Dog Years

Dog Years: A Memoir  by Mark Doty Harper Perennial, 2007

This is the story of a man and his dogs – Beau and Arden.  Mark shares with us his deep relationship of trust and love with these dogs – who travel with him on life’s journey until he helps them through their death as old dogs. Mark writes and teaches poetry so you’ll find quite a bit in this memoir. He’s also prone to philosophizing.

I like Mark’s reply to the oft-repeated question animal protection activists encounter, namely, why are you working on behalf of animals when you could be working on behalf of people?  “…Compassion isn’t a limited quality, something we can only possess so much of and thus must be carefully conserved.”

Another subject which those of us who help animals share with Mark is the desire to do more but the pull to protect ourselves from over commitment.

He tells about his encounter with a gentle street dog in Mexico. He wanted to take her back to the U.S. with him but was ambivalent about the effort that would take and how Arden, now old and sick, would react. The dog so much wanted to be loved and fed and rescued, and I found it the saddest part of the book that he ultimately decided to leave her in Mexico.

There are funny stories too, as when he and his partner (Paul) try to convince Arden to eat various medicines. I’m an expert at making pills into palatable little packages…though, in truth, even when I think I’ve succeeded in slipping something by, it’s not all that unusual to find, hours or days later, some discarded pill discreetly stashed in a corner someplace. But there is no hesitation about the green, fragrant Chinese herbs; they’re immediately, unequivocally spit out, and no amount of persuasion or coercion avails. (p.186)

When Mark tells about events in his life, he also tells how it affects his dogs. For example, Mark was a witness to the attacks on the TwinTowers in NYC on 9/11. Not only was he frightened, confused, anxious but also Arden was affected and became very anxious. Arden – like how many citizens in New York City – has episodes of what seem to be panic. He sits and looks at us, panting, and slaps the floor with his paw and won’t stop. He wanders, breathing heavily, and sometimes gets in a corner of the apartment, his head against the wall, and just stands there. (p. 162)  Arden eventually recovers.

This is a book worth reading.

Reviewed by Linda A. DeStefano and Spanish translation by Rob English

Linda is President of People for Animal Rights, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse13215-0358, (315)488-PURR (7877) (8 a.m. – 10 p.m.), peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

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