from "Why We Love the Dogs
I was on a book tour a few years ago, I had the opportunity
to meet with Jimmy Stewart. He was no longer the young
Charles Linbergh character that I remembered from the
film The Spirit of St. Louis, or the easy moving character
that became a hero in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
His age had begun to show on him, and he appeared to be
almost fragile. He was slow moving and even slower talking
than I remember him being in the movies. However, when
he started to speak about his dogs his face broke into
a smile and the pace of his talking picked up. He told
"When I married Gloria she already had a German
Shepherd named Bello. He loved her a lot and, after a
while, he and I got along. Gloria really loves German
Shepherds best of all, but sometime after we lost our
second one, she decided that they weren't the breed of
dogs that I needed. Anyway, she went out and got me this
Golden Retriever named Simba, and its been Goldens ever
since for me. "We actually have three dogs now. Kelly
and Judy, are Golden Retrievers, and then there is Princess
who is some kind of a mixed breed that my daughter found
and we sort of rescued. Princess had some behavior problems
and I think that Kelly and Judy picked up some of her
bad habits--figured that if Princess could get away with
it so could they. We had met Matthew Margolis [who co-
authored of a number of fine dog training books, such
as When Good Dogs Do Bad Things, with Mordecai Siegal]
and Gloria liked him. He runs the National Institute of
Dog Training. Kelly and Judy were not behaving. They didn't
listen to anything we said, and they were always jumping
up and barking and pulling on the leash--both were just
imitating Princess, I think. Well, anyway, Matthew told
us that he would have to take the dogs to his training
kennel for six weeks to get them to behave. The reason
that he wanted them at the kennel had something to do
with 'socialization' and other dog things like that. It
was supposed to help their shyness and excitability. Gloria
and I didn't like it, but she felt that we had to do something.
Well that lasted just one day. You know I love my house,
but without any dogs around it feels like some kind of
mausoleum. I told Gloria 'Get those dogs back home because
I can't put up with them not being here.' Anyway, Matthew
tried to set up a training program at the house, but it
really didn't work so well. In the end we compromised.
We broke the three dogs up into squads, so we could send
one or two of them to school for short sessions, and still
have one or two at home for company. I still didn't like
it, even though we got to visit their school on weekends.
Gloria made a lot of phone calls to make sure they were
OK--to reassure me I guess. "I suppose the truth
is that I'd rather have a happy dog than a trained one.
My dogs have never been good at things like 'sit', 'stay'
or even 'come'. I think that we've given the tourists
a few laughs, especially when the dogs hit the end of
their leashes hard enough to drag Gloria down the street.
I don't even mind it when the dogs jump up. Matthew showed
us how to jerk the leash to correct that kind of thing.
I suppose that it does have to be done--you know to keep
them from knocking someone down or messing their clothes--but
it seems kind of cruel to me. If my dog jumps up on me
I figure that he wants to kiss my face and tell me that
he thinks that I'm a really nice person. I don't believe
that you should punish a dog for saying 'I love you.'
When your dog's face is up looking at yours like that
I think that you should tell him just how nice you think
that he is too. Gloria told me that Matthew says that
we mother the dogs too much and that they'll never really
be well trained. Well, they're a lot better now than what
they were before, so some of the training must be working.
The difference between 'trained OK' and 'trained perfectly'
doesn't really matter all that much to me. I once did
a film with Lassie. When that dog got excited it jumped
all over Rudd Weatherwax [Lassie's trainer]. Now that's
the smartest dog in the world. If the world's best trained
dog can jump around to show he's happy then my dogs should
be allowed to do the same. "The truth is that it's
just really hard for me to get to sleep without a dog
in my bedroom. It's funny about that. I once had a dog
named Beau. He used to sleep in a corner of the bedroom.
Some nights, though, he would sneak onto the bed and lie
right in between Gloria and me. I know that I should have
pushed him off the bed, but I didn't. He was up there
because he wanted me to pat his head, so that's what I
would do. Somehow, my touching his hair made him happier,
and just the feeling of him laying against me helped me
sleep better. After he died there were a lot of nights
when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed
beside me and I would reach out and pat his head. The
feeling was so real that I wrote a poem about it and about
how much it hurt to realize that he wasn't going to there
I later learned just how intense his feelings were for
his dog Beau. At the time, Stewart was making a picture
which was shooting on location in Arizona. One evening
he got a phone call from his veterinarian, a Dr. Keagy.
The call was about Beau. Keagy told him that Beau was
very sick. He was having trouble breathing and was in
considerable pain. The disease had progressed to the point
that it was obvious to Keagy that the dog couldn't be
saved. He was calling for permission to end Beau's life
quickly. Stewart's wife Gloria said that she couldn't
make that decision since Beau was Jimmy's dog. "I
can't just tell you to put him to sleep like this,"
Stewart said, "Not over the phone--not without seeing
him. You keep him alive and I'll be there." Stewart
was always known as an easy actor to work with, who never
made excessive demands. So, the director was taken aback
when he went to him to ask for a few days off to fly home
to see to his dog. The leave was granted and Stewart got
to sit with Beau for a long while before making the decision.
He later admitted that when he left the veterinarian's
office he had to sit in his car for around 10 minutes,
just to clear his eyes of tears, so that it would be safe
to drive home.
© 1999 Stanley Coren.
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