Once upon a time, there was a pack of good-hearted dogs who were known for their good deeds, and indeed their good natures. They travelled around the town unmolested, loved by everyone they met, helping with the chores, keeping the town safe from wild animals and intruders.
The humans fed and pampered them, the other animals in the town bowed to them. Their leader, a kindly, gentle dog, was loved by all.
But there were animals in the forest who grew envious of the dogs. They hated their popularity, their good deeds, their companionship with people. They wanted what the dogs had. Most of all they wanted the chickens the humans kept, the tasty chickens the animals could not get to because they were guarded by the dogs.
The wolf gathered his companions around him. The fox came, so did the rat, the snake and the weasel.
“These dogs are not acting like animals are supposed to act,” the wolf told his followers. “They are keeping us from the chickens that are rightfully ours because we are the superior animals. We must make the humans hate these dogs. We must take from them the love and respect they receive and have them banished, if we ever want to get those chickens. I have a plan. You, fox, will be the first to lead us.”
And the fox nodded eagerly and listened to the wolf’s plan.
A few days later, when they were walking around the town, a group of dogs came across the fox whose foot appeared to be in a trap. The fox was thrashing about.
“Oh help me please,” cried the fox. “I have been caught in this terrible trap. If you don’t free me, the humans will catch and kill me because I stole one of their chickens. Please help me. I don’t want to die. I am not so different from you. I will be eternally grateful and stop stealing chickens from now on if you just get me out of this trap.”
So the dogs worked hard to free the fox from the trap. After much effort, they made it open and release the fox, who ran away without a word of thanks. But the dogs didn’t mind. They were happy just to do a good deed, and they continued on.
They never realized the fox had put its own foot in the trap to fool them. They never realized that, as soon as it was freed, the fox ran immediately to a hen house where it stole some chickens.
The wolf, meanwhile, dressed up as a dog ran to the humans and accused the dog pack of releasing the fox. It said the fox had been trapped by humans because it was stealing chickens. But, the wolf said, the dogs had let it go because the fox promised to give them free chickens from its catches, if they would free it.
“I have witnesses,” said the wolf, producing the snake and the rat, both dressed as dogs, who both said what the wolf said was true. They swore the dogs had released the fox and taken chickens from it in payment.
The humans, not suspecting any treachery from those they thought were dogs, believed the wolf and the others. Dogs, they believed, who were protecting them from the renegades in the pack. They didn’t see the disguises. And because there were chickens missing, they took the word of the wolf, the snake and the rat.
They accused the real dogs of releasing the fox to harm their chickens, and also of taking their chickens as payment. You took bribes, they said to the dogs.
“But we were trying to help it,” cried the dogs. “We did no wrong. We never touched the chickens!”
The humans didn’t care, nor believe their innocence. They turned against the dogs and stopped patting them. Stopped giving them extra food. They stopped letting them wander the town as before. They kept them away from their henhouses.
The dogs continued to act in good faith, however, believing that everything would turn our all right and that the humans would soon see the truth.
“We should not do anything to upset the humans,” said the head dog. “We must continue as before: to do our best, to be loving and helpful wherever we can.”
And the dogs agreed to stay away from the henhouses, even if it meant they couldn’t guard them from the fox any more. Meanwhile, the fox continued to steal chickens from the townspeople.
The wolf gathered his followers in the woods again and told them, “This is a good start, but it’s not enough. We must make the humans hate the dogs, not simply fence them in. I have a plan. This time, you, the rat, will be foremost.”
And the rat listened to the wolf’s plan and agreed to it.
The next day, the rat dressed itself in the dog disguise. It went to the human town and sought out the justice, the giver and keeper of the laws.
“Kind sir,” the rat said to the justice. “I hate to complain against my fellow creatures, but these past days I have seen the other dogs breaking out of their cages at night when they were not guarded. I saw them sneaking into henhouses against orders. They have been stealing chickens from the people, taking their food and their livelihood. I fear they are making themselves fat by robbing the good folk.”
The justice, seeing before him a dog, not a rat, became outraged. He ordered the dogs be brought under scrutiny, and investigated. He demanded a counting of chickens.
“We must not react or be angry,” said the head dog even as the pack was led away. “We are here to serve the humans; to help them, not challenge them.”
Still the dogs continued on, trying to do their best under trying circumstances. They never stopped helping people in need.
Finally, the wolf called his supporters together and told them to go around the town in disguise, go door to door, and denounce the dogs as corrupt, untrustworthy and dangerous. As thieves and liars.
So the rat, the weasel, the fox and the snake all donned a dog’s coat and went to visit the humans. They went from door to door and told them their dogs were evil and dangerous. That they were stealing their chickens and lying about it.
And the humans believed them. After all, they told themselves, weren’t the dogs guilty of stealing chickens? Hadn’t the justice said so? If the dogs were innocent, why would they be under investigation? If the dogs weren’t taking them, where were the missing chickens? It was time to get rid of the bad dogs, they cried.
As a result, the humans threw the dogs out of their town and banished them to the forest. And in their place they put the wolf, the rat, the snake, the fox and the weasel, all still dressed in their disguises. These, they thought, were the good dogs.
The fox continued to sneak into the henhouses at night to steal chickens. The people wondered why their chickens still went missing, but the wolf always blamed it on the dogs in the forest, and promised to get to the bottom of it.
The new ‘dogs’ stopped helping the people, stopped patrolling the town and protecting it from intruders, and grew fat and lazy on their stolen chickens.
Again my apologies to Marie de France. This is loosely based on her fable of the Dog and the Ewe (fable number 1 in the Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching no. 32, University of Toronto press, 1994, translated by Harriet Spiegel). Marie’s moral notes: “By lies and trickery, in short/They force the poor to go to court/False witnesses they’ll often bring…”