Dogs of Davidson
Dogs have long been a feature of town and campus life in Davidson. Times were different in earlier years. Until the early 1980s, dogs were allowed to run free, in town and on the campus — no leashes, no dog parks, no scooping poop. This gave rise to many well-known canine characters in town.
On August 2, 2016, Jan Blodgett chronicled some 1950s campus dogs in the Davidson College archives blog. In 1951, on his morning walk around campus, student Milton Bailey found a puppy who had been shot and was near death. Milton nursed him back to health and named him “Bronco.” Bronco was Milton’s constant companion, going to classes with him and even attending his commencement. When Milton’s younger brother came to Davidson as a freshman three years later, Bronco accompanied him. Another famous campus dog from this period was George Leroy Brownie, known just as “Brownie.” During one Davidson snowstorm in 1952, students commemorated him with a snow sculpture. In the late fifties, college president Grier Martin and his wife had a dog named Jezebel, a many-talented dog with whom the Martins used to entertain students.
In his memoir of growing up in Davidson, Olin, Oskeegum, & Gizmo, James B. Puckett remembers one of their family’s early dogs, a son of Jezebel named Gizmo. Unfortunately, Gizmo was fond of biting people, and as complaints mounted, Mrs. Puckett had to take action. According to James: “One day when Gizmo failed to appear, she told us that she had given our dog to a farmer in Iredell County—which may have been her euphemism for having had Gizmo put to sleep.” Other Puckett canines included Trigonometry or “Trigger,” Cha Cha the Chihuahua, and Gretchen the Dachshund. Many of these were short lived, and in time the Pucketts had a virtual pet cemetery in their back yard. According to Puckett, the dogs of Davidson were “surpassed only by their names. Just a few we’ve known: Jezebel, Freeze, Tweetsie, Gumdrop, Dawg, Ms. Dog, Currituck, Mary Pickford, Boo Radley, Brandy, Wretched, Napoleon, and, of course, the legendary “Brown Eye,” who never appeared without a twig in his mouth.”
On April 13, 1978, the Mecklenburg Gazette featured an article by Ann Currie about Davidson’s interesting dogs. According to Ann, all Davidson parades included “a distinguished looking lead dog.” A red dog took part in all the R. O. T. C. exercises on the college campus, and “When not marching in formation, he performed his own inspection, sniffing each soldier, and nipping at the shiny black shoes. The men struggled to keep their eyes straight ahead, especially when standing stiff at attention.” Another local canine was a bird dog who could not resist retrieving. According to Ann, “His owners kept a small room reserved for his trophies, where people could come and claim their jackets, shoes, ball gloves, and porch cushions. One Christmas evening, he brought home a brand-new Barbie doll, held gently between his teeth like a quail. There was no problem in locating the little owner.”
Local dogs participated in all kinds of events, including sporting events, weddings, outdoor parties, funerals, church services, and commencement. One such dog was the Kelton’s handsome husky, Czar. According to Cissy Kelton Byrd, on one memorable occasion, Czar decided to go to a football game. “My parents watched from the stands as he sauntered out onto the field, lay down on the 40-yard line, and stopping the game in progress. The refs did not know what to do as he looked so much like a wolf, they were afraid to try to force him off the field. He eventually moved on and I don’t think my parents ever claimed they knew whose dog he was!” Ann Currie reports that around 1975 another canine, an unnamed English setter, joined the lineup at a football game. “He happened to be stone deaf, and nobody could retire him to the sidelines. Eventually, a Lehigh player tackled him and he was carried off the field.”
Another of Currie’s notable dogs was “the big black mongrel who stumbled upon an unattended grill in his own neighborhood…He gingerly carried home the company steaks.”
Among the “highly educated” dogs of the 1960s was an “F. F. V. (First Families of Virginia), [who] attended school in Kentucky and lived graciously for 14 years. He spent his last days in an oxygen tent in his hometown of Williamsburg, where he received many cards and two pastoral calls from Bruton Parish.”
By 1974, there were 41 dogs on the Davidson campus, and they were becoming a problem in the dorms. Among them, according to the February 1 issue of The Davidsonian, were Stinky, Ears, Zeno, Wasted, and Hungry. Stinky attended more classes in Chambers than many Davidson students, and, according to Currie, Wasted was “a faithful member of the crew that moved the library in 1974. All summer long he escorted the book truck to and fro, never missing a mission.”
When we moved to Davidson in 1979, our neighborhood dogs were Czar, the Proctors’ aging black Lab Rafiki, and the Abbott’s beautiful, intelligent golden retriever K. O.
K.O. used to greet me at the Abbott’s front door, take my wrist gently in his mouth, and lead me into the house. On one memorable occasion, he livened up a Thanksgiving dinner by leaping over couches to catch a flying squirrel that had gotten into the house. These three were later joined by our yellow Lab Belle, a gift from Irwin Brawley. She was a great companion once she learned to understand our Yankee accents.
Davidson’s 1981 yearbook, Quips & Cranks, published an ode to the dogs on campus that read in part: “Oh, there’s little dogs here and big dogs there/On Davidson’s campus, there’s dogs everywhere.” Among them was Fred, “who responds to any name…You just can’t keep him out/ Of classes, of dorms.” Smiley was the mascot at the Fanny and Mabel eating house, and the writer opined that he probably “has tenure, along with free beer.” In the other eating houses, you could find Honey, Bub, and Corgy.
Unfortunately (although fortunately, in some cases) in the early 1980s the town instituted a leash law, and pets were banished from the college dorms, giving these beloved canine characters less room to roam. They still live on, however, in our memories.
Many thanks to Lacy Dick for sharing Ann Currie’s interesting article.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.