Caspar the friendly dog


Caspar trying to look pensive

I’m on dog-sitting duty today. Mrs TD has gone into town shopping with our friend M, who’s visiting for the weekend. As usual she’s brought her charming little schnauzer, Caspar. He and I have just returned from our morning walk, and I haven’t finished another book to discuss in this post, so I thought I’d offer a few random thoughts on Caspar.

The name ‘schnauzer’ derives from the German for snout, with the extended colloquial connotation ‘whiskery snout’. As you can see, Caspar has a splendidly whiskery muzzle and eyebrows.

This miniature breed was popular in Germany as ratters; the larger varieties of course tended to be used as guard dogs or in the military. Like most small dogs, Caspar thinks he’s a giant.

I asked M where his name came from. She said the litter he came from all had names to do with magic and magicians. Of course: Caspar was one of the Magi, the Three Wise Men of the epiphany story.

I looked him up: his name comes from Persian or Scandinavian (not sure how that works) and means ‘treasure bearer’. Appropriate for a magus who brought the precious gift of frankincense.

Caspar taking possession of the sofa

Caspar taking possession of the sofa

What exactly is frankincense? As its name suggests, it’s an aromatic, but I had to resort to Wikipedia again. It’s aka “Olibanum”, and is based on a resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia in the family Burseraceae. So now we know. Our English word derives from the Old French franc encens, glossed as ‘high quality, noble or pure incense’. Folk etymology suggests a connection with the Franks and Frankish Crusaders, who apparently brought the incense back from their travels in the Middle East (which is presumably where the magus Caspar came from).

The resin is collected by a process of slashing or striping the tree’s bark; this sappy resin hardens into what are called ‘tears’. The Roman Catholic church sources most of its frankincense (burnt in censers) from Somalia. It’s also used in perfumes and aromatherapy.


Caspar surveying the road below for possible miscreants

We agreed that Caspar’s association in popular culture with the friendly ghost is also appropriate: he’s a very sociable, equable little chap – though he does take exception to people walking past his window without permission.

Btw, myrrh (ridiculous spelling; it derives from Aramaic for ‘bitter’, and entered English via the Old Testament), one of the other three gifts of the Magi, is another aromatic derived from a tree resin. It was highly prized as an incense in ancient Jewish religious ceremonies.

It’s less valued as incense today, but is an ingredient of a number of medicines like analgesics and antiseptics. It’s used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, and was prized by the ancient Egyptians as an embalming ingredient for preserving mummies.

I just ran all this past Caspar, but he carried on snoozing.


14 thoughts on “Caspar the friendly dog

  1. Don’t you just love dogs??? We lost Luc, the second of the two dachshunds we had adopted from rescue 13 years ago, in August (we lost Shanni the previous August only 4 days short of a year to the day of losing Luc), and we didn’t hold out a month before we went back to the dachshund rescue organization to get another one. Ten year old Max is now making our home complete. Like Caspar, he’s a German dog who thinks he’s a Doberman. 🙂

    Another reference to Caspar the friendly ghost came from a woman I worked with years ago. She grew up in East L.A. which was (and still is to some extent) the “barrio.” The Mexican kids called her Caspar because she was so white. Ha. I identified with that and still occasionally call myself a “Caspar.”

    Have a wonderful holiday season, Simon, if I don’t talk to you again before the year end!

    • Hello Paula, I’m soppy about dogs too, and I enjoy any excuse to include them in our LitBlogs. (I especially liked Simon’s disapproval of the spelling of myrrh, a favourite of the spelling competitions I used to enter as a child).
      But I am replying to you to express my astonishment that there is such a thing as a dachshund rescue organisation… I had two dachshunds as a girl (both of them imaginatively called Gretel) and they have a special place in my heart although I am now captive to the Australian Silky Terrier breed (we’ve had three: Topaz, Sapphire and now Amber). Even allowing for the remote possibility that not everyone falls in love with their dogs and makes them part of the family, how could anyone dump a dachshund? How could there be so many unwanted ones as to warrant a special organisation to find them homes? We have a number of rescue organisations here in Melbourne but their dogs are more like licorice all-sorts, with all kinds of dogs, of all breeds. I find this very saddening…

      • Lisa: my neighbour has several long-haired dachshunds – very cute dogs. Mrs TD and I had just one dog, a retroodle called Bronte, who was a real character. She was very much a member of the family, and we were heartbroken when she died. It is distressing to think of dogs being abandoned.

        • There are a lot of breed-specific rescues (my fingers keep mistyping that as “rescures” which I guess is an appropriate neologism?) here in Southern California. I could never give up one of my doxies, but they have STRONG personalities, and, at least in the US, they are the number one biting dog. Some people get a dog, then have a baby, and dump the dog. Dachshunds can have health issues, and people will get rid of them then. I can’t understand that. We got Max, because his human parents both died within a short period of time. Their son took in both their dogs, but he divorced, and the apartment he rented would only allow one, so Max went to the rescue group. I’m happy for us, but it was a stressful time for him. He’s a strong squirreler, so he has a lot in our neighborhood to keep him keen.Wish I could adopt them all.

  2. LOL! Wonderful post, Simon – you can divert onto the subject of dogs whenever you want, I love them – and Caspar is definitely a cutie! I’ve decided that if I ever get round to retiring, it will be a Wire Fox Terrier for me!

  3. Simon, if I may, I think you have a gift for writing about animals. This was such a delightful lunchtime read.

    I still chuckle when I think of your reference to the mysterious sex life of the river cat in one of Penelope Fitgerald’s books, whose name escapes me at the moment.

    If I may make bold, have you thought of putting together a collection of your essays. They are so superior to the 10,873 bathetic “Chicken Soup” books floating around out there.



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