We have a rather peculiar problem. Our family has decided to acquire its first dog. We're not snobby, so a dog from the Humane Society would be fine. But when we went there to look them over, we couldn't agree on one. The kids liked the bigger dogs. My husband and I preferred a smaller dog, although we're somewhat flexible on this issue. We just don't want a dog the size of a horse! What's happened is that while we were looking, an old friend of ours let us know about a German shepherd who just had puppies.
When our two boys heard about this, they were ecstatic. They associate German shepherds with police work, and they'd be delighted to have such a fierce animal to play with. My husband and I are less ecstatic. Personally, I associate German shepherds with the Nazis. My husband just thinks they don't have the right personality for children. And we both feel that our boys may be into dogs for slightly inappropriate reasons and don't want to encourage that. But they're both terribly excited about this dog and are begging us to take a car trip to go meet her. We've managed to put it off until their spring break, but we're wondering what you might make of all this.
Sour Kraut: I believe it was Adolf Hitler, in his speech at Nuremberg, who said...well, he screamed so loudly that nobody could make out exactly what he was saying, but the point was something along the lines of "I can't wait until the Third Reich gets here so we can all cozy up to the fire with our fräuleins and our mädchens and our leibchens and our dogs bred right here in the Fatherland." Yes, we've all seen the movies where the German shepherds, like honorary members of the SS, are gnashing their teeth and pulling on their leashes while the Jews are escorted off the trains. And I can certainly understand why, if you were Jewish or you knew someone who was Jewish or you'd heard of someone who's Jewish or you'd heard of someone who'd heard of someone who's Jewish, you might not want to acquire a German shepherd as a family pet.
But this is surely a case of guilt by association. Those dogs were trained to do that and could just as easily have been trained to bite Hitler in the ass. German shepherds, as anyone who owns one will tell you, make excellent pets. They're highly intelligent, which is more than I can say for some breeds I know. They're also "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent," which some readers will recognize as the Boy Scout Law. Okay, they're not all that thrifty, and they aren't even all that friendly. And how clean they are depends mostly on their owners. But they're very loyal, very obedient, very brave. That's why American servicemen returning from World War I couldn't stop talking about them. In no time, Rin Tin Tin was gracing the silver screen. German shepherds were in.
And they stayed in throughout the '20s and '30s. But World War II was a public-relations disaster. Then retrievers, with their hey-how's-it-going demeanor, lumbered into people's hearts. German shepherds are still the third most popular breed in America, I believe, but they're way behind the retrievers. Still, I would think about it, Sour Kraut. I mean, we're not talking pit bulls here, which can also make excellent pets if trained properly. It's all about the training, and you might want to use this as an opportunity to train your sons about the roles that dogs play in our lives. Along those lines, I wouldn't advise naming the dog Luftwaffe, Blitzkrieg or Göring. Max might be nice, though, Max von Stephanitz having gotten this all started over a hundred years ago when he originated the breed. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you think it just wouldn't have been the same if the Nazis had used dachshunds, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, and 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.