Pets and Wild Animals in the Life of Jack London

Jack London stands out as a writer who not only wrote about adventures, but also desired to live them, which is why his wanderlust led him from the snow-capped mountains of the Klondike to the coasts of Japan. While his writing career is well-known, less is written about the softer and more intimate parts of London life. Hidden behind the pages of his books are the untold stories of London's domestic pets.

At 30 years old, Jack London lived up to his novels of adventure by leading a very exciting life himself
At 30 years old, Jack London lived up to his novels of adventure by leading a very exciting life himself

Over the course of his career, London authored hundreds of short stories, over 50 volumes, and many essays and articles. His books had a big impact on the adventure novel genre and are still read by a lot of people today.

Jack London's connection with nature

Jack London's early love of animals arose from his childhood in the idyllic settings of California's sun-kissed Bay Area, where he developed a great love and respect for wildlife. San Francisco had a population of less than 350,000 people while he was growing up, and it was still possible to live in rural areas close to downtown. Sheep booing and horses neighing could always be heard nearby.

The gorgeous California landscape left a lasting impression on Jack London.
The gorgeous California landscape left a lasting impression on Jack London.

London and his dog Rollo wandered along Pacific beaches, which were full of beautiful flowers every spring, and through thick redwood trees, absorbing the earthy pine scent and listening to the symphony of bird sounds. 

The pulse of nature was felt in every step, a primal rhythm that ignited something deep within London. 

The simple yet pure joys of casting a line into a babbling brook, seeing the dance of sunlight on the water's surface, or lying beneath a star-strewn sky with the flickering glow of a bonfire left an everlasting impression on a boy's memory.

Jack London had an active upbringing. He spent most of his time outside in California nature with his dog Rollo
Jack London spent a lot of his early years outside. He and his dog Rollo spend most of their time outdoors in nature. 

London's love for active outdoor living began in his childhood and has been a source of inspiration for his writing and outlook on life ever since.

Nicest singing birds native to the Bay Area of California

The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is one of the most lovely singing birds Jack London has come across in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Song Sparrow is named because its melodic and varied singing, which comprises of a number of various musical notes. Each male song sparrow has a unique variant of his own song. Sparrows are prevalent across the San Francisco Bay Area, inhabiting a variety of habitats including parks, gardens, marshes, and scrublands. They are often seen foraging on the ground or perched on shrubs and fences, making them prominent and accessible to birdwatchers. Song Sparrows are non-migratory residents of the Bay Area, so you may hear them sing all year.

Bay Area Birds: The song sparrow is one of the most melodious birds in North America
The song sparrow is one of the most melodious birds in North America

The California towhee is a robust, ground-dwelling bird found in the western United States. The California towhee lacks the flashy appearance of certain birds, yet its singing powers are nothing short of incredible.

California Towhee call is a rich, musical series of notes that echo throughout its environment, commonly compared to the phrase "drink-your-teeeeea."  

With its loud and beautiful tones, the Towhee lends a delightful soundtrack to California's landscapes. 

His Faithfull Dog Rollo

London's first pet was a mixed-breed dog that looked most like a Border Collie. He became Jack's constant playmate and friend as they wandered through California's rolling hills and beautiful woodlands. 

Jack London with His Childhood Dog, Rollo

During Jack London's lifetime, several dog breeds were increasingly popular as pets in the San Francisco Bay Area. Popular companion dog breeds were the Scottish Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, and Boston Terrier. They are small to medium in size and adapt well to urban living, making them a favorite option. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers were both popular. Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, and other spaniels were popular home pets due to their pleasant nature and trainability. Bay Area residents looking for family pets found these characteristics appealing.

Border Collies

Collies are known as the "Einsteins of the dog world" due to their remarkable intelligence. They have eyes that appear to enter your soul, as well as extraordinary agility and attention span. They are natural herders, with an innate desire to control movement, whether it's gathering sheep or navigating a hectic family gathering. Border Collies form close bonds with people, even if they occasionally outsmart them. They are adventurous, motivated canines who are always eager to take on new challenges.
Rollo was a mixed-breed dog descended from Border Collies

Border Collies thrive on physical activity, which makes them ideal companions for people who share a passion for life. Border Collies' sleek, double-layered coat is weather-resistant and provides protection from the elements as they sprint over fields or navigate urban surroundings. Their appearance is beautiful, with a medium-sized athletic figure and a distinct look that exudes intelligence. Their alert stare, framed by perky ears and frequently topped with a signature white blaze or chest emblem, conveys an ever-present attentiveness, as if they are always one step ahead, eagerly expecting their next challenge.

Jake London As a Sailor on the Sea

Jack's yearning for adventure drove him to leave the shores of California at the age of only 16 and join the crew of a ship bound for exotic destinations. As the ship carrying young London sailed the vast Pacific Ocean, Jack saw sights he had never seen before: tropical islands in the midst of the ocean, surrounded by rich flora and kissed by turquoise waters, and the occasional appearance of giant whales from the depths.

The ship's cargo was bound for Japan's bustling port of Yokohama, with Mount Fuji's snow-capped top nearby. Before returning to the United States, the ship stopped at the port to offload goods. Meanwhile, Jack London wandered throughout the city, observing everything with a careful eye. 

The crossing of the Pacific sparked Young London's enthusiasm for seafaring, which would later be reflected in his novels such as The Sea-Wolf and symbolized by renowned characters such as Wolf Larsen.

Young Jack London is photographed reading in Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, with birds in cages above him, a common sight in public spaces of the 19th century USA

By the age of 17, Jack London had already gained life experiences that many individuals only get in their lifetime. Despite having a wealth of worldy knowledge, London lacked formal schooling. As a result, he enrolled at Oakland High School and began writing for The Aegis Magazine. 

