The Seaman's Bestiary

By what ever standards you may wish to apply, dogs as crew are better than people. And so are cats and birds and monkeys and anything else that has the blessed inability to speak. Animals rarely talk (a relief on a small boat) and almost never have an opinion on sail trim that differs from your own.

That does not mean that they are not good listeners. They are superb listeners and will lie at your feet drinking it all in for as long as you wish to pontificate. Even after a month or so, when the more lingual crew has been known to throw themselves over the side rather than listen once more to your tales amatory, your dog will even pant a little as you get to the jucier bits.

Cats seem not to be as good listeners since they have the talent to do other things while being regaled. A cat will either sleep or lick herself, both of which activities are likely to suggest that you are not getting her entire attention. However a purr at the right moment is sometimes as good as a pant.

Of the entire zoological spectrum available as crew, all are, in their own way, equally delightful to be with. Some, like the pig, may be a bit too equal and some, like the horse, may not fit in the foc'sle. But from among all God's creatures who are reasonably sized, there is certainly more than one one silent, adoring and non-demanding animal who will more perfectly fit your own idiosyncratic profile than will any human. Whichever the animal is, it will demonstrate a loyalty that will make the grudging acquiescence of the rest of your crew seem, by comparison, mutinous.

For sailors with a practical turn of mind there are birds. Hens are nice because they supply eggs and protein if the eggs turn out to be roosters. A brace of pigeons of the homing variety will bring help if you can stay afloat long enough for them to get home. A pelican, whose bill can hold more than his belly can, might be signed on for his skill as a fisherman. A ribbon tied loosely around the pelican's neck will prevent fish in his bill from becoming fish in his belly. A bit unfair, perhaps, but the pelican will love you none the less for it. Try that on a two legged crew and see what happens.


The trouble with birds is that they lack (lovebirds notwithstanding) demonstrative affection and since affection is the chiefest reason (next to having a good auditorialist) for carrying pets aboard in the first place, perhaps you should try another genus.

Snakes immediately head for the bilge from which you can rarely entice them out for a chat and holding a converstaion with your bilge is liable to panic your crew. Turtles are dull and, while a pet rat is nice, you would probably have to choose between it and your wife. Hmm?

So from among the vasty bestiary available to the mariner as taciturn crew, it all comes down to Man's Best Listener, the dog. True, dogs do have a few habits which cannot be trained out of them. Some tend to be a bit flatulent (but so are you), some drool too enthusiastically when showing affection (but so do you), some shed and some may be a bit too jealous but, all in all, dogs, as crew, are the best beasts.

In addition to scratching your lonely bone, dogs serve serious purposes aboard a small boat. They are the watch that never sleeps and who will, in port, loudly announce the approach of friend or foe. Any dog bigger than a bread box is sufficient to dissuade strangers and alert the neighborhood should you be ashore. They will defend you to the death and will defend your ladies honor even, unfortunately, sometimes against you.

A major consideration is that all zoological crew come a cropper over the exclusionary health laws of nations which seem intent on keeping them out. Paradoxically, the most rigid by far is England, that country of animal lovers who on one hand consider that vivisecting a vivisectionist is a boon not a crime and on the other hand will ban your animal at their border. In spite of its love for animals, England requires that your perfectly healthy mutt must languish for lonely months in quarantine awaiting the improbable bloom of some canum arcanum disease. Other nations are almost as strict, so that it is possible that your 200 pound mastiff may never be allowed off your only slightly heavier boat. Should you opt for a large dog make it a water spaniel or some other breed who will get his exercise in the water and will not yearn after forbidden beaches.

Some countries are reasonable about quarantining animals and, save for England, after you are in port for a while, the officials seem to forget their legal passion for canine rejection. As ever, a little baksheesh helps.

Disposal of doggy-do is no problem since dogs are easily trained to 'do' in a delegated place at a delegated time. Even an old dog can be taught this new trick and a pup is a cinch. The only thing you cannot teach a dog to do is hang his hieni over the rail and, in all fairness, I do not know many sailors who have mastered that technique. At any rate do not allow the small problem of personal pup hygiene deny you the pleasure of having a dog aboard, especially since he would rather be with you than anywhere else in creation.

One thing that you do not have to worry about is faunic mal de mer. Animals seem not to get seasick and when they do, or if they do, it is usually characterized by a need for lots of sleep. If you happen to own a lazy dog to begin with, you may never know if he is feeling a bit dizzy or just running true to breed. With a naturally snoozy pussy you will never know.

I do not carry a beast aboard and I realize that I am missing much. The one time that I did rub up against an animal was memorable and, though bittersweet, delicious. We were enjoying the effusive Japanese hospitality of the Kansai Yacht Club near Kobe when a sorry, sick and bedraggled kitten wandered aboard. Our human crew immediately turned into sentimental wrecks, and for three days we fed, ministered to and monitored that poor tyke until she quietly, like the lady she was, gave up her tiny little ghost. We found a small rise at the sea's edge where we buried her. She had been with us only three days and, beast though she was, she gave us the most human of all of our moments of passage.

By all means take an animal as crew. They are, perhaps, God's apology for all the human assholes in the world.