The real Beautiful Joe was an Airedale-type dog. He was medium-sized, brown, and described as likely being part bull terrier and part fox terrier; alternately, as a mongrel, a cur, and a mutt. He was originally owned by a local Meaford man, who cruelly abused him to the point of near death, even cutting off his ears and tail. Walter Moore, father of Louise Moore, rescued the dog in 1890, from what likely would have been a violent and painful death. In 1892, Margaret Marshall Saunders (1861–1947), first learned about Beautiful Joe when she visited her brother and his wife, Louise Moore. Saunders was so touched by Joe's story that she wrote a novel-length, fictionalized, autobiographical version of it, entitled Beautiful Joe. Margaret Saunders relocated the story to a small town in Maine and changed the family's name from Moore to Morris to win a literary contest sponsored by the American Humane Education Society. The book was first published in 1893. By 1900, over 800,000 copies sold in the U.S., 40,000 in Canada and 100,000 in the United Kingdom.
Saunders chose to write Beautiful Joe as an "autobiography" and tell the story from Beautiful Joe's viewpoint, and in her imagined version of Beautiful Joe's own words. While it was not the first book to tell a story from an animal's viewpoint – Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was already on its way to becoming classic literature by then – it was still an uncommon narrative device. This unusual viewpoint allowed the reader into Beautiful Joe's mind, and inarguably led the reader to feel more sympathy toward the narrator than if the material had been presented in a straightforward and documentative manner. Also, Saunders believed that she would not be taken seriously as a writer using the obviously female name Margaret Saunders, so she wrote using the variant name Marshall Saunders.
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