Friday, July 16, 2010

A Dog's Life

At camp, it truly is a dog’s life. There are no sidewalks or leash laws (well, there might be, but no one pays much attention to them), and most of the dogs on my dirt road are allowed to roam freely.

My own dog Oliver loves to be at camp. One reason is that he has my undivided attention. I don’t get up and leave for work every morning, and because I’m at camp, I don’t go away on long business trips or vacations. I confess that all the dogs we have owned have been allowed to sleep on the furniture, and at night, slumber along beside us in the bed. Oliver sleeps attached to me like a tick. He doesn’t bother me much except for the occasional leg twitching during chipmunk chasing episodes during his REM sleep.

Oliver's dog friend Elli visits him every day.  She knows he is old, so she just touches his nose to say hi and then she leaves to find more frisky companions.

Oliver is an old dog. He’s lost a few teeth. He used to bark happily when I had been gone and returned. Now, he can’t hear me when I come home so it might be ten or fifteen minutes before he realizes I’m there, but then he barks happily, just like always. Oliver still likes to play “throw toy” after dinner. He enjoys the company of children and other dogs. He loves to swim in the lake and ride in the kayak.

Although his eyes are cloudy, he can still see anyone who approaches the camp by land or by water. Oliver is still a great watchdog, but he’s easily startled when anyone approaches him from behind. I can leave the room and he doesn’t realize I’m gone. Sometimes his hips hurt and his legs fail him after he’s been sleeping for a long time, and he has a hard time climbing the stairs. He no longer chases chipmunks, but he insists on a morning walk. We walk the same distance as always, but we do it much more slowly than we did, say, five years ago.

I once wrote a book about dogs, called The Dogs of War. It is a collection of stories about the role of companion animals, mostly dogs, during the American Civil War, spin off research from a historical novel I was writing at the same time. Oliver was by my side as I was writing both of these books, listening as I tried out my stories on him. I talk out loud when I write, and then I type what I say—it sounds strange, but it works for me. Oliver has heard many of my stories over the last 13 years. I imagine if he could tell me a story, he would tell me about a woman who spends her summers in Maine with a wonderful dog.

“Is that all?” I ask.

“Isn’t that enough?” he replies.

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