Part of what I do for a living involves searching (sometimes blindly) through historical documents. A lot of this can be done as easily as logging online into digitized archives and searching for keywords. Occasionally, I still have to go to the library and go about it more or less blindly. While the ability to search huge troves of information with a few quick clicks has made things much more efficient, there is something to be said about the loss of finding something unintentional. It’s also great having to open old books and scrolls.
One recent project involved an inter-library loan for rolls of microfiche of The Houston Informer, an obscure African American newspaper that went out of print in 1931 when it merged with The Texas Freeman. My task was to find anything music-related, but in the process I ended up finding so much more, including the March 22, 1930 headline: “Dog Keeps Vigil at Grave of His Master.” Here’s what it said:
“Through all kinds of weather, Spot, a dog owned by the late Dave Brack, had kept vigil at the grave of his master. Brack was a meat cutter and was fond of dogs. He fed scores of them daily, but Spot had been in his possession for some 18 years. When [Brack] died more than a year ago, Spot accompanied the funeral procession to the cemetery and since that time has spent most of his time at the grave of his master. Every morning he can be seen leaving the cemetery for his late master’s home where he gets his breakfast and then returns to his lonely watch.”
I was so taken with Spot’s love of Brack that I began looking for examples in other places, to find out if he was an anomaly. Turns out, another story ran in The St. Petersburg Times a week earlier:
“That mysterious affinity between a man and his dog, scoffed at by many and beyond the ken of others, makes Spot a one-man dog, even though his master is dead. Dave Brack was a negro meat cutter here. He loved dogs and fed scores of them. Dave died on the last day of last year. Dogs of all kinds that knew Dave followed his casket to the grave yard, and white spectators say they howled during the services.”
Wow. Not only did Spot want to remain by Brack’s side, but he also mourned his loss, howling a funeral dirge. This got me thinking: How common is this? Turns out there are other examples from all over the world.
Capitán was a puppy when Miguel Guzmán adopted the German Shepherd in Argentina. When Guzmán died in 2006, the dog disappeared and the family thought he’d gone to live with others until they visited Miguel’s grave. There he was; Capitán still refused to leave the cemetery six years later.
A similar occurrence happened in China in 2011. According to the BBC, when Lao Pan died, his dog refused to leave his grave even after seven days without food.
In Italy Ciccio accompanied a woman known as “Maria of the fields” to church each afternoon when the bells tolled. After Maria died, Ciccio followed his mistress’ coffin into the church and continued to come back, day after day, eventually landing a place at the foot of the altar.
Other examples include Leao in Brazil, Cash in Colorado and Squeak in Zimbabwe—all loyal canines despite the separation of death from their human counterparts.
Human wives and children are rarely reported to camp out at their loved ones’ graves. What compels a dog to do this? Is it because dogs depend on us for food, or because dogs are pack animals and their instincts prewire them to form loving bonds? I would submit it is more than that. For an animal to risk its life to protect the life of a loved one is one thing. But for a dog to begin to live on the gravesite of their dearly departed (and stay there through all kinds of nasty weather, sometimes until their own demise), that’s something else. It transcends the bounds of our perception of the world—an energy that transcends the blood and sinew of our bodies that spans across dimensions of time and space.
What can we learn from them? Unity, love, and forgiveness—everything that’s truly important.
Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and writes creative short stories, essays and musings every other week in encore throughout 2014.