It’s been said many times, of course, but here at our residential conference centre I’m afraid that we’re not quite so keen on canine delegates… or rather, the canine guests of delegates!
That said, just this week, we had a guest with a small terrier in his room. Disconcertingly, the hound was growling, scratching and barking loudly when I knocked on the door to explain it was against our policy to allow pets on site since the comfort, safety and welfare of all our guests is of course paramount in a conference venue such as ours.
It put me in mind of the famous incident in America in 1870 where a wealthy landowner shot a farmer’s dog and where the phrase “a man’s best friend is his dog” is generally accepted as originating from. The farmer had sued the landowner through the courts and lost several appeals until the case finally came before the Missouri State circuit court for final judgement. At stake was not just the £150 dollars that the farmer, Charles Burden, was claiming for the death of Old Drum; there was also now at stake the reputations of several of the big legal names of the time.
But the defence team of Leonidas Hornsby, the landowner, exuded confidence; they had the bigger manpower, they knew all the members of the jury personally and they had the previous rulings in their favour. Things didn’t look good for the old mongrel fox hound of Charles Burden.
But they hadn’t reckoned on the closing argument of one George Graham Vest, later a senator for Missouri and now counsel for the defence; after his speech, not only had they won, but the judge awarded $500 dollars in damages and the defence counsel actually feared for the life of their client and rushed him out of the courtroom! In fact, there is even a statue of Old Drum in front of the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri.
This is a small part of George Graham Vest’s famous speech…
“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man may have in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us – those who we trust with our happiness and good name – may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. The one absolute unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world – the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous – is his dog.
A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow if only he can be at his master’s side. He will lick the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as though he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun on its journey through the heavens.
If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against all his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in his embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.
Great speech… but back to reality – we still don’t allow dogs here at our residential conference centre!