Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Dog's Remorse (Two True Stories)

A Dog's Remorse - [Dog Stories from the "Spectator"] Sept. 1 1883

A Remarkable instance of the effect that can be produced upon a dog by the human voice was related to me yesterday. Some of your correspondents would consider it confirmatory of their notion that dogs have mind enough to understand words; but I myself rather believe that the sound of the voice acts upon the feelings of dumb animals just as instrumental music acts upon us. The story is as follows:-—A clergyman had for a long time a dog, and no other domestic animal. He and his servant made a great pet of the dog. At last, however, the clergyman took to keeping a few fowls, and the servant fed them. The dog showed himself very jealous and out of humour at this, and when Sunday came round, and he was left alone, he took the opportunity to kill and bury two hens. A claw half-uncovered betrayed what he had done. His master did not beat him, but took hold of him, and talked to him, most bitterly, most severely. "You've been guilty of the sin of murder, sir,—and on the Sabbath day, too; and you, a clergyman's dog, taking a mean advantage of my absence!" &c. He talked on and on for a long time, in the same serious and reproachful strain. Early the next morning the master had to leave home for a day or so; and he did so without speaking a word of kindness to the dog, because he said he wished him to feel himself in disgrace. On his return, the first thing he was told was, "The dog is dead. He never ate nor drank after you had spoken to him; he just lay and pined away, and he died an hour ago." L. G. Gillum.

[Feb. 1, 1879.]

You have frequently published letters containing stories bearing on the question of the moral nature and the future of the lower animals. I venture to send you some facts about a dog, narrated to me by a lady, whose name and address I enclose for your own satisfaction, and at my request written down by her as follows—

"A young fox-terrier, about eight months old, took a great fancy to a small brush, of Indian workmanship, lying on the drawing-room table. It had been punished more than once for jumping on the table and taking it. On one occasion, the little dog was left alone in the room accidentally. On my return, it jumped to greet me as usual, and I said, 'Have you been a good little dog while you have been left alone?' Immediately it put its tail between its legs and slunk off into an adjoining room, and brought back the little brush in its mouth from where it had hidden it.

"I was much struck with what appeared to me a remarkable instance of a dog possessing a conscience, and a few months afterwards, finding it again alone in the room, I asked the same question, while patting it. At once I saw it had been up to some mischief, for with the same look of shame it walked slowly to one of the windows, where it lay down, with its nose pointing to a letter bitten and torn into shreds. On a third occasion, it showed me where it had strewn a number of little tickets about the floor, for doing which it had been reproved previously. I cannot account for these facts, except by supposing the dog must have a conscience."

The conduct of this dog seems to me, sir, to exhibit something different from fear of punishment, viz., a sense of shame, a remorse, a desire to confess his fault, and even to expiate it by punishment, in order to feel the guilt no longer. He rather sought punishment, than feared it.
Th. Hill.

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