Growing up, it seems like I always had a pet. Whether it was a bird, a fish, or a guinea pig, my parents must have felt as if looking after another would instill in me a sense of responsibility. I certainly loved them: I don’t remember putting up strong resistance to feeding them or cleaning their cages (or bowls). Keeping them left their mark upon me, sometimes literally. One day I fell over the guinea pig cage. My upper arm plunged into the corner of the wire cage, resulting in a visit to the Emergency Room, and a scar that, while it has faded substantially in subsequent decades, is still clearly visible.
Of all the animals I have owned, I think my favorites were the dogs. They seemed to have the most personality and vibrancy; they seemed more like people than the other animals I kept. While I enjoyed listening to my parakeet’s singing, or watching the various types of fish swim around in their tank, or even holding and petting the guinea pig, I really felt like the dogs were my friends. Perhaps I didn’t always treat them as well as I should have, but then again, we don’t always treat our human friends as well as we should either.
|John Carter's loyal friend|
(image from Disney's movie promo card)
While I was amused by the depiction of Woola in Disney’s new film “John Carter,” it wasn’t until I read the book that I gained a real appreciation for the character. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars, Woola waddles around “on ten short legs, and squats down like a puppy.” John Carter describes him as about “the size of a Shetland pony,” but with the “head of a frog,” and powerful “jaws equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.” Perhaps due to having so many legs, he’s described as “the fleetest animal on Mars.” The “intelligence, loyalty, and ferocity” the species exhibit have led the Tharks to use them for “hunting, warfare, and protection.”
Having said all this, John does not immediately welcome Woola into his life. As Sola, John’s keeper among the Tharks, cannot watch over him every minute of the day, she assigns Woola to guard him. John is allowed to wander the abandoned city the Tharks currently inhabit, but grows tired of Woola’s constant presence. John bounds away suddenly, and leaps into the upper story of a nearby building. But perhaps he should have looked before he leapt. For in this room he is attacked by two great white apes, which nearly kill him before Woola arrives. Of his rescuer, John says, “I cannot bring myself to call so hideous a creature a dog.” Nevertheless, his “watch-thing” leaps to his rescue. Woola is nearly killed in the battle, but he buys John vital time to recover and defeat the apes.
|Mindy guards my collection of|
Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels
The other weekend I watched “Marley and Me” on DVD. The movie humorously conveyed Marley’s willful and headstrong nature. I could also understand how newspaper columns written about such an animal would delight readers. However, what the movie failed to convey (to me) was how such a rambunctious and destructive animal could win over John Grogan and his wife, or how the couple could justify keeping such a potentially dangerous animal once children came into their lives. (Someday I’d like to read the book. According to a Wikipedia article, John Grogan describes Marley as “totally without malice,” and with “a heart of gold”). Having read A Princess of Mars and watched “John Carter,” I can envision Woola as a fine friend and protector who posts little danger to John’s future family. As John Carter describes him in the novel, this “dumb brute…held in its poor, ugly carcass more love, more loyalty, and more gratitude than could be found in the entire five million green Martians who rove the deserted cities and dried sea beds of Mars.”
I’ve cared for several dogs in my life, and developed fond feelings for a few special ones who belonged to others. Naturally, in all that time, I’ve also watched these animals suffer and die. For the last fifteen years, I’ve continually argued that I’m too busy to own another dog. I’ve read novels and seen movies and TV shows that depict the strong bond that can form between a dog and his master(s), the most recent of which is the aforementioned “Marley and Me.” While the character of Woola may not prompt me to own another dog, he nevertheless reminds me of why I regarded them as my friends.
|Lucky still guards my front door|
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