Penned in 1951, “Waggles and the Dogcatcher” is a classic feudal tale of the struggle between the worker and the state. Alternately, one could label it a gross stereotype, reclassing the homeless victim as a carefree, clever tramp who outwits the establishment to win economic success, leaving the dimwitted authority figure scrounging in vain through the very same trash cans once frequented by the clever, carefree tramp, wallowing in the frustration and anger created by the cage of his pedantic choices.
“Waggles,” the sympathetic protagonist, is a small, white dog. He is a stray who enjoys carrying things in his mouth and trotting the streets of the city. It is never explained how a stray came to acquire a name, and one must assume that this nomenclature is a fabrication invoked for the sake of the narrative. “Small White Dog” repeated over and over again would not inspire the freewheeling ease and casual tone so often required of children’s literature, and the imaginative stretch can be accepted for the sake of brevity.
When Waggles is mistakenly perceived as a thief, the law, here in the form of an obsessive and bitter civil servant, is sent after him. Through a series of comic accidents, Waggles appears to change into many different dogs: a black dog, a grey dog, a black dog with a white tail, and a black dog with white spots, clearly evoking the racial tensions of the time. The witless dogcatcher, a white male, is unable to see that it is the same dog, but instead gives up each previous quest in favor of the immediate quarry, ever the opportunist.
In sum, “Waggles and the Dogcatcher” is an entertaining reflection on the mores of an America awash in a post war struggle with its identity. The drawings are cute without being cloying, and the entire piece is evocative of a time when women still wore hats.
by Marion Beldon Cook
Pictures by John Peterson
1951, Scholastic Book Services
Next up: “Four Little Kittens”, a socioeconomic study of geography and class in America.