Dogs appear in many of Crockett’s Galloway novels and he writes about them with humour and deep understanding. He is clearly a dog-lover and appreciates the significant relationship between dog and man in the farming community. How a man treats a dog, and how he relates to a dog, is seen to be indicative of his character. That said, Crockett is not sentimental in his portrayal of dogs even though there is much humour to be had when a dog is in the scene. Like the human characters Crockett writes about, the dogs often have hard lives and come to sticky ends.
In The Black Douglas we encounter what might be a wolfhound, but is presented as a werewolf. Another ‘big’ dog that we come across is in The Raiders and is Silver Sand’s own wolfhound, known as Quharrie. This dog may well have been the template for Crockett’s contemporary Arthur Conan Doyle’s own Hound of the Baskervilles.
The young Patrick Heron describes his meeting with Silver Sand’s dog:
‘Silver Sand introduced me to Quharrie— that terrible dog—making him tender me a great paw in a manner absurdly solemn, which made me kin and blood-brother to him all the days of my life. And I have received many a gift which I have found less useful, as you shall hear.’
Most often the dogs found in Crockett’s stories are collies, ranging from pure sheep dogs to those of more dubious parentage. They are usually given familiar names and we encounter a number of incarnations of Tweed, Trusty, Tyke, Yarrow and Royal in various stories.
In Rose of the Wilderness, Tweed and Tusker show their skills as sheepdogs. In The Loves of Miss Anne, Dan Weir’s sheepdogs Talla and Kilter stand guard during the storm when he abandons the flock and get struck by lightening for their pains. It is a poignant description:
‘They were still and stiff—both of them stricken by the lightning. But first they had brought in the ewes and the lambs— when the shepherd himself had deserted them, brought them where they would be safe from the storm, from the torrents that seamed the mountains every way and from the terror that would have scattered them hither and thither over the waste.’
In The Moss Troopers the aptly named collie Whitefoot is skilled far beyond that of a sheepdog and is central to the subterfuge. He carries messages between Stair Garland and Patsy, and is faithful unto death.
In The Banner of Blue, Anton Macmillan’s dogs are described with humour for their wisdom, and the descriptions ring true for anyone who has owned a collie (or two).
‘When Anton appeared in the little yard where were his thatched byre and the tiny ‘office houses’ which his own hands had built out of the granite boulders of Bennangour there in the midst were his collies Tod and Tyke—with Messan the novice aforesaid, now grown wiser and vacuating the hearth of his own proper initiative without application of the force majeure…
...Is he going to the kirk or is he not going to the kirk? Tyke and Tod cocked their wise heads and thought. You can easily see a good collie think. No professor does it more obviously when asked a question in class.’
Crockett shows dogs to be a vital part of the working rural community and as valued companions to his boy heroes. For example: ‘Kit Kennedy admired his mother above anything on earth—and loved her too, almost as much as his red dog Trusty.’
‘... as surely as the Wednesday and Saturday came round Kit would be found at play on the heights of the Craigs, rolling heathery wildernesses with the most fascinating nooks and corners, hiding-places and rocky watch-towers, that could possibly be imagined by the mind of boy. Here with Royal and Tweed, his satellite dogs. Kit kept his vigil, and was always the first to discern, far down the dusty road, the advent of Heather Jock and his donkey. ‘ Kit Kennedy has a whole chapter devoted to Kit and Royal playing truant which is an absolute tour de force of Crockett’s writing skills.
Crockett writes about real dogs from real experience, with a compelling humour. Dogs especially play a large part in the anarchy and chaos of the life of a boy. Crazy, the collie in The Dew of Their Youth is companion to Duncan and described as ‘our rough, red house-collie Crazy’ His shortcomings are ably described when Duncan and his grandmother go to visit ‘The Great House.’
