Dogs of Saint Malo

If you are expecting a warm and uplifting puppy story, you are about to be disappointed.

This is a tale of the dark side of dog history.

One of the first things I noticed when we started walking around the city of Saint Malo was the unusual ’emblem’ that was popping up everywhere – from sewers grates to flags.

It was a dog, wearing a cape, walking along what I thought was either a fence or wall.

We eventually learned that some time in the distant past, the city of Saint Malo began using dogs to enforce a curfew within the city walls at night – presumably to discourage potential attackers and looters.

Some sources say the practice started in the 1600s while others suggest it was sometime in the early 1300s during the Crusades. At any rate, the powers-that-be decided it was a novel way to protect the city at night.

Every evening the bell tower of the cathedral would ring at 10 pm as an alarm to warn the residents that 20-some English mastiffs were about to be released from their kennels.

These were not warm and fuzzy animals.

They had been unfed during the day and so were quite vicious as they roamed the streets at night. In the morning, the animals would be called back to the kennel by the sounding of a horn – which likely signalled they were about to be fed.

Hence the motto of the city became “Cave Canem” which translated from Latin to mean “Beware the Dog”.

Incredibly, this practice continued until 1772 when the dogs attacked and killed a young navel officer who had been out late. The story is that he had been visiting his fiancée and lost track of time.

After this incident, the city decided to discontinue the use of guard dogs and each of the dogs was then poisoned … a rather insulting ‘reward’ for years of loyal service.

What hasn’t changed however is the evening practice of ringing the curfew bells at 10 pm – although without the risk of canine terror.

Saint Malo Cathedral bell tower

To be honest though, I can’t verify the practice because I have no recollection of ever hearing church bells … one of those maddening details that I missed at the time and now I’m left wondering.

71 comments

  1. The dog in the emblem looked like an otter to me 😅
    This made me think of the “kennel” that Hubert (?) showed Marie-Laure in All the Light We Cannot See. Sometimes, reading historical fiction, I’m not entirely sure what’s real and what’s not, but I guess this puts that matter to rest!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought the dog looked more like a greyhound than an English bullmastiff, but I can see why you thought of an otter.

      I don’t remember the kennel scene in the book but I agree about historical fiction. It often raises many questions in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Poor dogs… That’s just terrible. But not as bad as the practice Ottoman Sultans had of killing their younger siblings as soon as they were born so there would be no competition for the throne. The things things one learns traveling…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well, I’m glad you braced us for no warm and fuzzy. First, those dogs are HUGE. Second, awww, the poisoned them? Geez…that’s pretty horrible. I expect your next post to compensate, Joanne. I want fluffy Theo pictures! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry. I was horrified when a tour guide told us this story … so of course I had to share it 😉

      Not sure the next post will be warm and fuzzy … but I promise no killer dogs will be involved 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amen to that!

      When I was growing up our town had a curfew alarm that went off each night at 10 pm in the summer (9 pm in the winter). Virtually every kid under a certain age knew they had to be home – went the siren went off.
      … but there were no marauding dogs, just the risk of being grounded – a terrible fate in the summer.

      Like

    • hahaha!! You just described Easter Sunday. I swear the bell-ringer must have been jacked up on chocolate or something because those bells just went on-and-on-and-on. And then just as I was enjoying the quiet, they’d start up again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a horrifying story. You know, the more I research history, the more I believe that we humans are only a degree or two above savages.

    Now, brace yourself. I’m “going there.”

    When you say, “…he had been visiting his fiancée and lost track of time,” do you mean, “he lost track of time nudge-nudge, wink-wink?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I really, really wanted the dogs on the emblem to be caped crusaders, flying about, doing good deeds. I guess I can understand why the dogs, no longer needed for their intended job, wouldn’t be able to be rehabilitated, but poisoning them doesn’t seem right at all. Humans can be so cruel.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. English Mastiff – I would not want a hungry 150 lb (or more) dog looking to me as its next meal – curfew observed! Yeah, it is sad how they treated the dogs. Not just keeping them hungry so they would attack anyone and everyone, but poisoning them when they were done.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Joanne, Very observant for you to notice the emblems. In a city with a lot of history, I often miss some interesting, obvious information right in front of me. Quite the dog story. I initially thought you were going in the direction of the little dog deposits often found in cities in France. Erica

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ever since I picked up a camera a few years ago, I’ve noticed that my powers of observation have improved a lot. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss things (sorry for the double negative) … I’m usually grateful to have someone with me who notices things I don’t.

      As for the little doggie deposits … don’t ask Gilles. He had a remarkable talent for stepping in it 😳

      Liked by 2 people

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