"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Most Amazing Dog




...Because let's face it, smart-mouthed Nazi dachshunds are what this blog is all about.

In the 1930s, a dachshund named Kuno von Schwertberg--remembered in history by his nickname, "Kurwenal"--lived in Weimar, Germany with his owner, the equally impressively-named Baroness Mathilde Freiin von Freytag-Loringhoven.



The Baroness was a devotee of what was known as "New Animal Psychology"--essentially, the belief that animals had latent intellectual and communicative abilities equal to humans. This school of thought was highly fashionable in Nazi Germany, where they thought of dogs as more "human" than Jews or other non-Aryan races. The regime even created a special "dog college" where they hoped to train mastiffs to work as four-legged concentration camp guards.

Mathilde saw her dachshund as the perfect evidence for this theory. Kurwenal, she informed the world, was able to both read and carry on conversations. He communicated by barking the number of times necessary to correspond with a consecutively numbered alphabet. It was, for matters of convenience, a phonetic alphabet, but it got the job done. (Kurwenal once expressed frustration with the cumbersome system. He wished he could talk like a parrot.) He could also tell time.

Kurwenal displayed a sophisticated taste in literature. While one would assume his favorite reading would be "Lassie" stories or novels where cats meet a hideous fate, our hero showed an easy familiarity with Shakespeare and proclaimed that Goethe was superior to Schiller. He also had a taste for zoology books. (Sadly, the dachshund disliked music, which he decreed was "very disgusting." He could not bear singing, either. Something to keep in mind if you are in the habit of crooning lullabies to your dog.)

This was one opinionated dachshund. He was fond of pink roses and large cheeses, (Kurwenal was quite chubby,) and would chat about his desire to eat cats. He had an eye for pretty women that, curiously, did not extend to females of his own species. When he was once asked if he would like to become a father one day, he snapped, "No!" (One scientist suggested that the dog's superior intellect had caused his "private parts" to atrophy.)

Kurwenal never bothered to hide his impatience with what he considered to be silly questions or frivolous wastes of his valuable time. One one of his birthdays, he was treated to a visit from children belonging to the Nazi's animal protection organization. When the children began reading a long poem in his honor, Kurwenal quickly grew bored. After only a few stanzas, he interrupted by barking out "No more poetry!" The birthday boy was presented with a large teddy bear. The giver said placatingly, "Now, does this bear not look very nice?"

"No!" Kurwenal responded. "He looks horrible!"  He also advised the youngsters that he planned to vote for Paul von Hindenburg rather than Hitler, and, oh, to have seen the faces of everyone present when he did.

Kurwenal--who liked to describe himself as "intentionally witty"--was the dog world's first stand-up comedian. When he heard rumors that wartime economy might lead to sausages made of dog meat, he protested, "the Christian religion prohibits killing!" When one Swiss investigator tried to trick Kurwenal into showing himself to be a fraud, the dog yelped contemptuously, "I answer no doubters! Go bother the asses instead!"

One senses that Kurwenal was the canine Tobermory.

The loquacious hound was studied by several scientists, with predictably varying results. The zoologists Ludwig Plate and Max Muller declared that the little canine's talents were all completely genuine. Muller wrote, "The thought-communicating red dachshund...barks, in his number alphabet, utterances of a surprising, even weird, depth of thought. The constant association of the dog with his teacher enables him to display an answer to questions, sequences of thought which surprise us extremely. This dachshund lives in the intellectual sense, more in man's sphere than in the animal's." Physiologist Otto Renner, on the other hand, was convinced that Kurwenal was merely following subtle cues provided by his owner. [Cf. Lady the Wonder Horse.]

As was the case with Lady Wonder's owner, the Baroness was casual about her pet's talents. "There's nothing mysterious or freakish about the things these dogs do," she once commented. "The truth is that these dogs have an intelligence similar to humans, but much lower in degree. Except for the fact that they are given their first lessons at a very early age, there is no undue pressure put upon them to make them learn.

"I give Kurwenal dainties when he performs especially well, but that's all the encouragement he gets. I never try to force him to do things as circus dogs are forced. It's simply that I worked very hard training him and tried to be very patient."

Kurwenal died late in 1937. "I am not afraid of dying," he barked out on his deathbed. "Dogs have souls and they are like the souls of men." He was buried in the Baroness' Weimar town house. The residence is now an office building, but the grave of the dachshund once known as "the most amazing dog in the world" is still preserved. The epitaph on his tombstone (translated from the German) reads:

"KURWENAL
The wisest and noblest of all dogs.
The world-famous mathematician, thinker, and writer."

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad Kurwenal didn't live to see the World War. That probably would have soured him upon mankind all together.

    ReplyDelete

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