Old Yeller: Finding a Friend

yellow mongrel old yellerOld Yeller is an exceptionally sad story, one that these days, many may not know anymore. It was a book by Fred Gipson and, after that, a film, one that primarily revolved around the relationship between a boy and his dog. It harkened back to a more rustic time in American history, when television and other mass media weren’t so widely available and life took place outdoors and in a more “physical” manner, shall we say. The focus on a relationship between a young boy and his dog in the 1860s makes sense within the context of the 1950s, but ultimately, the story is timeless: the relationship between a human being and a dog can be sacred, at times, and certainly full of meaning, affection, and love.

What’s the Story?

The story is one of a yellow mongrel – a dog of mixed parentage, and so not a pure or “true” breed in the sense that we know now. For many, this means that the dog simply isn’t worth having; so many dog-owners today are seeking a dog with an identifiable breed and lineage. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog has no worth; indeed, every dog has worth, and offers quite a bit to a potential owner, if only the owner is willing to see that.

Coming to Love Old Yeller

In the case of Old Yeller, he saves the family from a bear, from wild hogs, and from a wolf. In time, Travis (the boy) and the family come to love the dog and become friends.  Eventually, however, the dog is infected by rabies while he is saving the family from a wolf.  Travis is made to kill Old Yeller in order to save the family from the dog potentially turning on the family. The family then raises one of Yeller’s puppies in his stead, helping Travis to heal from Old Yeller’s death and also presenting a symbol of the cycle of renewal and rebirth that we see with our relationship with dogs. After all, we outlive them – but in a way, they outlive us with the generations of dogs that we often end up raising in their wake. Old Yeller presents this beautiful cycle quite well.