Defending the Black Dog*

I really feel sorry for black dogs. They get such a hard time of it. People are always going on about how difficult it is to be a Muslim or a working mother or a shareholder in a lucrative WA mining company in Australia today – but nobody spares a thought for the black dogs.  To the contrary, it is perfectly acceptable to publicly state that they should be beaten and kicked and generally mistreated – and you will never hear a dissenting voice on the subject.  One writer harbours so much resentment towards them that he wrote an article entitled ‘Beating the F’n Black Dog.’ It was for a men’s group, however, and presumably a real man needs an expletive to be able to fully grasp how truly despicable and reviled these creatures are.  

Is this the face of evil?

And even when black dogs are not being openly libelled they must feel such a drag to be around – so depressing – constantly bringing everyone down through their mere existence.

Winston Churchill** is to blame, of course (or, that c….* Churchill, in case any men are reading.) Yes, he may have done a lot for the English people during the war, but he did nothing at all for black dogs.  I’m sure there are a whole heap of Labradors and Boxers and even little Scotties out there who growl and bare their teeth each time his name is mentioned and have to be forcibly restrained  when someone launches into yet another impassioned rendition of his famous: ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech. Now, I’m not saying Churchill was a bad man as such, but he really should have thought more carefully about the implications of his choice of metaphor.

Because now it’s everywhere. Musician from Bob Dylan to Manic Street Preachers are constantly writing songs vilifying black dogs. And poets – my god, the poets can’t get enough of it! The final straw for me was when I saw a copy of Les Murray’s Killing the Black Dog in a shop window the other day – this, from the esteemed bard of Bunyah, one of our nation’s leading poets! Was it really necessary for him to take this persecution of black dogs to this violent new level?

 Imagine what a dog would think were he to see this book in the window – or worse, in his owner’s hands (supposing of course, he were also able to read.)  I can see it now: a faithful hound with grey specks in his black coat plods in to bring his owner (a Professor of Literature) his slippers as he reads in front of the fire. His toenails click companionably on the wooden floor (the dog’s, that is.)  He flops down and lays his head on his owner’s feet, looking up at him trustingly, a picture of perfect contentment. But then, what’s this he espies in his beloved owner’s hands – the latest offering from Australia’s favourite poet? The poor dog would be quite justifiably alarmed and concerned for his safety, not to mention confused as to what he had done to deserve this treatment – why his beloved owner should have turned on him so – after all his years of faithful service and companionship.

Poor bewildered black dog...

And then of course, here in Australia we have also have the Black Dog Institute, an organisation dedicated to the study and treatment of depression.  What do the dogs make of this I wonder? Do they view it in the same way that the Jews and gypsies viewed the infamous Nazi ‘Racial Purity’ institutes?

But it’s not just the English speaking world who are guilty of making black dogs feel bad. The French too, are at fault: grappling with a bete noir  – or black beast – anyone? And I’m sure the problem extends into Asia and the Middle East and the rest of the world as well (I have no actual evidence of this, mind you.)

This disparagement of black dogs is a problem of global proportions and we need to address it. Ask yourself what you might do to help black dogs feel more valued in our society. You could adopt a black dog from a shelter. You could write to your local member. You could do as I do and make a special point of patting every black dog you see in the street and telling it it’s a good dog. ‘It makes me so happy to see you,’ I say, ‘not depressed at all.’ And in the main part, they wag their tails and fix me with a look of intense gratitude. (Except for those which respond by biting me, of course, which actually is quite depressing. But then sometimes the owners bite me too, which is also depressing.)

Forget ‘Reclaim the Night’: it’s time to reclaim the black dog.

*Please note that this isn’t a post about depression but rather a light-hearted look at one of the phrases we use to describe it. It is not intended to make light of this serious issue or to give offense. 🙂

**Winston Churchill is generally credited with popularising the phrase ‘black dog’ as a metaphor for depression. The cat informs me that this footnote is patronising and unnecessary as everyone already knows this, but just in case she is wrong…


About bakersdaughterwrites

What to say? I’m a 30-something year old woman from Sydney notorious for changing her mind. I have a cat named Seraphina Nightingale, whic
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8 Responses to Defending the Black Dog*

  1. Margaret Diehl says:

    Black cats have it much worse.

  2. Baker says:

    To be fair, some authors are bucking the trend doggedly! Take JK Rowling. Sirius went around as a large black dog and was a beacon of hope for young Harry.

    • ‘Doggedly’ – ha! See how easy it is to become flip and glib when you start posting blog comments! HP’s a bit hazy in my mind at the moment – but wasn’t Sirius locked up in Azkabhan because everyone thought he was evil – with his black dog guise only reinforcing their perception? Hmm, will have to check with a 7 year old…

  3. Jon Walker says:

    I am also in the Black Dog hall of shame (as you can tell by my capitalisation): see

  4. WAGNER. A mere black poodle is what I see –
    you, I suspect, some optical illusion.
    FAUST. It’s my impression that, with quiet magic, the dog
    is laying about our feet the snares of future bondage.

    From Goethe, Faust, Part I.

  5. We just adopted a black dog yesterday and he is the SWEETEST lil guy ever! I love black dogs, they are the color dogs I grew up with.

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