Bark if you’ve heard this one before
By Brian Doyle
On Friday evenings I usually watch movies with the Dog, because the woman of the house works late at the hospital and the teenagers are off committing pranks and misdemeanors, but in recent weeks I have taken to reading dog stories to the Dog, which he appears to like. He is a fascinating being for any number of reasons, the Dog—for one thing he survived deep in the remote woods around Mount Saint Helens as a puppy, after someone abandoned him there, and for another he is the only dog I have ever met who loves Peter O’Toole movies—but it has been all the more fascinating to watch his reactions to the canine canon. He dislikes stories about collies; he likes stories about hunting dogs; he dislikes stories told from the dog’s point of view; he likes stories in which there are other animals; he dislikes stories in which dogs wear clothes or muzzles; he likes stories in which dogs bite bad guys. So far his favorite stories are by E. B. White and his friend the dachshund Fred; James Thurber and his friend the dog Muggs, Jack London and the various half-wild muscular dogs who populate his wonderful stories; and most of all Jim Kjelgaard and the various dogs who populate his wonderful work (among them bloodhounds, a husky named Chiro, a greyhound, a staghound, and several Irish setters). It is Kjelgaard in particular the Dog almost swoons over, because the dogs in his books often wander into the woods on their own, unchained and unfenced, to hunt whatever small game they can catch, until such time as they are expected back for work with whatever boy is our plucky hero this time. If I was a writer of any quality at all I would be able to show you right about here how his eyes gleam when we read Snow Dog or Trailing Trouble, and you can very nearly hear his dreams of wandering loose in the woods again, which I hope to God never comes to pass, because he has escaped the yard six times in three years so far, and once killed six chickens on Ash Street, which cost me a cool $100 in blood money, and once killed four goslings near the creek on Maple Street, and once was caught in a compromising situation with a poodle on Oak Street, which is a phrase I never thought I would have to write in this lifetime.
Tonight’s reading will be Alfred Payson Terhune, who wrote more than a hundred stories about dogs, most of them collies, I am sorry to say, but some of them not collies, and if I know the Dog we will be leafing right past the collie stories to get to the good stories. Personally I would like to read some of Alfred Payson Terhune’s books that are not about dogs at all, for example Syria from the Saddle or How to Box to Win (Terhune was a gifted boxer), but if I read those I will be reading alone, and I have come to like reading with the Dog, so dog stories it will be. I spend enough time reading without the Dog as it is, I feel, and I miss reading with my children now that they are out robbing trains or whatever it is they do on Friday nights, so reading with the Dog it shall be tonight, and happy we will be.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the novel Mink River. He writes the weekly Epiphanies column at theamericanscholar.org.