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Lair of the Beasts: Dog of the Dead
A Head of Horror
By Nick Redfern
September 28, 2013
Practically no fan of all-things of a zombie nature will need telling how dangerous and deadly the heads of the walking or running dead are. Not only is the zombie capable of inflicting a devastating, infectious bite when its head is attached to its body, it can also do likewise after decapitation.
Indeed, while penetrating the brain of a zombie will put it down permanently, just removing the head from the body will not reduce – at all – the ability of the creature, or what is left of it, to bite down hard on its victim.
Such a scenario was put to very good and graphic use in both The Walking Dead and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But, is it really feasible that a head could be removed from its body and still continue to not only exist, but to even retain some of its faculties? Incredibly, the answer is “yes.”
In January 1955, one of the most graphically unsettling creatures of all time was paraded for display at the Surgical Society of Moscow, in the former Soviet Union. That creature was a large white dog, happily wagging its lengthy tail, and not at all concerned or intimidated by the large and eager crowd.
But, this was no normal dog, however. Protruding from its right-hand side was the head of another dog. It belonged to a small, brown-haired puppy and had been sliced off its original body and reattached to the seemingly quite happy hound now on public display. How had such an abomination come to be?
It was all due to the work and somewhat fringe research of a Dr. Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov, who, at the time, ran the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences’ organ-transplanting facility. Demikhov’s research – as the events of January 1955 made clear – did not begin and with the likes of hearts, kidneys and livers, however.
He was fascinated by the idea of head removal and reattachment. Despite having, effectively, been killed by decapitation, the head was quickly scooped up and immediately thereafter affixed to the body of its new host. Things did not go what one might term smoothly, however.
Post-death, and after reanimation in which veins and arteries were carefully reconfigured, the newly-attached head of the puppy did not act like those of most puppies – that’s to say in happy fashion. Rather, it exhibited definitive zombie-like behavior. The reanimated dead of zombie lore generally only attack the life-forms they once were – namely, human beings.
That, apparently, goes for dogs, too. Without warning, the zombiefied puppy suddenly lashed out at the dog to which it was now permanently tied. It did so violently, and on one occasion succeeded in chomping down hard on the ear of the unfortunate animal.
The team hastily tried to calm the rage-filled pup, particularly so given the fact that the shocked audience was looking on with growing horror.
As for what this particular experiment achieved, it demonstrated that it was feasible to essentially kill a living creature by decapitation – a procedure that, for all intents and purposes, results in death 100 percent of the time – but then to breathe life into it again via a somewhat symbiotic process of the horrific kind.
Those who believe that only the head of a fictional zombie can remain active, violent and crazed after it is removed from its body might now very well want to reassess that stance.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including Monster Diary, There’s something in the Woods, and The Real Men in Black.