A Bite-Sized Guide to Poland’s Most Popular Dogs
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default, Still from the movie 'Four Tank-Men and a Dog', 1966. Pictures: Janusz Gajos and Szarik, photo: Inplus / East News, center, szarik_en.jpg
Think of some famous names that have had the greatest influence on human imagination. Whoever you ask, they’re bound to mention at least the most important ones: Lassie, Hachiko, Snoopy and Scooby Doo. Poland has also had its fair share of famous dogs, even if they might not be as instantly recognisable. Culture.pl presents Poland’s greatest celebrity good boys and girls!
'Reksio', Polish animated series, 1967-1990, Studio Filmów Rysunkowych in Bielsko-Biała, photo: Inplus / East News
One of the greatest Polish child entertainers, Reksio has to be mentioned in any conversation about Polish dogs. Created by Lechosław Marszałek in 1967, this hero of a popular animated series (produced until 1990) raised many generations of Polish children and is often the first thing people have in mind when they think about a typical Polish pup. But despite his friendliness, adorable looks and endless loyalty, Reksio is not exactly the most well-behaved pooch. Valuing fun and adventure above all, this beloved dog has become known as a mischief-maker, getting into trouble in almost all of the few dozen episodes of his TV show. But even though he might have given his owners some headaches, the laughs and good memories he keeps on bringing to new young audiences greatly outweigh the troubles he creates wherever he goes.
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Still from the movie 'Four Tank-Men and a Dog', 1966. Pictures: Janusz Gajos and Szarik, photo: Inplus / East News
All dogs are perfect, but if there’s a top-tier of perfectness, that’s where Szarik would be placed. If the plot of the cult 1960s series Czterej Pancerni i Pies (Four Tank-Men and a Dog) is historically accurate even to a slightest degree, there is not a single living creature that contributed more to the Allied victory in World War II than Szarik. As its title suggests, this TV series, based on a book by Janusz Przymanowski, depicts the story of a tank crew and their beloved canine friend and follows them as they change the course of the war by engaging in the most important events of the conflict. Even though the charisma of actors like Janusz Gajos and Franciszek Pieczka must have contributed to the popularity of the series, Czterej Pancerni i Pies became one of the most enduring works of Polish popular culture mostly thanks to Szarik’s efforts. This tail-wagging soldier relayed messages, fought Nazi-German troops and saved lives, which quickly made him every Pole’s dream dog. Nobody should be surprised that one of the first things the heroes wanted to do after the war, as they sang in the show’s opening song, was to feed the dog.
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Fafik might be the only dog to have enjoyed full-time employment in the editorial team of a print magazine. As the best friend of Marian Eile, the founder and long-time editor-in-chief of a popular weekly Przekrój, Fafik was immortalised as the contributor to a regular column entitled Myśli Ludzi Wielkich, Średnich oraz Psa Fafika (Thoughts from Great and Average People and Fafik the Dog). The rubric presented inspiring and thought-provoking quotes from influential people (both real and made-up) as well as Fafik’s own observations regarding human culture. Fafik gained prominence for bon-mots such as: ‘Buy yourself a dog. That is the only way to buy love for money.’ and ‘Only dogs are really human.’ The Rojek Brothers-edited column (Rojek Brothers being one of Eile’s numerous pen names) was even published in book form, making it possible for everybody to have a hard-bound copy of all of Fafik’s greatest sayings. Just make sure you don’t mistake Fafik for Filuś, another Przekrój dog and the best friend of famous cartoon hero Professor Filutek!
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Even though Lampo wasn’t technically Polish (as he actually lived in the 1950s in Campiglia Marittima in Italy), he was noticed by a Polish author, Roman Pisarski, who made him the main character of his short story O Psie Który Jeździł Koleją (On the Dog who Rode the Rail). Lampo was the dog of a stationmaster and spent most of his time at the station, returning home in the evening in the company of his human. But one day, he ran away and jumped on a train which awakened in him a love of travelling. From then on, he would routinely ride trains and return home to his loving stationmaster, all until a horrible accident happened. Pisarski masterfully described the story of the adventurous dog, creating a work that is bound to move even the most heartless people to tears. This undisputable classic is mandatory reading in elementary school in Poland. Even though some children are known to complain when forced to read a book, Pisarski’s short story is rarely left unopened. Lampo is so lovable and endearing that O Psie Który Jeździł Koleją might be the single most important factor contributing to Poland’s high literacy level.
Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Saba
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Still from the movie 'In Desert and Wilderness' directed by Władysław Ślesicki, 1973, photo Studio Filmowe Kadr / Filmoteka Narodowa-Instytut Audiowizualny / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl
Speaking of mandatory reading, In Desert and Wilderness by the Nobel-prize winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz also introduced a remarkable good boy to countless Polish children. Saba, the dog gifted to the novel’s protagonist Nel Rawlison, is a tireless defender and a giant with a heart of gold. The lion-like mastiff follows the main characters from their abduction at the beginning of the novel up until their happy ending in Poland, making Saba one of the longest living dogs in history – he must have lived until 25 or 30! And if you’d like more than to just read about this amazing pup, Saba was extremely well portrayed both in the 1973 and 2001 adaptation of the novel, even if the movies are not exactly Oscar-worthy.
Ludwik Dorn’s Saba
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Despite the above mastiff’s numerous feats, another Saba springs to Poles’ minds more easily when they hear the name. In 2007, the then Speaker of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) Ludwik Dorn brought his schnauzer Saba to the Sejm as she was too ill to stay at home alone. This made the good girl the first dog to ever step paw in the prestigious institution, even though other MPs were not too keen on opening the Sejm’s doors to animals (to protest Dorn’s behaviour, some even brought their own dogs to work!). Since then, Saba’s name and photos have appeared in numerous newspapers, most notably later in 2007 when the President back then, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, addressed his political opponents during campaign events. Listing politicians who, in his view, would repeat past mistakes, he playfully included the schnauzer: ‘Ludwik Dorn… and Saba! Don’t go this way!’
Bej / Cywil
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Bej, later renamed to Cywil (meaning civilian) was another TV star and the lead hero of Przygody Psa Cywila (Adventures of the Dog Cywil), a 1970s series commissioned by the authorities that was meant to educate the public about the use of police dogs. The crime-comedy format of the show greatly contributed to its popularity, but the director didn’t even try to pretend that showing amazing dogs on screen was not his main goal. Cywil and other beautiful pups act masterfully and perform numerous daring tricks and stunts – they chase bandits, get involved in shoot-outs and even jump on a parachute. According to the makers of the show, the dog playing Bej was not only incredibly good-looking, but had a real love for acting. He so often entered scenes that did not involve him that the director had to let him lie near the camera at all times in hopes that this would convince Bej that he was the star of every scene. And it worked! Cywil was a dog whose greatest dream was to never leave the spotlight.
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The many successes of Cywil left Polish audiences wanting more four-legged silver-screen stars. Unfortunately, they had to wait until 2012 and the Polish adaptation of the Austrian-Italian series Inspector Rex. With more than 150 episodes of crime-fighting and barking, Komisarz Alex seems to have filled the niche. Set in Łódź, the show follows the story of Alex, a German Shepherd (a breed that seems to be synonymous with ‘dog TV star’ in Poland) working in the homicide department of the local police. There are some human characters who serve as Alex’s partners and get involved in romantic or comedy plotlines, but, frankly, they are nowhere near as important. It’s a Saturday-evening show about a crime-fighting dog. Do you really need another reason to watch it?
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Everybody has silly thoughts come to mind while laying on a couch, and Ferdynand Wspaniały (meaning Ferdynand the Great) is no exception. This four-legged hero of Ludwik Jerzy Kern’s children book of the same title decided that it would be great if he could become… human. He manages to achieve his wish in a dream, in which he quickly learns to walk on two legs, orders a suit and enjoys numerous things that were previously unavailable to him, such as reaching the sky in a hotel elevator. Ferdynand finds that with enough confidence and bravery, he is able to achieve anything, including winning a golden medal at a dog show. Wonderful illustrations by Kazimierz Mikulski only make it easier to root for the human-like pup.
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Even though Hachiko might be the most famous dog tirelessly waiting for his owner, the faithfulness of Dżok makes him the perfect animal to crown this list. In the summer of 1991, Dżok’s owner suffered from a heart attack near the Grunwaldzkie Roundabout in Kraków and died shortly after in the ambulance. Not knowing what to do, the dog stayed on the roundabout hoping that his owner might eventually come back. Employees of the local dog shelter tried to catch him countless times, but he always managed to evade them and return to the spot where he last saw his human. Dżok was mistrustful of other people and while he accepted food, he did not allow anybody to pet him or take him home. He spent an entire year at the roundabout, even though the temperatures in the winter reached as low as -30˚C. Maria Miller, a woman living in the neighbourhood, eventually managed to earn Dżok’s trust and adopted him, but following her death in 1998, the dog ran away and was found dead shortly after. His unbending loyalty made him famous and in 2001 the citizens of Kraków erected a statue to him, the third statue of a dog in the world.
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