Can dogs use money? Can they keep a budget, save for a rainy day and buy food, knowing how much it will cost? If somebody steals from them, will they be able to stand up for their rights? Do dogs understand that stealing is wrong?
These may seem like silly questions, but they are not as unthinkable as you might suppose.
I am editing a book entitled A Thousand and One Stories of Pericón de Cádiz. It is an English translation by John Moore of Las Mil y Una Historias de Pericón de Cádiz by José Luis Ortiz Nuevo. Based on the recorded oral history of a famous flamenco singer, Juan Martínez Vílchez, the book opens up whole new vistas on life in the twentieth century in Spain, and it covers the adventures of not only flamenco singers and their aficionados, but of many more obscure personages, among them errant school aged children and talking dogs.
Perhaps the most intriguing story in the entire collection is about a stray dog who earns money, saves it, uses it to buy food and knows how to stand up for his rights. In the video below, you can hear the story, in the voice of Juan Martínez Vílchez, as told to the author, Ortiz Nuevo.
1. How Realistic is it for dogs to wander freely and buy their own food?
Most people who have heard or read the story about Smokey, the dog who accused Pericon of theft, agree that it must not be taken literally. Dogs can’t speak in fluent Spanish. Even if they have the intelligence to speak, they don’t have the required vocal apparatus. Pericon was exaggerating. He felt guilty about stealing from a dog, so he imagined hearing the dog accuse him of the theft.
But how about the rest of the story? Could a dog really use money to buy food? Or is the concept of money too abstract for a dog to grasp? And how about health code regulations? Should dogs be allowed inside a grocery story, when they are not accompanied by a blind human? In the United States today, the answer is no. But this was not always the case and is not universally accepted.
In the video below, we see that in China, dogs can sometimes be allowed to go shopping for food unaccompanied, on behalf of their masters:
In this case, the dog has a human to sponsor his shopping spree and to make up the list of items to be bought. But in the past, wasn’t it true that unattached dogs could also go shopping, if they happened to have some money?
I have noted that freedom for dogs and freedom for children are not unrelated. In a place where dogs are allowed to wander, it is also more acceptable for children to do the same.
When was the last time you sent a child under the age of twelve alone to the store to do your shopping for you? We read of such things in books, but we seldom see them anymore.
In A Thousand and One Stories of Pericón de Cádiz, it’s not just dogs who roamed freely. Pericon and his friends, as school aged children, wandered the streets, getting into all sorts of mischief, and entering into many illicit bargains for the purchase (or theft) of food, sometimes in bulk. Even though the conditions were harsh, it sounds like a lot of fun. Pericon, at one point, was the Captain of two hundred children. They took orders from him, and he profited from their efforts.
I had 200 kids at my command – 200 kids! All the kids from the neighborhood respected me as if I were actually their captain. On Pasquín Street, in a house on the corner with a long side street (the house where Silverio Franconetti gave a concert before going to America) I had installed my headquarters in a huge patio. From there I commanded two or three kids to collect cigarette butts. Then another two or three would roll them into cigarettes and sell them to the water vendors – those that sold water to the houses in Cádiz. We’d sell ten or twenty cigarettes for a perra chica. I used the money to buy colored paper and wood to make toy sabers. That way the kids looked like a regular regiment.( Ortiz Nuevo, A Hundred and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz, p. 9)
Is it because they were poor that the dogs and children in this book were so free? Is it because no one cared what happened to them? And is that what it would take to regain freedom for the dogs and children of today — a little less “caring” and a lot more respect?
2. The Changing Times and Their Effect on Dogs and Children
It used to be commonplace for dogs and children to be found wandering the streets of every city. However, in recent history, such sights are more common in third world countries, and less and less accepted in the “civilized world”. Today, children who are seen walking alone are stopped by the police, on suspicion that something must be amiss. Dogs who are found wandering alone are taken to the pound, where if they are not claimed by some human, they stand to be executed. Free dogs and unsupervised children are not tolerated, and often this is done in the name of a more “humane” world order. But is it more humane? Would it be bad to allow parents to decide for themselves if their child can be trusted to go out alone? Would it be so very wrong to allow those dogs who have no master to fend for themselves, as long as they do no harm?
3. Related Stories
Many people believe that not allowing dogs and children to wander the streets is a safety issue. But did you know that, sometimes, our safety is enhanced by the presence of dogs that do not belong to us who roam free in public places?
Sometimes stray dogs behave as good Samaritans and even as lone vigilantes. Sometimes, if a dog is allowed to wander in peace, he will eventually find himself a master, all in good time. Read the following related articles and decide for yourself: