Sacrificing domestic dogs – a potted history

I find this to be another example of human superstition and ignorance. We have to accept that in the past people were more ignorant than today although ignorance clearly exists today. It is possible or even probable that dogs are still abused and sacrificed for religious purposes in some remote places. I’ve not checked this but it is a plausible thought.

However, in the murky past, during the Palaeolithic period which extends to 10,000 BC, at which time dogs were beginning to be domesticated, the Romans on occasion sacrificed dogs.

It occurred when the Romans’ domestic dogs had failed in their duties to guard them. It’s a story recited by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. Dogs failed to prevent an attack by the Gauls in 390 BC. The invaders escaped the notice of guard dogs but they were spotted by ever-vigilant geese.

The geese were praised and celebrated while the dogs were crucified at one a year near the Circus Maximus as a punishment for their betrayal.

In ancient Rome there was a practice called “punishment of the dogs” (supplicia canum). It appears to have been horrendously gruesome by modern Western standards. An activity which I can barely describe. Live dogs were suspended from a fork or cross and paraded. This is linked to the above story by Pliny the Elder.

Crucifixion was banned by Constantine I which led to the fork replacing the cross. This was a Y-shaped construction made of elder wood. It appears that people were also crucified in this way. The wood came from a dead or barren tree possibly a fruit tree.

There are many other instances of sacrificial dogs. In the Shang dynasty, China, companion dogs (puppies) were sacrificed when their owner died so that they would accompany them in the spirit world of the afterlife.

Puppies sacrificed during China's Shang dynasty
Puppies sacrificed during China’s Shang dynasty. Photo: Li et al – study leader.

It is believed that the dogs living in Siberia, at Ust’-Polui, may have been ritually sacrificed. The people of this area gave special attention to dog crania (the skull) and parts of the dog dogs’ mandibles (jaws). Remains indicate that they were attached to sticks or straps as ornaments to be worn by the people of that time. Scientific American states that “The dogs that these remains belong to may have been ritually sacrificed”.

Native Indians in America of the 17th and 18th century living in what is now New York State engaged in the White Dog Sacrifice. This was a major rite in the Midwinter Ceremony of the Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois Indians.

One or two dogs of a “pure white breed” was strangled, hung up, and ceremonially burned with prayers to the creator. Items such as tobacco and brightly coloured ribbons were put into the fire with the dogs as additional sacrificial elements.

Clearly, the domestic dog was and probably still is seen as a lowly animal in some places, which can be abused without compunction or conscience. Even today, Muslims regard the dog as unclean and open to abuse without compunction. It is incredibly unfair because the cat is regarded entirely differently thanks to the Prophet Muhammad’s love of cats as stated in the Hadiths.

RELATED: To Muslims Dogs Are Unclean but Cats Aren’t.

It’s remarkable that the relationship between the domestic dog and people, a relationship which should be built on friendship and mutual support, is so catastrophically abused and the trust broken by what I would regard as abhorrent human behaviour based on superstition.

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