Recent revelations here about the thousand Italian truffle hounds brought on quite a flurry of dog tales, proving anew that man is the mutt's best friend, and that a pup makes good ''copy.'' The most remarkable dog of all time has got to be Argos, the hound of Odysseus in The Odyssey. He was outstanding. At one time we had a farm dog we called Argos, and he was often outstanding under the apple tree on the front lawn in the rain. Argos was intelligent enough to have made Harvard an exceptional president, but he was also too smart to apply for the job. The Argos in The Odyssey merits our respect for his great age and long memory. If you recall, and even if you don't, the Argives set out for Iliun and laid siege for ten years. Then Odysseus spent ten more years lollygagging around before he came home to relieve his beloved Penelope of the tedium of knitting socks all day only to unknit them all at night. He had been away so long that nobody knew who he was save the faithful hound Argos, who roused from slumber, wagged a welcome, and expired in a gesture of joy.
The encyclopedia says most species of dogs mature in two years and have an average life span of twelve years, although an individual may live to an age of more than twenty.
Since Argos was a hound, and an immature dog isn't much on the scent, we have to assume that Odysseus spent at least two years with Argos before he sailed for Troy - enough to form in Argos an impression that would linger through The Iliad and The Odyssey. After twenty years nobody on Ithaca knew Odysseus from a hole in the ground, but twenty-two-year-old Argos was keen enough to know him at once. A great dog.
In reviewing the letters about dogs, I have decided to award first prize to Bauer Small. Bauer and I are old friends, and we share another old friend, Flats Jackson. It happens that Bauer and I have never socialized simultaneously with Flats, but we share our Flats Jackson stories with relish. On the occasion now in context, Bauer was going with some cronies to Lang Plantation on a trout hunt , and they had to stop at Boobytown* to get the key to a camp from Flats Jackson. As Bauer and Flats stood on the steps renewing something or other, Bauer noticed a butterscotchy setter asleep on the porch hammock.
For many years Bauer had owned just exactly such a dog, and for reasons of superannuation that relationship had recently ended. The house hadn't seemed the same since the little fellow left, and now reminded, Bauer forced back a choke in his throat. ''Looks just like my little Tonzo!'' he said to Flats.
You may wonder what possessed Bauer. In Boobytown, it doesn't take much to generate a dog swap, and it was hardly smart of Bauer to volunteer ammunition about Tonzo. Flats knows his way around in a dicker, and Bauer should have said something like, ''What a distressing color for a setter - couldn't get me interested with a shotgun at my ear.'' But now Flats knew about Tonzo; the die was cast. Flats began to relate some amazing incidents from the dog's past to illustrate his intelligence, and he was careful to make it plain that the dog was really family and it would break his heart to have to part with him.
The consequence was that Bauer offered ten dollars, Flats insisted on twenty, and they split the difference at fifteen. Bauer gave Flats fifteen dollars and said he'd stop on the way home to pick up his dog. ''Fauntleroy,'' said Flats. ''Name's Fauntleroy. Fauntleroy Fitzhubert. His mother had papers.''
When Bauer returned, Flats came to the door in utter dismay. ''Strangest thing,'' he said. ''You hadn't been gone ten minutes when Fauntleroy started across the road, and this big truck . . .'' Flats spread his hands, unable to speak further.
Late that summer somebody stepped up to Bauer in the post office to say, ''Been buying any dogs lately up to Boobytown?'' That was the first inkling Bauer had that he'd been ''took.'' Seems Flats didn't own the dog at all. Belonged to a family across the lake.
*Boobytown is the way you say it. Properly, it is Bubiertown, a location in Dallas Township, Franklin County, Maine. The name derives from an early settler from Quebec, one Hermanigild Bubier.