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Dogs, from "Mr. Bojangles," a song by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Subthemes: Service or Support, Food, Bites and Guards

Mr. Bojangles, a ballad by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, makes clear the continuing grief of an aging, alcoholic busker for his companion dog of 15 years. Mr. Bojangles keeps on dancing, to scratch out a living, but his heart was still broken 20 years after that dog up and died. I hope you apprreciate the song. Subthemes of the canine variety are associated with the song.

I knew a man, Bojangles and he danced for you
In worn out shoes
Silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants
The old soft shoe
He jumped so high
He jumped so high
Then he’d lightly touch down

I met him in a cell in New Orleans, I was
Down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age
As he spoke right out
He talked of life
He talked of life
He laughed, clicked his heels and stepped

He said his name, Bojangles and he danced a lick
Across the cell
He grabbed his pants, a better stance
Oh, he jumped so high
Then he clicked his heels
He let go a laugh
He let go a laugh
Pushed back his clothes all around
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

He danced for those in minstrel shows and county fairs
Throughout the south
He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him
Traveled about
The dog up and died
He up and died
After twenty years he still grieves
He said I dance now at every chance in honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
He said I drinks a bit
He shook his head
And as he shook his head
I heard someone ask him please
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Source: LyricFind; Songwriters: Jerry Jeff Walker Mr. Bojangles lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc

Service or Support: For 15 years, Mr. Bojangles unnamed dog was his best friend, counselor and “support dog” avant la lettre. Eminently trainable and wanting to please their owners, dogs have been pressed into service to support human for all kinds of needs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Someone who is blind, for example, can walk about freely with the aid of their guide dog. However, the training and matching process costs a lot, so it is thought that only about 2% of all people who are blind have a guide dog. Guiding Eyes says that there are approximately 10,000 guide dog teams currently in the United States. Hearing dogs alert deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to important sounds. Mobility dogs assist individuals who use wheelchairs, walking devices, or who have balance issues. Medical alert dogs signal the onset of a seizure or low blood sugar, or the presence of allergens, and other warnings. Additionally, according to the American Kennel Club, psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post–traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.

Emotional support dogs provide comfort just by being with a person. But, because these dogs are not trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability, they do not qualify as service dogs under the ADA. Likewise, volunteer therapy dogs soothe and please people through opportunities for petting, affection, and play in retirement homes, college exam periods, and hospitals. Pouring out all these forms of protection and affection, no wonder people mourn the loss of their dog.

Food: Sales of dog food in the United States totaled approximately $7.7 billion in 2020, according to Statista. Who knows what the additional cost is of all the scraps tossed to dogs or what they foraged for and snatched by themselves? Conversely, although humans can digest dog food, the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend. Feeding your dog and walking the dog are rituals of pet ownership.

Bojangles shared his food with his loyal companion and would never have considered eating him. But in famines, starving people have eaten dogs, as the New York Times Book Review, Dec. 26, 2021, at 19 notes: during the Greek Revolution in the 1820’s “hungry townspeople [were] frying dogs in olive oil.” But other parts of the world to this day consume dog meat. The BBC reported in 2017 that “an estimated 30 million dogs across Asia, including stolen family pets, are still killed for human consumption every year.” While the practice is not widespread, it is most common in China, South Korea, The Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the region of Nagaland in India.

Bites and Guards: The dog who accompanied Mr. Bojangles on his wanderings was probably mild mannered, but also stood ready to protect his master. No matter how cute they are, and no matter how much they become part of the family, dogs are still animals, and when provoked they can bite. Each year, dogs in the United States bite more than 4.5 million people, and more than 800,000 of those bitten receive medical attention, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. At least half of those bitten are children. Worse yet, a law firm counted 39 dog bite-related fatalities in the U.S. in 2017. Family dogs were responsible for 72 percent of all dog bite fatalities. Beware of Dog, indeed! Cynophobia is the term for an anxiety disorder based on overwhelming fear of dogs. Dogs guarding properties and prisoners can unleash their animal instincts. Their bite can be much worse than their bite.


Years after his beloved dog died, Mr. Bojangles still pines and grieves. He was closer to his buddy dog than to the people for whom he danced. Animals that are pets, and service dogs particularly, become members of your family, eating and living with you, but every now and then biting.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Dogs, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other rock songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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