The law was plain. If you lived in Reykjavik, you could not have a pet dog. End of argument.
All the same, there were 3,000 underground dogs in that capital, just as there are illegal canaries in a lot of no-pets apartments here.
They lived a precarious paw-to-muzzle life, never knowing when there would be a knock on the door. Kibbles were smuggled in. If a dog went for a ride in the car, he had to be disguised as a cat or a lady with a big hat. He could not lean out the window for the wind to blow in his face.
If a bitch whelped, it was a back-alley operation. You can imagine the unscrupulous vets assisting at the illegal birthing. You can imagine the filthy instruments. You can guess at the raging infections.
Postmen of Reykjavik moved freely throughout the city, growing more arrogant by the month. In human dwellings the kitchen floors grew daily more filthy, as people dropped scraps of sausage with no dog to help. A brussels sprout (dogs are enormously fond of brussels sprouts, though not everybody knows this) could roll behind an icebox and stay there for months till the stench of rot betrayed it.
But great events have transpired in the Icelandic capital, thanks largely to a mongrel named Lucy, and the proper devotion of her master, Albert Gudmundsson.
For a long time they lived this underground life together. Gudmundsson was the nation's minister of finance by day. But at home he harbored Lucy. He knowingly broke his nation's law. He must have sweated agonies of guilt.
Then one day a radio disc jockey disclosed that the minister was a dog person.
It was like Gary Hart; the nation's nitwits went into overdrive, for the citizens of Iceland are roughly the same as we. Oh, what evil. What a scoundrel. He broke the law.
Gudmundsson, however, did not go through the expected contrition ritual. He did not flap down Main Street in a lather of remorse. If they have a Ted Koppel in Iceland, the finance minister did not sit for an owl lecture.
Naturally, a poll was conducted. People voted in favor of the police, who said they had to kill the dog if it remained in Reykjavik.
But the minister said Screw You, politely. He would go into exile, he said, if that's what the stupid law of Iceland came to, but he would not give up his mutt.
In this he resembled the great Sufi mystic who was offered immediate entry into paradise, but whose fiery refusal is a landmark of human virtue: "Not without my dog."
I surmise, rather than know, the uproar of Iceland. I know how these matters galvanize the Uproar Set in America, and I merely suppose it was the same among the whale-killers.
Anyway, even though the poll showed strong support for the police and doing in old Lucy, a referendum on the law was called. The law was changed. The finance minister was allowed to keep his sweet old mongrel.
As often happens in the wake of one brave man, Iceland is the better. Reykjavik is no longer regarded as the cruddiest dump of the Western world. The people who darkened the polls have seen a great light. The dawn has broken there.
The finance minister organized a new political party, the Borgaflokkur, which is said by an Icelandic spokesman to be untranslatable.
I guess it means the Dog Resistance Phalanx. Long may it woof. Floreat muttorum.