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Story Behind the Story #42: The Good Dog

The Good Dog

My two sons, Robert and Jack, though four years apart in age, were insep­a­ra­ble friends. But when Robert start­ed high school, my wife and I decid­ed Jack need­ed a new friend. That’s how McKin­ley, an Alaskan mala­mute, came into our lives. He would live with us for almost four­teen years, and become the quin­tes­sen­tial fam­i­ly dog. A big, hand­some dog, weigh­ing  more than a hun­dred pounds at his peak, he was much loved, was very affec­tion­ate, play­ful and close—in his own way—to every indi­vid­ual mem­ber of the family.

He was very big, big enough—with his wolf-like looks—to alarm strangers. That said, he was end­less­ly affec­tion­ate. But when sirens blew—fire engines, an ambulance—he would lift his head and howl like a wolf, a deeply beau­ti­ful and res­onate call from and to the wild.

A cou­ple of sto­ries:  Jack was read­ing the first Har­ry Pot­ter book, and like mil­lions of oth­ers, utter­ly absorbed. He was absorbed to such a degree, he was ignor­ing McKin­ley. At one point Jack took a break, but left his book open on his bed. McKin­ley jumped up and deft­ly tore out the chap­ter Jack had been read­ing and shred­ded it. Pay atten­tion to me!

In our moun­tain home a gigan­tic storm roared direct­ly over­head. End­less thun­der and crack­ling light­en­ing. It was too much for McKin­ley. This huge dog leaped into my lap all a‑tremble and buried his large head in my arms. Help me!

I had read The Hid­den Life of Dogs by Eliz­a­beth Mar­shall Thomas, which detailed how domes­tic dogs can live an inde­pen­dent life with oth­er dogs even as they con­tin­ue to live with humans. At the time we had begun to spend time in Steam­boat, Col­orado, which had—or seemed to have—more free-roam­ing dogs than people.

All these ingre­di­ents went into my writ­ing The Good Dog, in which I imag­ine a McKin­ley-like dog liv­ing his qua­si-inde­pen­dent life (with and with­out a boy named Jack) in Steam­boat. The goal was to describe his dog’s life and adven­tures from McKin­ley’s point of view, par­al­lel to the life of his humans.

Who is tak­ing care of whom? And what secret adven­tures can a dog have—with nev­er (or almost nev­er) any human inter­ven­tion.  The book tries to make sense (and fun) of a dog’s life.  Read the book and if you have a dog liv­ing with you (or are you liv­ing with your dog?) you just might ask your­self: What oth­er life is going on?

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