Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith, 1857 - Pincher Invalided

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    MY good dog Pincher had, some time ago, to my no small grief, been in a declining way. An unwonted sobriety and seriousness was the first symptom of his approaching declension. Instead of tearing and scampering about the house and garden like a mad creature at first sight of me in the morning, and wagging his tail in regular thumps on the carpet as he was wont to do, he took to welcoming me with an endearing sort of whine, more human than canine, a moist supplicating eye, and a tremulous motion of his caudal terminus more like the vibration of a magnetic needle than anything else with which I can compare it. Then, instead of making his bed at night with exactly three revolutions on the hall mat, and lying down in it, with his nose in the centre, to sleep in quiet - a ceremony which he invariably performed as soon is the bed-room candles made their appearance - he took to attempts at making his bed in all sorts of holes and corners, twenty times a day, turning round a dozen times instead of three, and not lying down in it after all. Then his appetite, which only moderated at first, failed him altogether ; the moisture on his cold nose dried up ; shivering fits crept over him ; his sleek furry coat grew rough and tangled; and leanness came on, "till his skin, like a lady's loose gown, hung about him,'' and his poor bones squared unsightly protuberances to the view.
    What was to be done? A domestic consultation elicited a variety of opinions. My better-half suggested that poor Pincher might be breaking up with old age ; but six years [-103-] is hardly more than maturity for a water-spaniel, and I know that Pincher is not older than that. Betty gave it as her decided opinion that be had swallowed a bung cork, or a buttered sponge, or something of the kind, which had hermetically sealed up his alimentary canal, and therefore there could be no hope of him. Tom would have it that the butcher's dog round the corner had given him a sly gripe, and that Pincher, poor follow, was dying of it but there was no visible wound on Pincher's body to substantiate Tom's assertion. Our consultation failed to produce any remedial measures ; but the butcher's man happening to come to the door at the moment, I referred Pincher's unfortunate case to him.
    "Sure-ly,'' said he, "that there dog is out o' condition, and don't look respectable no-ways. Our boy shall drown him for you. sir, if you like.''
    "Thank you,"  said I, "time enough for that ; I will have him cured, if possible."
    "Well. sir, if you like to lay out money on him - and to be sure he's wuth it - I know a man that can cure him, if anybody can."
    Thereupn I took down the address of the canine physician, and finding that his abode lay scarcely a furlong out of my daily route citywards, I put poor Pincher in a cab, and drove off to the addressed indicated.
    It was in a small house, in a narrow back street in the very heart of the city, that the professor of canine therapeutics resided. On a sign-board, exalted over the window of his little shop, was a capital portrait of a water-spaniel, the very model of Pincher himself, and surrounded by legends of considerable length, setting forth the medical qualifications of the professor. On entering, I found the worthy man - a personsage considerably advanced in life, and of almost Johnsonian figure and feature - seated behind a small counter, in the act of preparing medicines for his [-104-] four-footed patients. He was surrounded with bottles, jars, gallipots, and pill-boxes, ranged on shelves on all sides, and was well provided with the usual pharmaceutical implements which we are accustomed to meet with in an apothecary's shop. From the walls and ceiling hung several cages, some of them of singular construction, containing singing and talking birds. These, he informed me, were not his property, but had been confided to his care by their owners, some of whom were officers in the army and navy, appointed to serve on foreign stations during the present war, who preferred paying him for their safe custody and proper treatment to the risk of leaving them in the charge of servants or strangers ; a rather curious instance, I thought, of the characteristic regard of brave men for feeble, fragile, and helpless creatures.
    On introducing poor Pincher to the good man's notice, he took him in his arms, and tenderly turning back his eyelids, and looking at the bared orb for a few moments, assured me that he could effect a perfect cure in the course of a few weeks, though it might take some months for the animal to recover flesh and condition. Having settled the necessary preliminaries with regard to Pincher, and finding the medicus no way unwilling to be communicative, I gathered, in the course of the conversation that followed, a few facts relative to the contingencies of the canine race in London, which, in connection with some particulars derived from other sources, it may be worth recording.
    The London dog-trade, ever since the passing of Mr. Hawes's bill, which enfranchised the draught dogs of the metropolis, and filled the surrounding rivers, canals, drains, and ditches with their abandoned carcases, has been confined almost exclusively to the breeding, the importation, and the sale of pets and fancy dog's : the exceptions are, the transactions in the fighting-dog line - a class of animals who do not come very much under the hand of the professional man, being mostly doctored, when they want doctoring, by their [-105-] owners. The trade in fancy dogs is not one at which any man can honestly make a fortune, the loss by death being very great, and the successful rearing of an animal which will command a high price being a comparatively rare occurrence in the experience of any one man. Few men devote themselves entirely to the business which is carried on for the most part by amateurs, who engage in it as much from a natural love for animals as from the gain they derive from it. The notion that such persons are cruel to the animals they rear is a gross absurdity ; on the contrary, they would generally submit to any deprivation themselves, rather than inflict it on their favourites. It is the unfortunate rat who is the object of cruelty. The rat and the dog are equally the companions of man but, with the former, man has no sympathy, and no pleasure connected with him, but in his death, and he educates the dog to kill him. Millions of rats are caught alive, and hunted to death in the training of dogs ; rat-killing being the chief accomplishment of the pet terrier, and the test of the purity of his descent.
