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306 Could everything we know and love (or hate) about evolution depend upon a singularly pampered Victorian terrier? Perhaps not entirely. Then again, probably more than you might think. Admittedly, Polly was no average dog. Sure, she looked ordinary enough—about fourteen inches tall, just shy of twenty pounds, and possessing a thin, athletic frame. She had a wiry white coat, built more for functionality than elegance. Even still, her face, what with its intelligent eyes, overturned ears, and slight beard, endeared her to Charles Darwin. She was rumored to be both clever and indulgent, consenting to any number of silly tricks for the amusement of visitors. She liked walks but loved curling up in her bed more. She was skilled at eliciting sympathy and engendering affection. She pined when her favorite human was away. In many ways, she was a typical family pet. But she was also so much more. Polly was a direct descendent of a dog named Trump, who in turn was best known as being the first fox terrier owned by Parson John Russell. The parson was a man’s man; he loved to hunt, and even after taking religious orders, he preferred to be called Jack by those who knew him. When he wasn’t chasing foxes or administering the Eucharist, Jack Russell liked to experiment with dog genetics or, more specifically, coordinated breeding intended to bring out the most desirable traits in his terriers. He was surprisingly skilled at this pastime: so skilled, in fact, that he is credited with creating one of the first acknowledged dog breeds through speciation, or the process whereby one species is diverged into several. The dog world applauded his efforts by giving all members of this breed the moniker Jack Russell terriers. Perhaps not surprisingly, Darwin was intrigued by Russell’s tinkering in speciation. Darwin was also utterly enamored of the dogs that resulted—including our protagonist, Polly, whom Darwin adopted for Dog Is Our Copilot Kathryn Miles second place contest winner nonfiction 307 kathryn miles his daughter Henrietta. Henrietta liked Polly just fine, but there was never a real connection between the two. So, when Henrietta set off for her life new life as a married woman, she left Polly in the care of her doting father. As much as Darwin missed his daughter, he seemed more than pleased with his consolation prize. Darwin adored dogs. In fact, he had managed to entwine just about every major relationship of his life with the existence of a dog. As a young boy, for instance, Darwin often felt oppressed by his regulated home life. According to his own account, on one day when he felt particularly confined, he became so frustrated he beat a puppy, thinking it would give him a sense of power. It didn’t. Instead, it filled him with regret and a lifelong tenderness for the species. Meanwhile he found other, less harmful, modes of exerting sway in a relationship, like deliberately wooing his sister Caroline’s dogs, vying for their affection as a way of making her jealous. It wasn’t until college that Darwin found a dog of his own: a pointer he named Sappho, perhaps as a quiet emotional overture toward his cousin William Darwin Fox. For years Charles had adored William—and William’s dog, Fan. He also loved the affection he could draw out from the latter and, in turn, the attention that garnered from the former. During an extended stay with Charles, William repeatedly awoke at night to see that Charles had persuaded Fan to leave William’s bed in favor of his own. William politely suggested that Charles find an unclaimed canine companion of his own. And so he did in Sappho, who soon became Darwin’s bosom confidant . Even after his friendship with Fox cooled, Darwin’s affinity for Sappho—and dogs in general—remained strong. After Sappho, a parade of canines came in and out of Darwin’s life: Dogs by the name of Spark, Nina, Dash, Czar, Pincher, Snow, Bob, Bran, Ponto, and Shelah all shared his home. But the real love of his life—at least as far as puppy love is concerned—was Polly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 306-318
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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