Pets and the Pandemic…A Difference in Coping

Dear Reader:

Margot Theis Raven’s last book she wrote before passing away (from complications of breast cancer in 2014)…was interestingly enough about a little dog. It is a true story about a dog named Rags and the lives he changed and saved in France during WWI.

I have to confess…I don’t emotionally handle dog movies or even pet stories well…especially since watching Old Yeller... I got scarred for life. I love pets, especially dogs and especially all my grand-dogs…but sad movies about them, especially the true stories, is more than my emotional constitution can handle.

Let’s just say “Rags” is a beautiful book and very uplifting with humor included too…still, however, quite emotional. As strange as it sounds…I can handle human tragedy, sometimes easier, on screen or in books, than I can our pets’ tragedies.


It has something to do…with eye contact and unconditional love. The love between an owner and pet most closely resembles that special parent-child relationship among humans. It is unique and all-consuming with each child and /or pet. Pure love…we would do anything for that child or that beloved pet.

I am not going to be a “spoiler alert” to Raven’s last book and tribute to the importance of animals to humans…teaching us what loyalty and love should embrace…but I would like to share some funny antics about Rags…


In addition to his message-carrying skills in France during World War I, Rags had a number of other unique behaviors.

When Rags was first in the front lines and came under shellfire, he simply imitated the men around him who would drop to the ground and hug it tightly. Before long, the soldiers observed Rags hugging the ground with his paws spread out before anyone heard the sound of an incoming round.

The men soon realized that Rags’ acute and sensitive hearing was telling him when the shells were coming well before they could hear them.The doughboys learned to keep their eyes on Rags, and he became an early-warning system for artillery shell fire.

During a rest period behind the lines, James Donovan taught Rags a method of dog saluting that Rags would use for the rest of his military life. Instead of extending his paw out to shake hands, as most dogs were taught, Rags would raise his paw a bit higher and close to his head.



For many years afterward, Rags would appear at the flag pole at various military bases for the retreat ceremony. As the flag was lowered and the bugle played, Rags could be seen saluting with the assembled troops. He was observed doing this at Forts Sheridan and Hamilton. 

Another lifelong activity was Rags’ daily tour of whatever army base at which he was living. Early on, he would identify the mess halls with the best food and most hospitable staff. He would visit them each day for treats, and most had a special water bowl placed out for him. Smart dog! 🙂

In all Margot’s books, rather set against World Wars, Dust Bowls, or Civil Rights Movements, she wanted young readers to believe that even in the worst of times…love and devotion can bring out the best in people.

I think this is true today. Children learn more from watching adults’ actions than anything written in a book. Wisely, most children can tell, intuitively, right from wrong, good conduct from bad, courageous people with high moral standards and character… and those without…

I read once that children “take” to adults who get down on their level and stare them straight in the eyes…a sure sign of a person with  character…a caring adult.

Let us hope our children today will remember the actions around them, from family units upward, and identify those who taught them the courage and integrity needed to face their own crises one day.

So until tomorrow…Feeling lonely and uncertain during these isolating times?…Think about adopting a pet and watch unconditional love consume your life and keep hope alive.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

Rags lived to be 20 years old…though he lost an eye and was deaf from the explosives in WWI. Everyone fell in love with this saluting dog from each city and state he called home.

Upon his death…Rags was given military honors at his funeral and his grave marker still stands in Silver Springs, Maryland. Head US Commander, General John Pershing, gave tribute to him.

*** (Title Photo)

In the title photos…Pip (or Mr. May) and Atticus sometimes accompany mom and dad (Kaitlyn and Tommy) to work…. but even here with them close by…there is a lot of waiting time for attention…and let’s face it…law can be pretty boring…easier just to sleep. 🙂


About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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2 Responses to Pets and the Pandemic…A Difference in Coping

  1. Rachel Edwards says:

    I read this book several years ago to the children at an elementary school where I was doing a long term sub job. One of the sweetest stories ever! I have always heard the saying that you can’t fool children and animals…they instinctively know who really cares about them. I was taught as a child to always look people in the eye when talking with them. I have loved helping with the team pregame meals for the last 5 yrs and when I put the potato on the their plates I always look at them and wish them well in the game…it is a small thing but I hope they know that we care.


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