The Master

August 2012

We have all heard the word “Master” used with relation to man and his beloved dog. A prestigious title that the grand and powerful man has given himself that has lasted centuries. Some might suggest it’s a term attributed to dominance; an elevated position on the hierarchy of man over beast. Long before I adopted Buddy I have contemplated whether man can justify calling himself the “master” of his canine companion. We hear “a dog and his master” but never “a man and his master”. With respect to dog owners alike who can justify calling themselves “the master”, I challenge them to stop and rethink their human/canine relationship and ask “who really is the almighty master?” in this relationship. Who has done more for the other? Is one more devoted?

It brings to mind the famous true story of “Old Drum”. In 1869, Senator George Graham Vest of Missouri represented a plaintiff whose dog “Old Drum” had been willfully shot by a neighbor. The defendant admitted the shooting, but questioned and disputed the $150 value the plaintiff attributed to his dog. In closing, George Vest said these words: “Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his worst enemy. But 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. 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.”

The jury deliberated in less than two minutes. The plaintiff who had been asking $150 was awarded $500 by the jury. A statue of “Old Drum” was erected there on the Johnson County Courthouse Square in Warrensburg, Missouri where it remains today.

Should such a dog like “Old Drum” not be considered “the master”?   How are we to become “the master” of a dog when we readily admit they’re “mans best friend”?   Is it not worth mentioning the heroism that so many dogs inertly demonstrate? They risk their own lives to save human ones, even those that are strangers. So how dare we refer to ourselves as masters of our dogs when more often than not the real master is the dog itself?

I find it almost amusing to hear my Dad refer to me as Buddy’s master. I am hardly worthy of that title. In contrary, proving over the course of his life, Buddy is in fact more often my master. Not a single morning passes when at 4am I am not crouched on my hands and knees in the dark bowing to Buddy while he lies sleeping at my bedside. I whisper into his ears how much I love and adore him, reminding him that I will return soon and thanking him for another day in my life. Call me crazy, but I believe Buddy knows that when I gently press my head into his, eyes shut, that it is he who is the grand one, the official and true master of my heart. And as we touch heads, there is a quiet and profound understanding between us. It is then that I am reminded that without Buddy, I am the master of nothing but myself. 



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