I hesitated to tell this final chapter of the Freud-and-dogs story because of its difficult ending, but the truth isn’t always uplifting. As an antidote, I promise to continue this series with more cheering segments.
In Part 1, I discussed Freud’s late life arrival at puppy love, including how my great uncle’s butcher shop provided meat for Yofi, Freud’s culturally Jewish — if not observant — chow. In Part 2, I talked about the role the family dogs played in Anna and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic practice.
Here I explore Freud’s final months in Vienna and the last year of his life in London, a time marked by canine bonding — and betrayal.
A Dog Book Translation
A bit of background. Freud and his “Jewish science” were never in favor with Hitler — his books were burned in Berlin in 1933 — and in 1938, when the Nazis took over Austria, Freud’s life and that of his family were in danger. It was not easy to leave Vienna under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo, however, and connections had to be called in.
In a review of Mark Edmundson’s The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism [note: in the America version of this book, the subtitle is "The Legacy of His Last Days"], John Gray writes:
No one could call Freud a sentimentalist. Yet he spent some of his last months translating, from French to German, a biography of a dog, a chow like Jofi, his devoted animal companion during his final illness.
The charge of sentimentality is a bit misleading. According to Freud biographer Ernest Jones, both Freud and Anna spent the difficult days waiting until they could leave Vienna by working together on a translation from the French of Princess Marie Bonaparte’s Topsy, Chow-Chow au Poile d’Or (Topsy the Golden-Haired Chow). But it was Bonaparte who was responsible for getting Freud, Anna, and several other family members out of Vienna. Gratitude and the chance for a distraction — as well as their love for the chows — make this father and daughter project a natural.
That said, the tale of Topsy is revealing. According to Edmundson:
Freud adored this book and it was not only because of his affection for the princess and his love for chows, but also because of the story….Like Freud, Topsy has cancer: both are afflicted with tumors on the right sides of their mouths. Like Freud, Topsy has surgery, and is treated, as Freud will be, with roentgen rays and radium.
All turns out well. Topsy survives and thrives after her struggle with cancer, finding joy in her garden, in smelling the ocean… a nice dream of escapism for Freud whose circumstances are far more dire. As Edmundson says:
Freud, sitting with Anna in his study, going over their translation of the princess’s book, had the chance to think about recovery and even perhaps about resurrection, albeit indirectly. Freud and Anna together, telling the story of Topsy, could brood on the possibility of more life.
Yofi’s Death — and Her Successor
Freud’s struggle with mouth and jaw cancer — brought on by his addiction to cigars, which he could never quit — began in 1923 and, over the years, he underwent a series of painful surgeries. After a particularly difficult procedure, Freud wrote to Marie Bonaparte:
I wish you could have seen with me what sympathy Jofi shows me during these hellish days, as if she understood everything.
In January 1937, Yofi went into a veterinary hospital to have a pair of ovarian cysts removed. The surgery seemed successful, but three days after being released, Yofi died of a heart attack.
When his first chow, Lun-Yu, died, Freud waited 15 months before he could bear to bring another dog into his house. This time, Freud mourned deeply — he wrote “one cannot easily get over seven years of intimacy” — but brought another chow, Lün, into his home the next day.
An earlier attempt had been made introduce Lün to Yofi, but she wouldn’t brook any rivals. Now Lün, who had been staying with the friend who raised her, returned to rule the household — and Freud’s heart. Thus the description of Yofi by Gray as Freud’s “devoted animal companion during his final [emphasis mine] illness” is inaccurate.
Freud and Lün in London
When Freud and Lün arrived in London on July 6, 1938, the dog was quarantined for six months. Her master went to visit her often, in spite of being 82 and ill. The press was charmed. “Nothing could have kept the great scientist away from his dog friend,” Michael Molnar, an Australian journalist, wrote. Further, Molnar quotes the kennel’s direct as saying:
I have never seen such happiness and understanding in an animal’s eyes…[Freud] played with her, talked to her, using all sorts of little terms of endearment, for fully an hour. And though the journey is long for a man of his years, he said that he was resolute about coming to see Lün as often as he can.
But Lün’s release from quarantine brought only temporary comfort to Freud, whose health was in rapid decline. By August 1939, Freud had a large open sore in his check and a rotting jawbone that created a terrible odor. Edmundson writes:
Lün… had always adored her master. Freud had petted her, walked her, and frequently, too, talked with her; she sometimes seemed to him the sanest presence in his life. But now she cowered on the far side of the sick room because of the smell of decomposition coming from her master.
A month later, lonely, too weak to read and in too much pain to talk very much — “My world is . . . a small island of pain floating on an ocean of indifference,” as he put it — Freud called upon a friend, Max Schur, to keep his promise to help ease him out of life when things got too bad. Schur administered large doses of morphine to him on three subsequent days. Freud died on September 23, 1939.
So… this goes against every stereotype of dogs being loyal companions under all circumstances — stereotypes I’ve long had a problem with. As I wrote in What’s Unconditional Love Got to Do With It? we’re likely to be disappointed if we expect dogs to live life on our terms, including loving us when it’s not expedient to them. Still, I admit I was surprised to read about Lun’s fear of Freud’s odor of decay; I’d always assumed dogs didn’t mind bad smells — and, of course, that they provided comfort to the ill. Have you ever read about similar cases? Had similar experiences?