Look, everybody knew Jim the Wonder Dog was something else, but I still don't believe he could read Greek and shorthand.
Still, his story makes a diversion for those weary of Marion Barry. Jim was whelped in Louisiana in 1925 and went to God from Missouri 12 years later.
As a pup he was backward. He was no good at all in those schools that teach dogs to hunt birds. He just sat there. Then it was noticed that while all the good students were quartering the field, back and forth, back and forth, Jim just trotted directly to the covey.
His master, the late Sam Van Arsdale, was hunting one day with Jim and said, "Let's take a break over there under that hickory." Jim took off and sat under the hickory. His master thought well, it's a coincidence. So he told Jim to go to an elm, which Jim did, and a black oak and a cedar. Jim did all of them.
Sam told his wife about this -- they'd had Jim three years before they'd noticed his gifts -- and she said well, yes, but don't tell anybody else or they'll laugh us out of the county.
But how can you keep genius hidden? Soon everybody in Missouri, in Marshall, Sedalia and all, was talking about this wonder dog who could point out the lady in the blue dress, the man in the red tie, the guy with rolled socks, a strange postman named Wagner, and much else.
Sam ran the Ruff Hotel, and traveling men from all over soon told other people the marvels they'd seen Jim perform. Sam would say, "Jim, go find this man's car," and he'd run down the street and do it. Then Jim was told, "Go find the car with the license plate G73-814," and he'd do that.
He appeared before the Missouri legislature and listened to a Morse code message tapped out for him, directing him to pick out a certain member. Jim did it, as the solons of Missouri watched in dumb surmise.
A Greek professor brought his class and wrote some Greek on a paper. Jim did nothing. Sam said, "What's the matter, Jim?" and the professor said he'd just written the alphabet, alpha, beta, gamma etc., and that's why Jim just sat there. He had not been asked to do anything.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a long article on Jim, and so did Outdoor Life, written by its authoritative Larry Mueller, hunting dogs editor.
When Jim died, Sam damned near did.
In 1942 Clarence Dewey Mitchell wrote "Jim the Wonder Dog," in the first person, as if dictated by Jim, and the soft-cover edition is still in print (Jim the Wonder Dog Inc., 906 Royal Blvd, Sedalia, Mo. 65301, $8.50 ppd.). H.J. Hausam, copyright holder, says all proceeds go to the College of the Ozarks, where students work their way through school.
Hausam is in Washington trying to persuade the Postal Service to issue a stamp with Jim on it. No luck thus far, "but if the department will do it up right," he says, "then old Jim will have done it again. Done what? Erased our post office deficit, that's what."
A church minister, a newspaper editor, a former president of the national veterinarians association and others all testify to Jim's incredible powers.
My view is that Jim didn't comprehend foreign languages any better than the average Louisiana whelp, and I don't believe you could give him a license number and he'd race off to set his paw on it. Perfectly sane and honorable people see flying saucers and get messages from outer space through the fillings in their teeth, but just because they're honorable doesn't mean their accounts are factual.
The answer is simple enough. Jim the Wonder Dog was beyond doubt a singular specimen, toward whom almost everybody felt a strong emotional surge. Anybody who ever had a dog can comprehend that. Once the emotional commitment is made, humans will believe anything, based on what they think is proof right in front of their eyes. Thus many dog lovers think their dogs can sing "Carmen."
Everybody knows that when you think of taking your mutt for a walk, he knows it even before you stand up. He pads over to his lead. If you think of giving him a bath, he knows it and vanishes.
Those are curious things, and why doubt that Jim was even more sensitive and aware than, say, my wonderful hound, Luke, though I doubt it, actually.
You get an outstanding dog -- the fabulous one in our family in the past century was Jack, an American bull terrier who flourished in 1908 and is still talked about today -- and you yourself become hypnotized. You are too sensible, too reserved, to fling your arms about him and hug him 86 times a day, so your love and wonder are translated into awe at his supernatural gifts.
Some dogs bring this out in people more than others, and Jim must have set an all-time record. The wonder he inspired in people is at least as remarkable as his alleged gift for shorthand.
So what was there about Jim that made otherwise sober folk go off the deep end?
Well, one nature writer of the 1940s said dogs had ruined most of the population of England, reducing them to blathering, infantile nitwits, unfit for science or sound learning.
But then the Royal Society's Sir Robert Ball pointed out that "humanity's greatest benefactor was the first savage to tame a litter of wolf cubs," and Schopenhauer complained that the "real trouble with humanity is that it is descended from monkeys and not from dogs." Furthermore, in "Thus Spake Zarathustra," we learn that "the world was conquered through the understanding of dogs, and the world exists through the understanding of dogs." And before you bad-mouth one, Mohammed said, "Dogs will be witnesses at the Last Judgment."
Finally, if you must know why all those people went bats over Jim, get yourself a dog, take good care of him, and see.