November 26, 2013
As he lived. (Mark Davis / Getty Images North America)
As he lived. (Mark Davis / Getty Images North America)

“The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” (Wallace Wallace in ‘No More Dead Dogs,’ quoted on the TV Tropes Page for “Death by Newbery”).

[Spoiler alert? In the headline? Whoops, sorry about that!]

Yup, “Family Guy” shot the dog. “We thought it would be a fun way to shake things up,” executive producer Steve Callaghan told E! Online. It was that or give him a Felicity haircut, and I think they made the wiser call.

Frankly it was an anomaly that he made it this long.

If there is one thing I learned from reading Literature Aimed at Children, it is that the dog never makes it through. Not if it’s an Award-Winning Book. If you don’t believe me, there’s a whole TV Tropes page dedicated to this concept. You name it, the dog keels over. “Old Yeller.” “Where The Red Fern Grows.” “Marley & Me” (to be fair, this one is based in fact). Fry’s Dog in that one episode of “Futurama” that still can ruin a perfectly good afternoon if I suddenly remember that it exists.

And now Brian Griffin.

People have been sacrificing dogs for any number of reasons (“If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog”) for as long as they have been padding dutifully along next to us. Especially fictional dogs. An alarming propensity to keel over at the precise point when it will be most emotionally scarring is a characteristic they share with their real counterparts.

I thought Brian was safe because “Family Guy” was not in contention for any Children’s Book Awards, and also because in general when “Family Guy” evokes genuine emotion it comes as something of a surprise. Yes, I feel a strange affection for the characters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t joke-vessels for whatever combination of gags their tank of idea-ball-pushing manatees concoct. Now that I know cartoon characters whose death is not explicitly referenced in the title (see: “All Dogs Go To Heaven” (actually, don’t see it. It’s scarring.)) are fair game, I have to reevaluate all my fundamental assumptions. Who’s next? Odie? Garfield? Actually, that might be an interesting idea — “Garfield” Without Garfield has been running rings around the actual strip for some time now.

I could get all poignant here and quote the writer Zadie Smith saying “It should be noted that an equally dangerous joy, for many people, is the dog or the cat, relationships with animals being in some sense intensified by guaranteed finitude. You hope to leave this world before your child. You are quite certain your dog will leave before you do. Joy is such a human madness…. What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth.” The only beauty is the part that dies, and all that.

The Daily Beast thinks they have a point. I do too. Cartoon immortality carries serious risks — you can become trapped like Beetle Bailey in the limbo of the comics pages, repeating the same motion over and over again long after it has ceased to be funny, while the characters around you sink into hopeless alcoholism. Half the battle is knowing when to quit.

They’ve subbed out Brian for a new dog named Vinnie, and the family seems to be adjusting all right. The Internet’s upset, but of course the Internet’s upset.

A petition to bring him back now has more than 46,000 signatures. “Why?” they ask. “I thought the advantage of being a fictional, cartoon dog was that you got to survive indefinitely, like Odie and Marmaduke, eventually surrendering all vestiges of humor and relevance to the ravages of time. I understand that life is pain and that writing is one of the few professions where you get to slaughter people that everyone loves and instead of society responding by putting you behind bars for the rest of your life, they invite you on talk shows and tattoo ‘George R. R. Martin is a genius’ on their clavicles. I realize this. I just wasn’t expecting this from ‘Family Guy.’ It’s not ‘Walking Dead’ or ‘Game of Thrones’! If I wanted to watch all the characters I’d come to love die miserably, I’d watch literally anything else that is on on Sunday nights.” And they’ve got a point, too.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.