Bone of Contention

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A few weeks ago, no less of an authority than the New York Times published a short article ­summarizing the history of the dog biscuit. Since biscuits are our business here at My Doggy, you’ll understand why that subject made us sit up and take notice. It took us a while to digest the entire article, but now that we have, here are a few bits and bites (bytes?) of our take on it. No mere morsels here. Let’s make a meal of it.

Mind you, we haven’t been around for the entire history of the dog cookie. My Doggy started in 1996. We’re looking forward to our ­twentieth anniversary in a couple of years, to be followed by a fiftieth, a hundredth, and so on. We were around for the turn of the twenty-first century, but not for the turn of the twentieth. We certainly weren’t around for the dawn of the dog cookie era, although some of our fans make it sound like we may have come close to perfecting it. In short, we can neither verify nor debunk many of the claims set forth in the NYT article. But, we can offer some of our opinions — and you can take them for what they are worth.

History or Hyperbole?

By quoting the promoters of the products, instead of patch-sleeved tweed-jacket-wearing residents and presidents of the ivy-covered walls of academia, it’s quite possible that some fanciful Madison ­Avenue advertising claims of yesteryear may have found themselves being reasserted as full-fledged facts. The spark for the idea of the dog biscuit, we’re told, came from seeing stray dogs wolfing down the hardtack intended for sailors near the London docks. This seems plausible. Extreme hunger can make man and man’s best friend do some desperate things, like eating English cuisine!

The first dog biscuits targeted the well-heeled dog and dog owner. This, too, makes sense, because if you’re in business to make big bucks and not just a few cents, you have to go where the big money is. The history of My Doggy is slightly different, having begun with a search for a better biscuit. We try to keep costs down, because it shouldn’t cost you a days’ wages to give the dog you love an ­affordable treat.

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It was almost fifty years before Carleton Ellis decided to use the ­stylized bone shape, which we’re all familiar with from reading comic strips and watching pirate movies, for dog biscuits. Focusing on the latter for the moment, aren’t you glad Carlton chose to use the crossbones and not the skull? Skulls are depressing, except for Shakespeare, I guess, since he thought they made good conversational props for Danish princes. Setting Hamlet aside, however, maybe we should keep that deadly emblem in mind, since the skull and crossbones is not just for flying on your flags when you’re being honest about your evil intentions. It’s also the standard symbol for a poisonous product, which Ellis would have known very well, since he was also the inventor of varnish, paint remover, and margarine, none of which are very good for you in the long run, if taken internally.

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And, finally … can you believe this? Ellis’ own dog was said to have been unimpressed with Ellis’ original dog biscuit. (Can you blame him? He was a dog, not a guinea pig!) It was only after Ellis did some shape-shifting in the kitchen that the dog developed an interest. We’re supposed to believe that the bone-like shape fooled the dog, or else the dog took pity on its poor master and decided to fool him. Either way, thanks to the dog’s change of heart, we’re sure its poor master didn’t stay poor very long.

We may be accused of urging excessive caution, but we say: Stay away from them bones, them bones, them thigh bones. (Sorry, got carried away there. It looks like the real lyrics refer to “dem bones, dem bones, dem DRY bones.”) Oh, well! Stay away from both kinds of bones, and look for the “Paw of Approval” instead.

Find the NYT article here.

One Response to "Bone of Contention"
  1. Miranda says:

    Cool story!

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