    Great as is the number of dogs bred in London, the home-produce is not enough to meet the demand, and many are constantly imported from all parts of the world. Poodles have been known to travel twelve thousand miles from China and perhaps we ought to congratulate them upon their escape from a land where they are ranked as butchers meat, to one where they are received as guests in the drawing-room - saved from revolving on the spit or swimming in the tureen, to be fondled on satin in a lady's lap. Terriers are brought from the Isle of Skye, and small spaniels from Holland. Italy sends a miniature grey-hound ; and various different breeds, rarely weighing more than five pounds per individual, come from different parts of the Continent. The traders in dogs may be seen in fine weather standing at the corners of streets, with half a dozen specimens of their merchandise seated on arm and shoulder, or yelping round [-106-] their feet, and perhaps as many little shaggy heads peeping forth from their capacious pockets. These may be honest men, for aught we know but we are bound to state that the legitimate dog-traders are at least equalled in number by the dog-pirates who constantly infest the streets of London, seeking whose dog they may purloin. Evidence of their exploits is continually visible in the shop-windows, in the shape of hand-bills offering rewards for the recovery of lost dogs.
    There are several dog-hospitals in London, whither diseased dogs are sent by their owners for medical treatment. The practice in these hospitals has diminished since the passing of the act above alluded to, though doubtless many interesting cases are still to be found in the various wards. Our good friend once had a hospital himself, but the pirates broke into it at night, and marched off with a valuable prize; and since then he has housed his patients in his own domicile, where, as he takes but a few at a time, they do not incommode him, and are all, the better attended to.
    Many of the dogs of the first class, belonging to the aristocracy, are, when sick, attended by the "regular faculty:" and this, according to our informant, is perfectly as it should be. "For," says he, " the anatomy of the dog resembles much more than you might suppose that of the human being ; and whether it be that, associating with mankind so much, and leading a sort of artificial life, he has picked up a kind of human constitution, I don't pretend to say ; but it is very certain that he is liable to a good many of the disorders to which we are ourselves subject. It is a fact, that there is hardly a dog that lives out of doors in the mud and wet but what gets the rheumatism very bad, just as we should do if we led the same sort of life. Then they get the asthma from being tied up in clamp places. Lots of them die in their youth from a disease very like consumption. When overgorged and indulged, they will die of apoplexy. They perish by epidemics and fevers at times ; and they get nervous and [-107-] hippish, just like lazy gentlefolks, when they get no exercise. Now, I've studied dogs. and very little else, for forty rears, and I s'pose I know what a dog is. I never want to look further than a dog's eve to know what's the matter with him. You can tell something by the tongue, but the tongue's deceitful ; the eye tells you the truth, if you know how to judge of it. I'll show you a dog (and he fetched one hardly bigger than its own tail from an inner room) - What should you think was the matter with that dog?"
    "Have not the slightest idea.''
    "Fits, sir - come from China eighteen months ago - and they've allowed his wool to grow till he was smothered in it. I've cut off more than his own weight, docked all but his tail, you see ; and he's a coming round, though he's a little bit fittified still. He'll be all right in another month, except his coat. Here's another, one of the handsomest terriers ever you see - two years old, and weighs less than three pounds ; there's nothing the matter with him ; he's here  upon diet - I shan't give him medicine.''
    "What medicines do you generally use?"
    I prepare all my medicines myself in order that I may be sure of their effects ; but I use pretty nearly the same drugs that I should give to the best friend I had in the world, if he was ill and I had to doctor him. There are some exceptions, but not many ; thus, if you or I take a powerful dose of aloes, it gripes us fearful ; but a dog will swallow a lump of it and feel nothing : on the other hand, you may take calomel, four or five grains, and do you good, while half a grain might kill a dog. But generally speaking, the same medicine produces pretty nigh the same effects both in dogs and men.''
    "Do you ever administer bark?" I asked, but the good man was superior to a joke, and replied seriously, that he did not, because minute doses of quinine were better and more easy to manage.
    [-108-] The tenderness with which he handled his patients, and the grateful fondness of the creatures themselves for their benefactor were amusing to witness ; and I left Pincher in his care with the assurance that all that science and kindness could do would be done for his restoration.
    Sure enough, three weeks alter, that saucy young dog came home again, and brought such an appetite with him as was quite terrific to witness. The first thing the rascal did was to jump upon my writing-table, whisking off my papers right and left with his furious long tail, and commence licking my face. Then his impudence dashed out of the open window into the garden, and set to work digging up a lot of bones which he had buried against a hungry day, and, planting himself in the centre of the grass plat, employed the whole of the morning in settling the arrears of that account. He has recovered now nearly all his flesh and more than all his vivacity; in fact, there is no teaching him decorum. Down Pincher! Ha! would you? Down, sir!