People are licensed to do an endless variety of things: practice law and medicine, hunt, fish, fly, sell merchandise from pushcarts, cut hair, extract teeth, tend bar, put on a striptease. Moving over into the animal world, horses are licensed to race, in a manner of speaking. They must be registered with The Jockey Club. Cats are not licensed. Dogs are.
As a matter of fact, there are approximately 6,570,000 licensed dogs in the U.S. Now, in the case of people and race horses, the license carries with it the right to do certain specific things. But has anybody ever bothered to ask precisely what rights the licensed dog has?
Curiously enough, somebody did ask, long ago. He was Clyde Middleton of Maryville, Mo., and he directed his question to the then governor of the state, Henry S. Caulfield. Mr. Middleton wrote:
"I am writing you to find out where a dog license is any protection to a dog. If not, where is the use of paying out that money? The Mayor here says that a license does not protect the dog in the least, that if it leaves home, the officer has the right to kill it. Will you please let me know where a license does protect the dog and does it have a right away from home, either day or night?"
Governor Caulfield, a thoughtful man, did not take the appeal from Mr. Middleton lightly. Instead, he assigned my brother Joseph F. Holland, an assistant attorney general of the state, to go into the matter thoroughly and give him an opinion that might live, in Missouri at any rate, as a sort of Magna Carta of the dog. Holland's opinion follows:
"The State of Missouri [he began] devotes an entire chapter of the Revised Statutes of 1919 to 'Dogs.' It solemnly assures us that 'a dog shall be held and construed to mean all animals of the canine species whether male or female.' From that simple pronouncement evolves a widening circle of state and municipal legislation that weaves about every canine who after nine days of darkness opens his eyes upon the sturdy mountains and verdant rolling plains of our great state.
"In the all-inclusive fold above outlined, we find the aristocracy and the serfdom of the dog. It includes the snobbish Pomeranian, curled in sweet contentment upon the social dowager's lap; it embraces the rugged, stately and commanding St. Bernard; the fine-limbed, alert, aggressive police dog; and, lest we stoop to sacrilegious forgetfulness, it comprehends also the old 'houn' dawg' of Missouri tradition.
"Mr. Middleton, somewhere between these vast extremes there stands your dog, a lonely figure in this towering controversy that has already whisked into its maelstrom the Governor of your state, the Mayor of your city....
"This framework lays the foundation for us to repeat the position your dog or any of his species holds in our complex social scheme.
"First, let us consider your dog as he is, a legal entity. He is your personal property. The courts have so declared. The sparkling Kohinoor diamond; the vast array of furniture under which the Mayflower struggled to these shores; the antiques of the Napoleonic period; the tapestries of the Hapsburgs of other days—he is as they are—personal property; only that and nothing more.