‘After she had duly lectured the Widow Tolmie, she bade her in all amity ‘Good-day,’ and started to reform Crazy, who had been gyrating furiously across her path, trying apparently to bite his tail out by the roots. Crazy was, it appeared, a useless, good-for-nothing beast, a disgrace to a decent Elder’s house, and I was ordered to stone him home.’
The boy narrator sees it differently and continues:
‘ Crazy was my friend, my companion, my joy. Stone Crazy! It was not to be thought of. He would certainly consider it some new kind of game and run barking after the missiles.’
Crockett’s dogs are familiars in the kirk and the schoolroom as well as out on the hills. In The Stickit Minister, schoolmaster Duncan Duncanson is himself a victim of the figurative ‘black dog’ of depression. This manifests itself in violence at the arrival of Andrew Tait’s dog who: ‘in the height of the turmoil a great brown head presented itself at the door. It was the head of big red 'Trusty' the half-collie half-St.Bernard which sometimes accompanied Andrew Tait to the school, and played about outside till that youth got free of his bondage, when the pair went joyously homewards…
Trusty never was much of a scholar, in spite of so long frequenting the village academy.’
Another Royal features in ‘A Minister’s Day’. The young Wattie debates the question of whether dog’s have souls with the minister Richard Cameron, and makes a good account of himself.
‘Well,’ continued the minister, ‘would you not like to be a herd like Him, and look after men and not sheep?’
‘Sheep need to be lookit after as weel,’ said Walter.
‘But sheep have no souls to be saved!’ said Richard Cameron.
‘Dowgs hae!’ asserted Walter stoutly.
‘What makes you say so?’ said the minister indulgently. He was out for a holiday.
‘Because, if my dowg Royal hasna a soul, there's a heap o' fowk gangs to the kirk withoot!’
‘What does Royal do that makes you think that he has a soul?’ asked the minister.
‘Weel, for ae thing, he gangs to the kirk every Sabbath, and lies in the passage, an' he'll no as muckle as snack at a flee that lichts on his nose—a thing he's verra fond o' on a week day. An' if it's no' yersel' that's preachin', my gran'faither says that he'll rise an' gang oot till the sermon's by.’
The minister felt keenly the implied compliment.’
This story is re-told and expanded upon in A Galloway Herd where as well as Royal we are introduced to Yarrow and Donald the sheep. Donald also features in Kit Kennedy especially in the famous ‘roup’ scene. Another Yarrow features in Love Idylls in the story ‘Fitting of the Peats’ where he is Bell McLurg’s trusted but half-blind collie.
Generally dogs are regarded as important by Crockett’s characters, but in Lads’ Love we see a darker side. Rab Anderson’s poaching dogs are called ‘You’ and ‘You there’ which evidences how little importance he gives them, despite the fact that without them he wouldn’t be in business. But there is worse to come. Rab Anderson is also known to steal dogs, holding them to ransom and drowning them if their owners do not cough up. As Wattie Anderson finds out in A Galloway Herd, kidnapping is not just reserved for people.
Dick, the terrier in Cinderella is less likeable than collies. He belongs to Hester’s cousin Tom and is a manifestation of the cruelty visited by the boy on his cousin. Tom sets Dick on Hester’s cat Fluffy. It is a shocking scene:
‘Catch her — this way — at her, Dick! You've got her! Hist —good dog! Sick her then!’
... Hester, with a wild fear suddenly taking possession of her soul, ran at full speed round the greenhouse, past the sun-dial, and there on the narrow ledge of a fence to which she had sprung from the window-sill of the potting-house stood Fluffy her own Fluffy, every hair on end with pain and anger, and her tail well-nigh as thick as her body. She was mewing piteously and flicking an ear that had been bitten through by the yapping fox-terrier which still leaped and snapped below. A drop or two of blood had distilled down and flecked Fluffy's delicate pearl-coloured fur.’
Despite this one act of cruelty, if you love dogs you will find many in Crockett’s stories to entertain you. His descriptions are accurate, funny and sometimes painfully poignant.