Memory: A story of a war dog

Johannes E. Anttinen

The operations subsided in the Continuation War in Finland 1944–1944 when the front lines stabilized. The amount of wounded people reduced and I started visiting the near forest with my shotgun. Already during the second or third time I noticed I was not walking alone. I was followed by another hunter; a dog looking a lot like a Finnish Spitz flashed now and then between the trees and kept me company the whole way. He was approximately four or five years old and scared, mistrustful, and afraid of humans. It turned out he had no master, no name, and no home. When the Winter War in Finland 1939–1940 had ended, the dog had stayed in his home region and somehow managed to stay alive – nevertheless, he was in good condition. Someone had seen a flash of him before, but mostly the dog was hiding. He did not have any friends, and no one knew where he got his food from.

Little by little, the dog became less shy, but he never came close enough for me to pet him. We shared my lunch sandwiches, which he happily ate, but he never took anything directly from my hand. He did, however, lie down closer and closer to me whenever I stopped for a cigarette. His trust for people was clearly coming back. A man going to the forest with a shotgun was something that helped him get over his fears, he could not resist it, the dog had hunter’s blood running through his veins. He was a dog able to hunt all game. He barked at birds and squirrels and went even after a rabbit a few times, just like the spitz of old-time hunters used to do. He appeared every time when I went to the forest, and disappeared every time I went back home and got closer to the village. He was keeping an eye on me from some place hidden.

Before Christmas I was able to shoot a capercailzie with the dog’s help, and sent the bird to my parents living in Helsinki. I had planned to try and bring the dog home with me somehow. We had become friends. Then, a warning for a rabies epidemic was declared to the Karelian Isthmus, and an unconditional demand was set: every dog with no master must be shot!

I was told to put down this particular dog. There was no room for negotiations, an order was an order and it had to be followed immediately. So I took my shotgun and went to the forest, and the dog, as usual, followed me. There was no leash. Suddenly, he scampered off, like he knew something bad was about to happen. I had to shoot at him from a 70–80 meters distance, and he fell down, but did not die immediately. I ran to the dog lying on the ground to give him the finishing move. He turned his head with difficulty, looked me straight in the eyes with a submissive look, and said: Even you, my only friend.  

The Finnish Spitz in the main picture is not involved in this story.