Guest Author - Nicole Pickens
Animal stories are always intriguing. They tempt us to speak for them as we study their body language and decipher vocalizations. It’s fun. We imagine a perpetual cloud of thought over their heads that’s easily assessable to read, and convince ourselves of a simpler and happier mind.
“Bruce” was a novella with six small chapters written by Albert Payson Terhune in 1920. Albert Terhune was a native of New Jersey and in addition to writing and journalism, a respected dog breeder who specialized in Rough Collies.
The story begins with an introduction to a female Collie named Rothsay Lass. She had the unfortunate distinction of being labeled a “second.” This term essentially meant she was not a high quality show dog and lacked the desirable traits needed to win the approval of kennel judges and blue ribbons. Part of her failure in the eyes of those judges was in part due to her gender. Female dogs during this time in American history were considered unfavorable.
While reading about her plight in regard to social opinion, I found myself in kinship with her. It is easy to feel inferior when compared to the much sought after supermodel splashed across televisions, movies and billboards. A woman can feel like a “second” in the wake of this vision. It is rejection and intolerable especially when the heart and intellect are never considered.
Rothsay Lass was very smart and eager to please but every day she was considered a nuisance to the breeder and his farm. She was eventually sold to a young boy who fell madly in love with her because he was completely unaware of her lack of value.
The young boy took her home and his parents were infuriated because of her gender. The parents secretly plotted to dispose of her, hopeful their son would forget her.
Rothsay Lass seemed to have divine intervention on her side. She was accepted into another family who didn’t seem to hold the reins of proper breeding too tightly. The Lass soon gave birth to one male puppy named Bruce.
Bruce was also considered lacking in necessary show traits but the Mistress of the farm especially took a liking to him. He stretched her patience like a normal puppy but soon awed his owners with his intelligence and loyalty.
World War I arrived at America’s back door, and the owners of the farm who were childless decided to enlist Bruce into the Army as a carrier dog. Bruce was trained and shipped over to what was called “No Man’s Land.” He was a very successful carrier dog and loved by his regiment.
Bruce the War-Dog was a very busy soldier. In addition to his carrier duties, he mortally wounded several enemy soldiers, caught a spy and posed as a werewolf.
I enjoyed how Terhune composed Bruce’s thoughts and actions. There’s a sense of logic when you read how Bruce thinks and I accepted them as . . . well . . . acceptable, and yes, humorous.
Terhune spent a lot of time with dogs and it shows throughout the story. He portrayed Bruce as an intellectual who was uncomplicated in his thinking, yet who was brave and creative. He also educated the reader about the pedigree, its shows, and the horrors animals endured for the sake of science called vivisection.
Bruce’s adventure was fun and exciting. Terhune wrote it well, with style and humor. If you like animal stories, I recommend him, highly.
Oh, by the way . . . Bruce went home a war hero.