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.
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.