A Town Dog Named ‘Bum’.

Bum was a truly remarkable dog with an equally remarkable story beginning in San Diego, United States in 1886 and ending in Edinburgh, England, in 2008.  A dog going by the name of Bum would seem to imply a dirty four legged street irritant, but Bum was regarded as nothing of the sort.  He was a dog with his own unique hobo lifestyle who won favour everywhere he went in the town of San Diego. He was, in short, a much celebrated town mascot and epitome of the romantic, happy-go-lucky Victorian traveller; the untroubled and cheery character that brought joy wherever he roamed.

Bum, a cross breed dog of possible St Bernard and Spaniel origins, was reputed to have been born in San Francisco in 1886; travelling six months later as a stowaway on the passenger ship Santa Rosa to San Diego.  Soon after arriving, Bum was taken under the wing of James Edward Friend, a fellow traveller and journalist, but he was by no means ‘owned’ by James Friend preferring to be, ‘everybody’s’ dog.

Friend began to write about the escapades of Bum which had the effect of placing Bum firmly in the spotlight of San Diego where he was welcomed with open arms and where his comings and goings were followed like the news headlines.  He became an eminent public character of note and as a result he ate in some of the best restaurants in town, many of them displaying signs outside reporting, “Bum eats here!”  He was never short of a friend or admirer and despite being a street dog he was well cared for and bathed and groomed on a regular basis.

Bum liked nothing better than to help sound the alert when the fire bells rang chasing excitedly after the fire truck and accompanying the volunteer fire fighters. He slept on the streets and in the shopping areas while people stepped over him and he would take to public transport to convey himself to various favourite places and eateries.

One day however, while hanging around in a railway yard he got into an argument with a Bulldog and they both spun tussling under the wheels of a rolling wagon.  The Bulldog was killed but Bum lost part of his right front leg and suffered severe lacerations to his stomach.  Friend nursed him back to health, but Bum once recovered set off upon his wanderings once more.

In 1891 Friend applied for a lifelong council dog tag for Bum which was granted on the grounds that Bum, “did more to advertise the city and county than most of the newspapers”.  Thus Bum became exempt from taxation and every dog tax receipt form was stamped with a picture of him.

In 1894, Bum was loitering behind one of his favourite stores while the shopkeeper was putting a bridle on his horse.  Unfortunately, Bum got too close to the nervous horse and had his back leg broken by a flailing hoof.  James Friend once again came to the rescue and arranged for dog’s leg to be set.

After becoming crippled with arthritis in 1898, Bum was sent to retire at the County Hospital, where he died shortly after.  Local children collected money to give Bum a proper send off, but the exact whereabouts of his final resting place is not known.

In 1978 San Diego was twinned with Edinburgh in England and because of the similarities between the story of Bum and that of Grey Friars Bobby this was considered to be an important link between the two places.  Both dogs had iconic status in their respective towns and it therefore seemed only fitting that Bum should join Bobby to watch over the different sides of the Grassmarket in the same way that a statue of Bobby was sent to san Diego to join Bum in the Gaslamp District.

Both statues are permanent reminders of what dogs bring to people’s lives; how they can influence whole communities and link one continent to another.  More than ever these two particular dogs serve as reminders that the unbroken spirit deserves true merit and recognition.

Andrea Gordon – B.A Hons.