. Nonetheless, Duplessis said he would not give up and according to the Dundee Courier, Duplessis “intends to take civil proceedings against M. Gagniot, and is evidently a very obstinate (or a very imprudent) man.”[13]

References:

  • [1] Lessons Derived from the Animal World, Vol. 1, 1847, p. 26.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] The Spirit of the English Magazines, Vol. 9, 1821, p. 235.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Chambers, W., etal., Chamber’s Supplementary Reader, Selected from Miscellany of Instructive and Entertaining Tracts, 1872, p. 6.
  • [6] The Mother’s Magazine and Family Circle, Vol. 42, 1874, p. 278.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] “Fatal Fidelity of a Dog”, in Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 10 June 1843, p. 3.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Watts, Joshua, Remarkable Events in the History of Man, 1825, p. 340.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] “A Faithful Dog,” in Dundee Courier, 1 October 1883, p. 4.
  • [13] Ibid.

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