by Marie Wilson

Beautiful Joe

Joe was just a pup when his owner starved & beat him then cut off his ears & tail. His plight gained worldwide attention when a Canadian woman wrote a novel about him called “Beautiful Joe”. Soon after the horrible mutilations, the pup was rescued by a kindhearted minister & lived out the rest of his years with the minister’s loving family in Meaford, Ontario.

In 1914, Margaret Marshal Saunders, the woman who wrote “Beautiful Joe”, lived in the flat directly across from mine in an historic housing complex in Toronto. The bricks were hot out of the ovens from the Don Valley Brick Works in what was then known as Riverdale Courts, when Saunders moved into a four bedroom “cottage flat” with her sister Grace. Now called the Bain Co-op, it is here that the author penned another novel: “Boy, The Wandering Dog”.

I look out my window at her former residence & imagine Saunders sitting at a lace-curtained window, pen in hand, thinking up dog thoughts, because “Boy”, like “Joe”, is told from the dog’s perspective, a literary device that took off after the publication of “Black Beauty” in 1877.

Published in 1894 under the name Marshal Saunders, “Beautiful Joe” would help lead the charge for the humane treatment of animals everywhere. I often contemplate Saunders’ good works, both as writer & animal activist, as I tread the very ground she must have walked with her own dogs. This is the same turf where I now walk my dog Nixie. Or did until a few months ago, when suddenly she started having trouble climbing stairs. My apartment is on the second floor & she weighs a hundred pounds so our walks became less frequent, even though she is only five years old.

Marshall Saunders owned a lot of pets in her lifetime. A number of them were strays which she named for the places where they were found. She once owned a bird named “38 Front Street”. Nixie is grateful we didn’t christen her “Kijiji”. Nixie (pictured below) looks like Joe except her ears are intact. But she does get the same frightened ears-flattened-back look that Joe has in his portrait whenever she is in pain. The vet said she would need an MRI for a diagnosis at a cost of twenty-five hundred dollars. This pup has seen me through some hard times. I was not about to let her down.

And so, inspired by her trusting eyes & the courage of Beautiful Joe, I launched “Beautiful Nixie”, an online fundraising campaign. Due to the generosity of people everywhere, a month following the launch, Nixie got her MRI.

The imaging showed a protruding disc, & surgery was prescribed. Cost: Five thousand dollars. Nixie’s love & devotion once again catapulted me into action. I hit the campaign trail & a month later, she had her operation, in part because the vet kindly arranged for me to pay half the cost upfront & the other half thirty days following surgery.

When I look at this photo of Beautiful Joe, which was reproduced as postcards back in the day, it gives me the fortitude I need to carry on & raise the last instalment of money, the last half owed to the vet. Despite Joe’s slightly fearful look (a result of missing earflaps, I think), the portrait is a record of great hope. The pure sweetness & strength, the downright goodness, of that dog catapults me forward in my fundraising efforts. I do it for Beautiful Joe & Beautiful Nixie & for all the beautiful dogs in the world.

Thanks to all donors, the campaign goal is in sight! If you wish to help, you can donate here:

Beautiful Nixie on Facebook:

Contact me here:


Beautiful Joe – Osborne Collection, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto.

Pink Sky with Windows – Aaron Schwartz

Bain Co-op in Bloom – Aaron Schwartz

Nixie – Marie Wilson

7 thoughts on “Beautiful Joe

  1. Diner Dave

    Really interesting and well written. I read Beautiful Joe a few years ago after being told about it by someone who heard that our dog is from Meaford. Lovely photos too…did you take them?

  2. Marie Wilson Post author

    Thanks so much, Diner Dave! In Meaford they have a Beautiful Joe park (with statue of Joe). It sounds beautiful (like Joe). I only took the photo of my dog (bottom); all the others are credited at the end of the post: 2 by Aaron Schwartz and the one of Joe is in the Osborne Collection. Hey, I love greasy spoon breakfasst; will check out your blog!

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