Thursday, December 22, 2005


I normally don't think of dogs often, except to eat them.

Actually, I've only eaten dog meat once, but Peter has turned this single incident into a big deal. "You puppy-eater!" he accuses.

The story happened during my family's visit to China on vacation last December. Taxiing past numerous restaurants, we saw banners listing their specials, often proclaiming, "Hot pot dog meat here! Only 12.95 for a pot!"

As a child reading martial arts stories, I read many a scene of the hero stumbling in the snow, at last coming upon a roadside shack offering rice wine and dog meat. Happily warming himself near the fire and gnawing on his dog drumstick, his heart would sing with joy. Thus I wondered at the flavor of dog meat.

One cold night, we had just gotten to Nanjing on the last leg of our tour. Our guide had forgotten to pick us up at the train station and we were left standing there with our bags in the rain. We managed to bum along with another tour group and get a two-star hotel, but it was past 9pm by the time we ventured out to find a restaurant. We were cold and hungry.

The perfect setting for coming upon a small family-style restaurant with dog meat hot pot. "Is it a live dog?" I asked out of curiosity. The restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall eatery, and I wanted to know if I'd be consuming month-old cured dog, or canned dog.

"The dog is alive in the kitchen right now!" the owner (doubling as waiter) affirmed passionately. "小花狗! A spotted puppy! Do you want to see it?"

"No, I believe you. I'll get that dish then." I turned back to the table just in time to see my brother's look of dismay.

Soon it arrived, a steaming bubbling pot of dog meat which caused my brother to sadly boycott all dishes meant for the hot pot (even the cabbage and tofu intended for dunking in the hot pot, which had not yet touched the dog meat).

I found it quite delicious, if a bit chewy.


Today I came across this story of how the phrase "man's best friend" came about:


George Graham Vest (1830-1904) was born in Missouri and practiced law there. He also was a US Senator from 1879 until 1903, and was known for his skills in oration and debate.

Early in his legal career he took a case in which he represented a client whose hunting dog, a foxhound named Drum (or Old Drum), had been killed by a sheep farmer. The farmer had previously announced his intentions to kill any dog found on his property; the dog's owner was suing for damages in the amount of $150, the maximum allowed by law. During the trial, Vest stated that he would "win the case or apologize to every dog in Missouri." Vest's closing statement to the jury made no reference to any of the testimony offered during the trial, and instead offered a eulogy of sorts:

Gentlemen of the Jury,

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and may 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 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 absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, 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 encounter 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 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 him against danger, to fight against his enemies.

And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his 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 the grave side will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even in death.

Vest won the case.


Ah, dogs. Good for company, good for eating. What more could you ask for?

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