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Canine Trauma

Woman's Best Friend

Mary Thurston

Unlike men of the Renaissance, who preferred large hounds bred for hunting, women sought the company of pint-sized dogs who lent themselves well to the arduous task of being cuddled and kissed. The more baby-like in appearance, the more popular these miniaturized spaniels and terriers became. Johannes Caius, Cambridge scholar and author of the first dog book published in England, criticised ladies who "bore small dogs in their bosoms, fed them at the table, and let them lick their lips as they rod in wagons." Writing to a colleague in 1576, he remarked that these little dogs had no purpose, save to "satisfy the delicateness of dainty dames and wanton women's wits."

Caius was just the first of a long line of male commentators who looked askance at the woman-dog relationship. Many such observations seem tinged with jealousy -- physicians even advised husbands to "do away" with their wives' dogs, hinting that their affection for the animals was "unnatural" and compromised the desire to bear children. Eighteenth-century satirist Sebastien Mercier sufficiently understood the depth of the woman-dog bond to caution his male readers: "Step on the paw of a little dog, and you have lost the esteem of the woman; she may pretend otherwise, but she will never forgive you."

Mary Elizabeth Thurston is an anthropologist at the University of Texas and the author of The Lost History of the Canine Race.

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