Friday, December 18, 2009

A Greyhound Named Wagon

Here is another dog story to add to the series on pets that I've been building up. Since I will be absent next week for the holidays, I thought I would double up and post an extra blog this week. I will be back to blogging again before the New Year.

I was prodded to dig through some of Alice's photo albums this week by an inquiry on Facebook about Punchy the Boston terrier. During my digging I came across this picture of the Livingston's Greyhound Wagon (pronounced Va-goan) pulling Janet in a dog cart in 1917. Wasn't I surprised!

It's not that I had never seen a dog pulling a cart before. Dogs have been harnessed for centuries as draft animals (at left is an image from the 1890s of a Belgian post card featuring a dog pulling a dairy cart). The tradition was carried on in many parts of the world late into the 19th century, and was made particularly famous in Belgium by an 1872 story entitled "A Dog of Flanders"--a heart-rending story that was read to me as a child.

In the past few decades, dog carting has even made a resurgence as healthy sport for dogs and their people (at right you can see a dog carting demonstration at Clermont in 2006).

It's just that seeing Janet seated there behind Wagon just caught me off guard. But driving--horses, cars, you name it--was a leisure activity popular among the wealthy. Janet and Honoria road around in a wicker pony cart when they were little. Honoria preferred the pony cart to the new car because she could get in and out at will to pick flowers, according to her mother. Clermont still has five miles of carriage paths and riding trails on its grounds that were originally used by the Livingstons for pleasure in the warm weather, and their neighbors the Churches at Olana enjoyed their own trails that wended around the hills, affording fine views of the Catskills and Hudson River.
rom its configuration, this little cart appears to be made specifically for dogs, and with the reins in her hands, Janet looks quite adept at driving her dog. Since they owned a special cart for the purpose and appear to have put some time into training Wagon to pull it, it seems that this was also a common afternoon passtime for the Livingston girls.

Wagon joined the Livingston family in 1916, a leggy brindle puppy who must have found particular pleasure in Clermont's wide-open landscape. His doggy companions at that time were Rufus the bloodhound and an aging Boston terrier named Punchy, and the three of them appear to have been the children's constant companions. A Pekingnese named Gobi joined them in 1917, bringing the Livingstons up to a four-dog household.
He appears in photographs with the Livingstons only through the winter of 1917, and it seems that he is the infamous "train chaser," that Alice later wrote about losing. By 1918, the only picutes of the dog cart show it being used by the children to pull Gobi around.
Finding Wagon and his dog cart is one more clue to understanding the Livingston's relationships with their pets. Pet ownership has the been subject of increasing study over the past few years because of the ways it helps us to understand ourselves. I was thrilled to find this curious piece of the puzzle in Alice's photo albums.

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