“Nell’s small grave, opening at the garden’s edge to receive her out of this world’s sight forever, reopens many graves. Digging, the old man grieves for his old dog with all the grief he knows, which seems again to be approaching enough, though he knows there is more.”
Wendell Berry, “Leavings”
The fuss over Double Dogs restaurant in Hamburg and its struggle to legally host patrons’ canine pets evokes Kentucky’s tangled history with the canine.
A photo of Louisville-born boxing great Muhammad Ali going nearly nose to nose with a fan’s poodle in 1973 neatly sums up the attitude of a great Kentuckian when faced with canines: You love them, hate them or are merely bemused by the insistence of “dog people” that their pet deserves an audience with “The Greatest.”
But other famous Kentuckians had more intense relationships with canines.
▪ Frontiersman Daniel Boone never traveled without his hunting dogs, according to DocSouth at the University of North Carolina.
Boone was born in Pennsylvania, lived in North Carolina, died in Missouri in 1820 and is buried in Kentucky at Frankfort Cemetery. A bronze statue of Boone with two hunting dogs sits on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
▪ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, owes his first election in 1984 to possibly the most iconic attack ad ever: a pack of hound dogs searching for his opponent, Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston, the Democratic incumbent.
The ad was made after the late Roger Ailes, who had just joined McConnell’s campaign, was inspired by a dog food ad.
“I always tell Roger Ailes, ‘But for you, I’d be a not-very-happy lawyer practicing in Louisville, Kentucky,” McConnell told Business Insider in 2016.
▪ The 19th-century Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, venerated throughout the Bluegrass, ejected Virginia representative John Randolph’s dog from the floor of the U.S. House in 1811. The two also dueled after Randolph, then a U.S. senator, accused Clay, then the U.S. secretary of state, of “crucifying the Constitution and cheating at cards.” (As you do.)
The two met on April 8, 1826, missed each other when they shot, called a draw and shook hands.
▪ Wendell Berry, 83, the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, is a Henry County-born novelist, poet, environmental activist and farmer. His new book, “The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings,” (Counterpoint Press, $26) is being published Oct. 31.
Berry keenly understands the dog’s life lived close to humans, watching the seasons change and the body age: “Why all the embarrassment/about being happy? Sometimes I’m as happy/As a sleeping dog,/and for the same reasons,/and for others.”
▪ Brynneth Pawltro, a 3-year-old pit bull, is the mayor of Rabbit Hash in Boone County. Pawltro succeded Lucy Lou, a border collie.
Rabbit Hash, population about 300, doesn’t really require a mayor, so mayoral responsibilities can be easily fulfilled by long naps and daily strolls.
▪ Lexington-born and Augusta-raised George Clooney and his wife, Amal Clooney, have a rescue basset hound named Millie and a cocker spaniel named Louie. George Clooney also adopted a disabled dog named Nate for his parents, Nick and Nina Clooney of Augusta, and had him delivered to their home for Christmas Eve 2015.
Nate came from the LuvFurMutts rescue in Cincinnati.
Clooney had a rescue cocker spaniel, Einstein, adopted as an older dog, who died recently.
Clooney’s love for animals extends beyond canines. He owned a pig named Max, who lived for 19 years, and described him as “a big part of my life.” He told potential girlfriends that the deal was “Love me, love my pig,” according to the Independent, a British newspaper.
▪ Kentucky-born Abraham Lincoln might have had the first presidential dog ever photographed. Unfortunately, Fido didn’t make it to the White House.
When Lincoln was elected president, poor Fido was terrified by the cannons, fireworks, church bells and the noise of the celebrating community in Springfield, Ill., according to the website American Comes Alive!
The Lincolns, including Lincoln’s Lexington-raised wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, placed Fido with another family with the understanding that when the Lincolns returned from Washington, Fido would be returned to them. Lincoln specified that Fido would get the run of the new home, table scraps from the family meals and his own horsehair sofa.
Pictures of Fido were picked up by tourists in Springfield after Lincoln’s death. The dog met an unfortunate end, jumping on a drunken man, who stabbed him to death.
▪ Colonel Harland Sanders, the salty businessman associated with Kentucky Fried Chicken, was critical of the company in his waning years. The New Yorker quoted him in 1970 saying that the company’s new gravy recipe “ain’t fit for my dogs.”
Sanders died in 1980 at age 90.