Dogs by Humorist James Thurber

Lessons Learned From Dogs*: James Thurber’s Rex

Drawing by James Thurber

“He killed cats, that is true, but quickly and neatly and without especial malice, the way men kill certain animals. But he (Rex the dog) had a gentle disposition. He never bit a person in the ten strenuous years that he lived, nor ever growled at anyone except prowlers.”

These are the words of the renowned author James Thurber:

     “Rex (an American Bull Terrier) I liked better than any dog I have ever known and in another place a few years ago I did him some faint, far justice. But I didn’t say then and I don’t say now that he was the finest and truest and noblest animal that ever lived. The real dog likes a dog the way he likes a person; the brightest gleam sometimes comes from the flaw. Rex was a gourmand; he twitched and yelped when he slept; he’d hate Pomeranians and would chew them to bits although he was five times their size; he killed cats; he jumped on horses when they fell down but never tackled one that was on its feet; if you ordered him to stay home he’d slip out the alley gate and meet you five blocks away; he could lick anything this side of hell and did; he could chin himself with one paw and lift 50 pounds with his jaws; he had a weakness for chocolate ice cream cones; and although Rex learned to open the refrigerator door he never learned to close it.

“Rex never lost his dignity even when trying to accomplish the extravagant tasks my brothers and I used to set for him. One of these was the bringing of a 10-foot wooden rail into the yard through the back gate. We would throw it out into the alley tell him to go get it. Rex was as powerful as a wrestler and there were not many things that he couldn’t manage somehow to get hold of with his great jaws and lift or drag to wherever we wanted them put. He would catch the rail at the balance and lift it clear of the ground and trot with great confidence toward the gate. Of course, since the gate was only 4-feet wide or so, he couldn’t bring the rail in broadside. He found that out when he got a few terrific jolts, but he wouldn’t give up. He finally figured out how to do it, by dragging the rail, holding onto one end, growling.

“Of course, he would bring back a stick to you if you did throw one in (the water). He would even have brought back a piano if you had thrown one in.”

“Rex never killed or even chased a squirrel. I don’t know why.  He had his own philosophy about such things. He never ran barking after wagons or automobiles. He didn’t seem to see the idea in pursuing something you couldn’t catch, or something you couldn’t do anything with, even if you did catch it.”

“Rex had one brindle eye that sometimes made him look like a clown and sometimes reminded you of a politician with derby hat and cigar. The rest of him was white except for a brindle saddle that always seemed to be slipping off and a brindle stocking on a hind leg. Nevertheless there was a nobility about him. He was big and muscular and beautifully made. He never lost.”


Tongue-in-cheek, I believe, Thurber wrote, “I am not a dog lover. A dog lover to me means a dog that is in love with another dog. I am a great admirer of certain dogs, just as I am an admirer of certain men, and I dislike certain dogs as much as I dislike certain men.”

In reference to the public writing of one of his newspaper contemporaries Stanley Walker, Thurber states that, “Mr. Walker, who writes with a stub pen, frequently mislays his spectacles, and inclined to get mixed up now and then, undoubtedly meant to write (that it is not dogs but) ‘The history of man is one of greed, double-crossing, and unspeakable lechery?’”


James Thurber was both an illustrator and humorous writer that was prominent from the 1930s until his passing in 1961. Fifty years later, his love and insight of canines rings true to this day.

The above excerpts were taken from The Dog Department – James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles.


*   Lessons Learned From Dogs is the book

recently written by David A. Dailey.

It can be ordered through Barnes & Noble,

the publisher Outskirts Press, or Amazon.Com.

E-Books are available, too


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