Man’s Best Friend and National Dog Week

For virtually every vice and oddity, occupation and religion, hobby and emotion, there is a holiday to honor it. We honor mothers and fathers, grandparents, teachers, firefighters, secretaries, bosses and sweethearts. We celebrate beer, practical jokes, waffles, head lice and even banned books.

With all this celebrating we’d be remiss not to honor those who fill our lives with love, laughter and loyalty. For the last week of every September the celebration is for our beloved canine companions.

National Dog Week was started in 1928 by Captain Will Judy, who lived from 1891 to 1973, earning a silver star for his gallantry during World War I. He wore many hats during his lifetime but his true passion was for dogs. He published several books about dogs, served as judge for various dog shows, and eventually became the publisher of Dog World Magazine. He was an icon in the dog world, and well known for his books about dog training, dog breeds and dog shows. There was even a Will Judy Award for the highest rated show dogs.

During National Dog Week, Captain Judy hoped to spread awareness on how to be a responsible dog owner. In addition, he wanted to honor dogs who’d served in the military, and organizations that rescued dogs.

Every year National Dog Week has a specific theme. The most memorable was the year that paid tribute to “Man’s Best Friend.” The phrase “Man’s Best Friend” has a quite a colorful history behind it. During a spat between a sheep farmer and his neighbor on October 18, 1869, the sheep farmer gave the order to shoot his neighbor’s hunting dog — Old Drum — on the suspicion that the Foxhound was killing his sheep. Old Drum was summarily shot and killed, which sparked the Burden vs. Hornsby lawsuit.

Attorney George Graham Vest, who got his law degree from Transylvania University in Kentucky in 1853, had already made waves by representing a slave accused of murder. The slave was acquitted, but died at the hands of an angry lynch mob who burned him at the stake, also threatening the life of George Vest for his role in the acquittal.

George Graham Vest became legendary for his powerful speeches and taking on the most unpopular battles. He supported secession on the side of the South during the Civil War. He worked for fair treatment of Native Americans, opposed women’s right to vote, and fought to protect the right of the Mormons to have multiple wives, even though he was personally against polygamy. He also fought to protect and preserve Yellowstone National Park.

In the trial of hunting dog Old Drum, George Vest represented Charles Burden who was Old Drum’s grieving owner, against Leon Hornsby, who allegedly directed another man to kill Old Drum. George’s closing statement was so powerful that not only did they win the case, his “Eulogy of the Dog” speech was inscribed on a monument and is considered to be one of the world’s greatest speeches.

Eulogy of the Dog

“Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

“Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.”

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