The image of the dead soldier’s dog lying by its master’s coffin, heaving deep sighs, is one that’s going to be with us for a while.
The story broke on Thursday. Navy Seal Jon Tumilson died in the Chinook chopper downing that killed 37 other American personnel in the most deadly single incident of the Afghan war for US troops. His body was taken back to Iowa and at the funeral his labrador Hawkeye walked up and flopped down on the floor near the casket.
The animal was photographed and videoed. Its indifference to the conventions of ritual could not have been more complete. It was flat out on that gleaming floor, sympathising bodily with its slain master, at an angle at odds with the rows of aligned chairs and the chrome casket trolley. The animal sighed, deeply. You’ve seen a canine sigh, you know what they are like – deep heaves that pass through the body in a wave, sighs of complete resignation, of utter capitulation to the rottenness of life.
The dog knew its master was in that coffin. It was sad because he was gone.
This story was destined to be shared. In the short history of social signals, loyal dogs punch well above their weight in newsworthiness. One of the titleholders for most shared story ever is the video-based story of two dogs in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami. That video shows a bedraggled dog approaching a camera crew (warning them off, fetching them? – it is unclear) and regularly returning to the side of his sick dog comrade. At one stage the protective dog places his leg on the sick dog’s head in a touching manner.
Allthingsnow, a site which collects Facebook sharing data for the whole web, claims the Yahoo version of this story was shared 540,000 times. We can’t verify that because for some reason the article share count has been reset down to almost nothing (that can happen if you archive it, or change the URL for some reason). These two Japanese dogs never got media names, and unfortunately no one knows what happened to them. But after the horror and enormity of the tsunami, this one small act of animal loyalty was passed from person to person more than any other story.
Then there is the story of Mason, the terrier that got sucked into a twister from the back porch of his Alabama home. Mason disappeared, and his fearful owners looked for his little body in the wreckage strewn all about. More than two weeks later, the plucky little fellow reappeared, dragging himself along with two broken legs. A single instance of that story was shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook.
So it was with the sad and loyal labrador. On ninemsn, the story of Hawkeye and his master has been shared more than 5000 times on Facebook (2000 shares is a good level sharing in Australia at the moment). The MSNBC version has a share count of 210,000 as of writing. And it’s a slow burn, with the numbers still building more than 24 hours after publication.
Simple message to editors: keep your eyes peeled for loyal dog stories.