Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell posted a letter today talking about the conclusion of the dramatic Guard Dog storyline that had been running in the King Features syndicated comic strip since November 1, 2023 – the longest continual story in the daily strip’s history.
- SAVED FROM MERCY KILLING, STRAWBERRY THE UNICORN DOG IS CARING LIFE IN HER FOREVER RESIDENCE
- Painted dog pups painting story of survival at Indiana zoo
- Neil Druckmann Teases ‘Concept’ for The Last of Us Part 3: ‘There’s Probably One More Chapter to This Story’
- In Pooch Playoffs tournament voters choose South Shore’s cutest pup
- This Could Be Behind ‘Mystery’ Dog Illnesses
The Guard Dog storyline was a radical shift in tone of the daily gag cartoon, usually focused on the antics of pets Earl the Dog, Mooch the Cat, their animal pals and owners since its 1994 debut – turning to a background character left perpetually chained in a backyard for nearly three decades, seeing them abandoned, rescued, and renamed. It was arguably the most heart-breaking period of the comic’s history – running for 43 continual instalments, ending today.
In the letter released today, McDonnell said:
“The time was now.
“On November 1st, the Guard Dog story began running in newspapers and on Mutts.com. And, today, this part of Guard Dog’s journey comes to a happy ending and new beginning.
“I’ve been promising you (and myself) for too many years that someday he would be free, and while a few animal advocates have continued to lobby that Guard Dog still has a job to do, many more agreed it was time. Freeing Guard Dog became the longest Mutts story ever.”
He also added context to the character’s new name: “Sparky”. And yes – it’s a Charles M. Schulz nod:
“For those who have wondered about Guard Dog’s new name — I wasn’t sure what Doozy would call him. Initially I thought to just keep “Guard Dog” as now he would be Doozy’s guardian. But then I thought of “Sparky.” Sparky was the nickname for Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. There would never have been a Mutts comic strip nor Guard Dog if not for his inspiration. So Guard Dog’s new name is my tribute to a great man, cartoonist, and friend.”
Guard Dog was introduced to the Mutts comic strip in November 27, 1995 but from August 23, 1996 – his thirtieth appearance in the strip – he began to appear eternally chained in someone’s backyard, providing an important animal rights message to readers and fans.
According to the Mutts website:
“Guard Dog made his debut in the Mutts comic strip in 1995 and quickly became one of the strip’s most beloved characters. As a chained dog longing for freedom, he’s played an important role in raising awareness about the cruelty of tethering and has inspired countless Mutts readers to become involved in animal welfare.”
On the genesis of the character, McDonnell had told the Associated Press, in a November 30 article, that he had emerged from initial sketches for an antagonistic character:
“I started in my sketchbooks drawing a tough dog. I drew a big gruff dog and I put a studded collar on him. And then I drew a chain. And when I did that, it changed everything. I realized that it wasn’t a villain. It was a tragic character.”
The ongoing tragedy of Guard Dog – which was once again reflected on in an October 12 cartoon prior to the story of his eventual freedom – was something that McDonnell had to remedy, he said to the AP:
“I think it just hit me that I can’t do it forever and that it has to happen. I had a vague idea what the story was going to be, but I finally took some time and said, ‘Well, what is that story?’ And I was happy with what I came up with. So I said, ‘Now’s the time to do it.’”
The Full Letter:
The time was now.
On November 1st, the Guard Dog story began running in newspapers and on MUTTS.com. And, today, this part of Guard Dog’s journey comes to a happy ending and new beginning.
I’ve been promising you (and myself) for too many years that someday he would be free, and while a few animal advocates have continued to lobby that Guard Dog still has a job to do, many more agreed it was time. Freeing Guard Dog became the longest MUTTS story ever.
Telling a tale like this in a daily comic strip is a different reading experience. Media today trains us for immediate satisfaction for our dwindling attention spans. Telling a longer story with only three panels every 24 hours for seven weeks adds a lot of tension and, I’ve learned, anxiousness. I appreciated your patience and faith.
It was emotional for me, too, in writing and drawing the story — but when I think of all the horrors poor chained dogs have to endure in real life, I knew his story must be told. Guard Dog is made of pen and ink. There are far too many real dogs living chained with far worse stories to tell.
Gretchen Wyler, actress, animal activist and founder of The Ark Trust, famously said: “We must not refuse to see with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.”
I’ve been touched by all the comments on the MUTTS social media posts. I’ve always hoped readers would care about and relate to the MUTTS characters as they do their own furry loved ones. It is heartening that so many of you have written to say that Guard Dog (now Sparky) and Doozy inspired you to help a chained dog, or that one of your own dogs lived their life at the end of a chain until you gave them a loving, forever home. May this comic strip story open more hearts to help chained dogs.
For those who have wondered about Guard Dog’s new name — I wasn’t sure what Doozy would call him. Initially I thought to just keep “Guard Dog” as now he would be Doozy’s guardian. But then I thought of “Sparky.” Sparky was the nickname for Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. There would never have been a MUTTS comic strip nor Guard Dog if not for his inspiration. So Guard Dog’s new name is my tribute to a great man, cartoonist, and friend.
Thank you for all your support, kind words and love. And thank you to all the rescuers and shelter workers — the real unsung heroes.
P.S. I’ve been getting a lot of requests to turn the Guard Dog story into a book. More on that, soon.