New book unravels the legend
of Bummer and Lazarus


One of San Francisco’s most endearing legacies is the story of Bummer and Lazarus, two stray dogs that roamed the city streets in the 1860s. As with many treasured tales, this one has been embellished over the years and is now a blend of truths, half-truths, and far-fetched fabrication.

The original story is simple enough. Bummer and Lazarus were strays and acknowledged no master. They gained the respect and attention of San Franciscans because of their expertise at killing rats and their unique bond of friendship. Newspapers constantly reported their escapades, whether it was stealing a bone from another dog or stopping a runaway horse. City supervisors exempted them from a strict ordinance that banned dogs downtown unless they had a leash and/or muzzle. When Lazarus died, one newspaper ran a lengthy obituary entitled “Lament for Lazarus.” While Bummer lay dying, the local papers vied with each other in updating the news, and reporter Mark Twain added his characteristically caustic commentary.

From these facts a number of myths have evolved. In a new and expanded version of his 1984 book Bummer & Lazarus: San Francisco’s Famous Dogs Malcolm E. Barker skillfully separates reality from myth, and re-introduces the original story as it appeared in San Francisco’s newspapers in the early 1860s. The resulting book is a charming tale not only of the relationship between these two dogs but also of the relationship between the dogs and the city of San Francisco. As a bonus, Barker includes stories of Jack, Chuffy the Chain Gang Dog, and other dogs that shared the city’s streets with Bummer and Lazarus.