Rusty

A Cocker Spaniel
by Colonel S.P. Meek

I have mixed feelings about this older book that was published among a run of \”famous dog stories\” so it must have been popular back in the day. It\’s a charming enough story about a plucky little cocker spaniel. Rusty was the runt of his litter. He\’s bought from a pet shop by a young woman whose fiancée owns kennels of show dogs- springer spaniels and cocker spaniels. So the man Allen disparages the puppy Ruth chooses, but she loves him at first sight and refuses to accept that he\’s a worthless dog. Rusty soon shows himself a quick learner and brave as well. Among his exploits he learns to not steal cake or pie off the kitchen table, retrieves the morning newspaper (including that of all the neighbors nearby, in a very funny episode), dives into heavy surf after a ball when larger dogs fail to retrieve it (and needs to get rescued), saves a baby from a burning building, guides adults to another child lost and injured in the forest, survives being mauled by a rabid dog, gets lost and finds his way home again travelling miles. Some of the events in the story were so dramatic and unlikely I was rolling my eyes (as when the main characters flee a forest fire and the car narrowly misses being hit by a falling tree- it bounces off the rear fender). The little dog is very smart, and like Lad performs many heroic deeds in service of his mistress. Thankfully he wasn\’t too perfect- when he\’s entered into a local dog show, he gets placed at the very bottom for his poor physical form. But Ruth is determined to prove -most of all to her fiancée what a great dog he is, so she secretly has him trained and enters him into field trials. The last part of the book was better- I liked reading about when the dog got lost (that chapter is from Rusty\’s viewpoint) and after that it tells about the field trials so I learned how spaniels are trained to find and retrieve birds- it\’s a little different from the Irish setters I read about earlier. And one point, Rusty\’s trainer proclaims that his methods using a choke collar are much kinder than \”shooting him with fine shot\” to teach the dog of wrongdoing- as was done in \”Don: the Story of a Lion Dog\”– which makes me realize the use of birdshot must have been rather common.

What I really didn\’t like was the people. Not just the trainer\’s outdated methods, a lot of attitudes in this book really show their age- especially that of Allen towards Ruth! He was often making fun of her for \”being brainless\” although he loved her and expressed admiration when she did something clever. At one point in the story, when the child went missing in the forest and a fire was approaching, one woman started screaming in fright. The other man advised his companion to slap her repeatedly in the face to snap her out of it. Dogs are beaten to teach them, and women are told they would just be in the way in a crisis, to stay home and keep the coffee hot. Bah.

However the dog is cute, very bold, and proves to everyone that he\’s smart and full of moxie (not a word from the thirties!) I was really impatient and annoyed with certain parts of this story, but found myself enjoying it closer to the end, especially the description of the dog\’s performance in the field trials. I think for most though, it would only appeal if you are nostalgic from having read it in your childhood.

Rating: 3/5              296 pages, 1938

3 Responses

  1. Forgot to mention two things I wanted to note about this book: it's set in and around San Francisco, but other than familiar place names, I got no real sense of that. The dog's adventures seemed kinda over-the-top to me, but the author states that he knew all these incidents happened to actual dogs, he just put them all into a story happening to one dog.

  2. This one really sounds \”dated\” to me. It's hard to enjoy some older novels because they remind us of attitudes toward people, sexes, and animals we'd prefer to forget. On the other hand, I suppose they can serve as a good reminder of how much progress our culture has made – despite what we are being told today about how terrible we all are.

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