The Dog Lover Behind Snoopy
A dog woman interviewed a famous dog man
By Cal Orey
Snoopy debuted in Charles Schulz’s cartoon strip “Peanuts” in 1950 (just two years before I was born). The likable canine character from Daisy Hill puppy farm became part of the children’s strip (and still is today). In fact, with the help of Snoopy’s owner, Charlie Brown, the Beagle’s personality blossomed—big time.
Of course, Snoopy can’t talk. He thinks. Schulz explained how Snoopy communicates: “Snoopy thinks the sort of things that we believe a dog might think if we knew what they were thinking about. Snoopy’s strength is his ability to overcome all of the problems in his life, but he frequently retreats to imagination to solve a lot of his problems.” For instance, the imaginative Beagle has a dog house that converts into a fighter plane in which he seeks the elusive Red Baron. And, this resourceful dog is a wanna-be writer. Snoopy is notorious for using those opening passages, “It was a dark and stormy night…” The irony is, he thinks he’s great!
Is cartoonist Schulz a genuine dog person? You can count on it.
A native of Minnesota, Schulz recalls his younger years being enriched by a variety of canines: a couple of Beagles, a St. Bernard and several Golden Retrievers.
“Right now I have the best dog I’ve ever owned in my whole life,” mused the 69-year-old “Peanuts” creator. He simply cherishes Andy, his 12-year-old Wire Fox Terrier. And sometimes, Schulz will derive his ideas for Snoopy from Andy’s behavior. For instance, Snoopy’s sudden cookie fetish is really Andy’s thing.
Schulz borrowed another idea from his senior dog. “When Andy could hear better, I used to hesitate about shaving with an electric razor in the morning. I didn’t want to wake him up,” recalled Schulz.
Later on, Schulz adapted the real-life situation into a similar storyline for Charlie Brown. At school, the teacher was criticizing Charlie Brown’s writing with a dull pencil. Charlie Brown says, “I know, Ma’am, I should have my sharpened my pencil better. We have an electric sharpener at home but I didn’t want to turn it on this morning. I didn’t want to wake up my dog.”
In 1981, after Schulz underwent heart bypass surgery, the nurses asked the celebrity to draw cartoons on the hospital wall. For a while the artist just stared at the wall. He didn’t know what to create.
Then, suddenly, Schulz stood up and went to work. With a felt pen he drew a series of Snoopys in a hospital bed like himself. For starters, the dog was shown performing a post-operative exercise familiar to Schulz. Snoopy was struggling with the inhalator. The goal? To make three balls rise to the top of the apparatus for inhaling oxygen—and remain there for a moment. The last drawing revealed the Beagle collapsing with exhaustion and triumph.
“I had a good time and had the feeling at that moment—‘This is why I am here’—I just draw pictures, that’s all.”
But why did Schulz draw Snoopy—not Charlie Brown—on the hospital walls? He replied, “Because the dog breaks the boundaries of age, race, and everything else.”
(Reprinted with permission from Dog World, December 1993 issue.)