Of Dogs and Cats, Classic Tales

By Elizabeth Henzell
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ With the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival less than three weeks away I thought this would be a good time to remind you that once again BAWA – Bali Animal Welfare Association – is sponsoring a writing workshop for children and what better way to introduce famous writers who have featured their own dogs or cats in their books than to start out with this wonderful quote from Kinky Friedman, who often wrote his cat, Cuddles, into his novels. Not that Kinky will be attending this year’s festival of fabulous writers – but he certainly is a man after my own heart when it comes to cats and dogs.

His quote: “I’ve always said money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail.”

So what is it that has writers model their four-legged heroes on their own dogs and cats? Have you ever watched the interaction between kittens as they stalk each other and then pounce, back arched with the hair on their tails looking like an electric current has just passed through them? Personalities! They all have personalities, no matter what make. T.S. Eliot’s famous Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – that collection of whimsical poems that CATS the musical was based – on is all about personalities and was supposedly written for his nieces and nephews for their entertainment, but I can’t help thinking…

My own children were bought up on books about cats and dogs. Some of my favourites would have to be by the internationally celebrated children’s writer New Zealander Lynley Dodd. Hairy Maclary, that gorgeous little dog from Donaldson’s Dairy and Slinky Malinki, a cat who lives in the same area, entertained my children before sleep many nights. I had so much fun reading these books I couldn’t help envying the author the fun she must have had writing them, for surely she too would have spent time watching the local cats and dogs to get her ideas.

And then to top off all the fun Ms Dodd had writing her stories, the New Zealand government, in 2002, made her a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to children’s literature. All this and the enjoyment of writing about dogs and cats.

While the BAWA workshop will offer wonderful inspiration for those budding writers, there is a serious side to this workshop and that is teaching children of all nationalities and ages about animal care. The writing workshop will be lead by Clara Ng, writer of countless children stories, 12 bestselling adult novels and a collection of short stories, an anthology and the recipient of the Adikarya Ikapi Award for Indonesian Children’s Literature in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Clara will be joined by Ramya Sukardi, author of six children’s books, who will share her book-writing experiences.

And finally, for those with a higher brow, this amazing piece of writing about the “noble” dog from The Odyssey, one of the two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. The following excerpt relates how Odysseus’s dog was the only living being who recognised him on his return from Troy after 20 years.

“As they were talking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone, he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:

“’Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?’

“’This hound,’ answered Eumaeus, ‘belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master’s hand is no longer over them, for Zeus takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him.’

“So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had seen his master once more after 20 years.”

Yes, I can’t help thinking that there is a huge future for the dogs and cats of Bali in any number of wonderful stories.

So please join Clara Ng and Ramya Sukardi for a Short Story Writing Workshop in both Bahasa Indonesia and English.

Date: SATURDAY 10 October
Time: 10.00 am – 12.30 pm
Venue: Pondok Pekak Library

And join me in celebrating Bali’s own dogs. Please call BAWA at 0361 981 490 for any emergency assistance or for donations.

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