The first piece of writing he wrote, 'Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan', was about his recent sailing adventure. 

While visiting Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, he told the owner, John Heinold, that he wanted to attend university and become a writer. Heinold lent him money for tuition. London was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley in 1896, but due to financial difficulties, he was forced to depart in 1897 and never earned a degree. Despite his lack of formal schooling, Jack London was an ardent reader and largely self-taught. At the same time, London discovered a new job path: becoming a writer. He chose to visit Klondike to gain new experiences for his upcoming publications. 

Journey to Klondike in 1897

Individuals who travel regularly recognize the difficulty of establishing long-term connections, especially when they are faraway from home. They recognize how easy it is for travelers to build relationships with animals, which helps to overcome the isolation some people feel when traveling. Jack London noticed this firsthand, and his keen observation abilities while traveling allowed him to fill his literary works with distinct personalities, both human and animal. 

Prospecting in the Klondike would be impossible without the presence of strong and enduring sled dogs

In 1897, London joined the Klondike Gold Rush in search of both fortune and excitement. During his time in the Yukon, he experienced numerous hardships that would serve as the foundation for his adventure tales. Prospectors looking for Klondike gold were forced to rely on dogs for transportation due to a lack of other choices. According to London, "the prospectors needed strong, trainable dogs." While traveling with thousands of prospectors to reach Klondike, Jack London became increasingly interested in sled dogs and decided to write stories in which they would play a part.

Buck and White Fang: Jack London facination with Sled Dogs

Jack London's experiences with sled dogs, both as pets and working animals, inspired him to write two of his most famous novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, which transport readers to a world where dogs are sentient and experience affection, loyalty, fear, and courage.

Buck and White Fang: Jack London's Most Famous Animal Characters
Buck and White Fang: Jack London's Most Famous Animal Characters

The books portray the bond that can form between humans and animals through mutual respect, trust, and a shared sense of adventure on the backdrop of beautiful North American nature. Buck, a powerful and noble sled dog in London's 'The Call of the Wild', creates a close tie with John Thornton, and White Fang forms a substantial trusting relationship with Weedon Scott, a human character.

White Fang is a wolf-dog hybrid: the offspring of a wild wolf and a domestic dog and Buck is a mix - the son of Elmo, a large St. Bernard and his mother Shep, a Scotch shepherd. Later, London reveals that Buck, who escaped and thrived in the wild in the novel, is able to do so due to his bulky stature (140 pounds) and sharp intelligence that he inherited from St. Bernards.

St, Bernards Dogs

St. Bernards are gentle giants with hearts as big as their massive bodies. Despite their frightening size, they have a gentle attitude, making them beloved family companions. Their look comprises of a thick, fluffy coat, soulful eyes, and floppy jowls that appear to be always smiling.

A fact that is not widely known, In the past, St. Bernards were employed as sled dogs

While St. Bernards are most famous for their role as rescue dogs in the icy Alps, where they famously rescued hikers trapped in an avalanche. 

St. Bernards have a lesser-known history as sled dogs. 

Their robust physique, endurance, and incredible strength made them useful while hauling large objects through difficult terrain. Although they lacked the speed and agility of smaller sled dogs, their steady pace and constant commitment made them invaluable partners in the difficult task of navigating snowy terrain. While they are no longer as common in professional sled dog racing, their reputation as trustworthy workers in hostile regions remains.

Jack London and Cats

London's love for cats is not as well-known as his love for dogs, but he did make a statement once " A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not."

Jack London's views on vegetarianism and animal activism

San Francisco in the late 19th century was a bustling city. Like many cities of that era, it would have had its share of stray dogs roaming the streets. Stray dogs were a part of everyday scenery for the city residents. In San Francisco, where industries such as shipping and commerce were prominent, there would have been a demand for dogs in various working capacities. Dogs played various roles, including working as herders, guard dogs, and companions. 

In the preface to his novel ‘Michael, Brother of Jerry,’ which was published after his death, London argued readers should join animal-welfare organizations. “First, let all humans inform themselves of the inevitable and eternal cruelty by the means of which only can animals be compelled to perform before revenue-paying audiences,” London wrote. “Second, I suggest that all men and women, and boys and girls, who have so acquainted themselves with the essentials of the fine art of animal-training, should become members of, and ally themselves with, the local and national organizations of humane societies and societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals.”
At one point of time, London briefly became a vegetarian before resuming eating meat. However, he remained a staunch animal rights fighter till the end of his life.

Dogs' acrobatic shows were common in 19th-century circuses, and Jack London was against them

Furthermore, London advocated walkouts of performances that exploited animals as entertainment in circuses. “We will not have to think of anything, save when, in any theatre or place of entertainment, a trained-animal turn is presented before us,” London said. “Then, without premeditation, we may express our disapproval of such a turn by getting up from our seats and leaving the theatre for a promenade and a breath of fresh air outside, coming back, when the turn is over, to enjoy the rest of the programme. All we have to do is just that to eliminate the trained-animal turn from all public places of entertainment.”

According London dogs feel “instinct, sensation, and emotion, and are capable of simple reasoning.” In his essay “The Other Animals”, London credits his childhood dog Rollo with inspiring him to look deeper for the possibilities in animals, and helped form the basis for his classics Call of the Wild and White Fang. Those two books, featuring animal protagonists that demonstrated reasoning, felt emotions, and acted on loyalties, have inspired generations of animal right activists. 

Yet, for all his love of animals, London was not blind to the complexities of their existence. He understood the harsh realities of survival in the wild, where only the fittest and most adaptable creatures could hope to thrive. In his stories, he explored themes of struggle, endurance, and the relentless pursuit of life's necessities, painting a vivid portrait of the natural world in all its beauty, but also unfirgivness.


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