By the way, Spike - the dog who played Old Yeller in the movie - was purchased as a pup from the Van Nuys Animal Shelter in California by trainers Frank and Ruddy Weatherwax of Lassie fame. And he starred in other movies as well. Good old Spike! Good dog.
Yes, I suppose that reflects what Hollywood believes "the way things were" back then - but why kill the DOG? I mean, LOOK AT THOSE PRECIOUS FACES!!
So in that vein, as a treat (pun intended), here are a few western films where the dogs are victims - some heroic, others tragic. I have never seen a good reason for the plot to include pooch target practice. I rescue dogs and cats in my books and they always have a Happily Ever After. No apologies, either. In the way the Duke might say, "You can call me a PETA lover, you can call me a big baby, you can call me a wimp - but you don't EVER call me a dog killer!"
BIG JAKE - Jacob McCandle's heroic friend (and secret weapon) Dog, who is a hero throughout the movie for keeping the bad guys at bay, is shot and then killed (with a machete!! AUUGH) in the final gunfight. I didn't cry, but I kept yelling, "Don't kill Dog! Don't you kill Dog!" Man, that villain didn't listen. I'm glad he got it in the end. He deserves to rot in hell. By the way, two collies named Silver and Laddie (Lassie, Jr.) played Dog (trained by Bob and Ruddy Weatherwax, in fact) and their coats were darkened by an aerosol product. And Laddie won a 1971 PATSY award for his performance. So there. Good dog!
DANCES WITH WOLVES - While "Two Socks" is actually a wolf, Dunbar played by Kevin Costner has a strong bond with him like man/dog. I loathed the way soldiers kill poor Two Socks. Tragic and senseless! Yes, I suppose it furthered the story, but it was like killing Harry Potter's owl. NO! I was so mad. Good thing it came at the end of the movie, or I would have hated Kevin Costner and his movie - Oscar winner or not.
OPEN RANGE - I have this DVD. I have not watched it, mostly because Boss and Charlie's dog Tig is shot and killed by the villain (okay, yes, so is Mose the cook, and the poor boy is nearly dead) when their campsite is raided. Do I want to subject myself to seeing this senseless act? NO! Look at that ADORABLE dog! Waaaah! One day I'll have to watch it. But I'll be gritting my teeth.
HONDO - Hondo's dog Sam dies after being speared. Another one I've never watched, because WHY? Why does the DOG have to die?? I just don't get it.
Pal, the dog that played Sam, was the son of Lassie. In the movie, he is supposed to be vicious and ill-tempered, but the temperatures during filming were so hot, Pal simply panted instead of snarling when on camera. In order to overcome this, the dog was kept in a special air-conditioned crate while on set and was only brought out for his shots. Good dog! Fight against being a bad dog, and what a shame you had to be sacrificed. Boo hisss!
PALE RIDER - I have seen this one. I was so mad when Megan's dog got shot. That poor thing was used as a device to get her to pray for a miracle - and then Preacher (Clint Eastwood) shows up. Nothing else can be found about this poor dog. Perhaps Clint didn't want to share the limelight? Double boo hiss.
THE ARTIST - Since the story about the transition from silent films to "talkies" takes place in Hollywood, I'm considering it a "western." And the sweet Jack Russell terrier is also a hero, saving the life of George Valentin from a disastrous fire. Also, the dog LIVES!! Hooray! So there, Hollywood. It can be done.
Uggie had been rescued from being sent to a shelter by Omar Von Muller, an animal trainer, and found fame in Water For Elephants before The Artist. Uggie did not qualify for an Oscar, however, since a precedent was set in 1929 when Rin Tin Tin actually received more votes for Best Actor - but the Oscar went to Emil Jannings that year. Hmph. Uggie recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge (this month) at 13 years old. Such a great dog!
Kudos to all the dogs in these films! They all deserve a "Pawscar" for their efforts. Good dogs! Give 'em a box of treats each.
Mystery author Meg Mims earned a Spur Award from WWA and also a Laramie award for her western historical mystery series, Double Crossing (still 99c!) and Double or Nothing. Meg -- also one-half of the writing team of D.E. Ireland for Agatha-Award nominated mystery series featuring Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins for Minotaur books -- lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a sweet Malti-poo. She loves reading and writing novels, novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical.