In the book “The Vikings” by Else Roesdahl (first published in 1987 in Denmark, a Viking homeland), she writes that Viking men were buried with their weapons, tools and hunting dogs. The Vikings Age ran from the late 8th Century to the mid-13th Century (Common Era).
I found myself reading this book after viewing the first season of “Vikings” on the History Channel (great series, by the way). What does it say about man’s relationship with hunting dogs that they were once buried with them? At first, I thought how wrong to have a hunting dog killed so it could be buried with its master. But then, Vikings were pagans who believed they needed their dogs in the afterlife (warriors went to either Valhalla or Folkvangr). Or did they take them as a mercy, believing it cruel to leave a dog without its master?
We’ve all heard the sad tales of dogs that mourn the loss of their masters, dogs that never recover or die of a broken heart. Take the story of “Shep,” a sheep herder’s dog in Montana. The herder died in 1936 in Fort Benton. His body was taken away on the train, but sadly, poor Shep kept vigil at the train station for years, waiting for his beloved master to return. Today in Fort Benton a large bronze statue of Shep, still waiting for his master, graces the train station. It is entitled “Forever Faithfull.”
Many dogs are “one man” dogs. The pack instinct remains strong in our hunting dogs. The hunter is the pack leader and our hunting dogs will go to great lengths to remain with the pack for, in the dog world, it means survival. My hunting dogs have never liked it when I leave them behind, whining, barking and pacing, according to my wife, Terri.
There is a poem that I’ve run in the Pheasants Forever magazine a few times entitled “To Bury a Good Dog” that proffers another option. It goes on about all the places a hunter could bury a favorite hunting dog. In the end, however, the story concludes, “The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.”
I like that. I have several buried there already.
-Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.