Beautiful Joe, by Marshall Saunders

first published in 1894

I read Beautiful Joe when I was about 10. Though a voracious reader and dog-lover, I remember having difficulty. I didn't read it rapidly -- unusual for me! As an adult, re-reading it - I understand!

INTENSE - at least at the beginning. In the first couple of chapters, the abuse Joe, his mother and brothers and sisters suffer is very disturbing. Quite graphic by today's standards. By the end of chapter 2 when Joe has lost his whole family and suffers having his ears and tails docked by his owner in a rage as punishment, even the adult "me" had to stop and have a good cry! But it wasn't so much the stuff of nightmares as fuel for compassion.

Saunders was obviously 'on a mission.' It was about 15 years after Black Beauty had pricked the public conscience about the unchecked cruelty to animals, particularly horses, that existed at the time. Alex Carras, the current President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the "ASPCA"), writes the Foreword. He makes the point dogs have always been so taken for granted as commonplace that the cruelty to them, more private than public, wasn't seen as an issue.

One might think that in the last 100 years our society might have moved a bit further forward. Hopes on that score are dashed in the inevitable comparison of the disdain shown in the book for"dog fighting" with that of the recent California court case. A couple were arrested on an obscene number of counts of abuse (a dog fighting ring). Ultimately all of the dogs (some57??) had to be destroyed because they'd been ruined beyond adoptability. It's true, the judge did punish the wrongdoers, but in the light of the lives lost and cruelty inflicted, a few years in prison (5, I think) is pretty pale when you think of how soon he's likely to be paroled.

The "10 year old me" was obviously greatly influenced by this story - it's why it was difficult to read, but also why the impression was so lasting. It's a good reminder that things children are drawn to and really "interested in" will profoundly influence them.

This book is more than mere 'entertainment'. Any parent who would withhold a book like this, simply because of "violent content" would also be withholding all of the incredibly positive ideas presented. By all means, it needs to be discussed and investigated. The content is pretty accurate as to the ideals of over 100 years ago. However, keep in mind some of the ideas represented as kind discipline then are not wholly acceptable today.

This is an incredible book. It's a wonderful tool for conscience-building and demonstrating the cause and effect relationship between loving discipline and a positive result - not just for pets, but in inter-personal relationships as well.


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