I’m talking about your pet! And veterinary medicine.
At the time, I was writing the novel, KLONDIKE WEDDING. (Published in 2007.) I wanted to give my heroine a puppy and started looking into Amy’s history to see if her breed was around then. Lo and behold, yes! Because it was a gold rush story, I named her Nugget in the book.
They weren’t known as Bichon Frises back then, simply bichons. (Double-check the breed names if you’re including them in your novels. The dog may have existed, but the name may have been slightly different. Many official names and standards of a particular breed were formalized later, in the 1900s, for American kennel clubs.)
One thing often overlooked in Klondike history is the huge influx of stampeders’ dogs. People from around the world heard of the gold strike and raced to get there. They brought their faithful companions not only as a remedy for cabin fever, but as work dogs. They pulled sleds, hauled supplies and people, carried mail and acted as security guards. Often times, they were the only friend a gold miner could trust. And extremely valuable. A dog that sold for $15 in the lower states could sell for ten times that amount or more in the Yukon.
When I was in the Yukon, I picked up this great book. GOLD RUSH DOGS by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G. Haigh. It offers such an interesting point of view of the gold rush. For centuries prior to this, Indians and Eskimos in Alaska relied on their huskies and malamutes for transportation (dog sleds) and carrying household goods as they moved seasonally for hunting, fishing and trapping.
Stampeders brought different breeds. Saint Bernards, English mastiffs, water spaniels, Lapphunds (a Norwegian or Lapp dog that was a reindeer herder) and countless other mixed breeds. Many became legendary in the north for their hard work, incredible strength and duration. They bred with the huskies and forever changed the bloodline of northern dogs.
DOGS. Some dog breeds from around the world and their history:
Bichon – French, Belgian and Mediterranean ancestry dating back to the 1300s. Related to poodles, Maltese breeds, and water spaniels. During the 1500s, the breed became popular as pampered lap dogs for French, English and Spanish royalty.
Golden Retriever – Developed sometime around 1865 by Lord Tweedmouth of Scotland. For hunting purposes to retrieve game birds such as grouse, pheasant and quail. The dog is able to swim in cold water, push through vegetation and retrieve gently.
Saint Bernard – Very old breed. Some say they date back to the 1st century A.D. Its ancestors are herding dogs of Swiss and Italian farmers, and watchdogs. Famous for being used by Swiss monks as rescue dogs for travelers crossing the treacherous Swiss Alps. These dogs have a highly developed sense of smell to find people trapped in snowstorms and are excellent pathfinders. In widespread use until the middle of the 19th century.
CATS. Around 4,000 years ago, cats were fully domesticated by the Egyptians as household pets, and used to guard stored grain from rodents. Cats don’t have as many diverse breeds as dogs. Although some breeds are 500 years old, most are roughly 100 years old and new breeds are continually being developed.
Some cat breeds:
Persian – Originated in Persia (Iran). Believed to have been brought to Europe during the Crusades in the 1300s, though first documented in Italy during the 1600s. Introduced to North America in the late 1800s.
American Shorthair – A breed with ancestry related to English cats, which were brought on ships by early explorers (the Mayflower) to guard valuable cargo from mice and rats. Known for longevity, robust health and amiability.
Siamese – Exported from Thailand (known as Siam then) in the late 1800s, to England and America. Known for distinct beauty, intelligence and inquisitive nature.
In KLONDIKE WEDDING, I took the story one step further and made the hero a Veterinary Surgeon who worked for the Mounties. He had a lot on his plate—dealing with a measles quarantine, trapped with the heroine and several other people, while suspecting someone was using his vet supplies for poison.
You can imagine how valuable veterinarians were during those times, especially in caring for horses. Horses were desperately needed for transport, battle, hunting, and basic survival. Veterinary Surgeons became very important during the American Civil War.
Although the Royal Veterinary College was founded in England in 1791, the first college in the U.S. started in 1857—the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons. Up until then, American men became veterinarians by apprenticing with someone who was trained in England, or by practice and hearsay. Unfortunately, in some pockets of the U.S. it took several decades for good education to filter through.
In 1863, the United States Veterinary Medical Association was founded. It went through several name changes, and published the journal, American Veterinary Review, for their members.
Reference sources for this article can be found on my website www.katebridges.com.
Tell me about your creatures! What pets do you have? If you’re a writer, what animals have you written into your stories?
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