Loyal Dogs, and Dogs and Law

Dogs are proverbially loyal. Many traditional stories emphasise this. Odysseus’ dog Argos recognised his master after all his years away, after waiting for him to return to Ithaca. In Edinburgh, major tourist attractions are the statue and grave of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier that visited his master’s grave every day for fourteen years. The same story of the dog loyal after death is found all around the world in many versions. For example, it recently found a film representation in the Australian movie, “Red Dog” (the novel that influenced the movie is rather different).

The Japanese “Greyfriars Bobby” is Hachikō, an Akita. Hachikō was the dog of Professor Hidesaburō Ueno, Professor of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo. Professor Ueno commuted to work by train, and the dog developed the practice of going to meet him at the railway station on his return. One day, however, Professor Ueno died suddenly on campus and did not return. Thereafter for the nine years until his own death Hachikō would go to the station to wait for the Professor. While Greyfriars Bobby has but one statue, commissioned by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Hachikō has had several. One was commissioned during his own life; though destroyed for the metal to support the Japanese War effort, a replacement was commissioned after the War, and it stands at the station. Another statue stands outside the Akita dog museum, and, as the dog was born in Ōdate, a further outside its station. An American film version of the story led to a copy at the US railway station where the American movie was filmed. Photographs of photographs of Hachikō also survive, as even does a recording of his bark. And a statue of Hachikō, this time with the Professor, was unveiled by the Tokyo Faculty of Agriculture in 2015, to mark the eightieth anniversary of the death of the dog. The statue stands just inside the No-seimon (gate) of the University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus, in which the Faculty of Agriculture is situated.

But the fidelity of the dog has a legal-historical interest. The study of legal iconography shows how the fidelity of the dog has been harnessed for a wider significance in law. In Dutch art of the Golden Age dogs feature regularly, fulfilling a variety of symbolic functions, depending on their role in the picture, again, for example, often as symbols of faithfulness. Dogs are also regularly depicted in court rooms in seventeenth-century Dutch art. According to M. A. Becker-Moelands, these portrayals can have two purposes, depending both on where the dogs are situated, and with whom they are associated in the image. They can serve as a symbol of fidelity and reliability, or they can be a symbol of the openness of justice, as they have been able to wander into the court room.

This entry was posted in Legal History. Bookmark the permalink.