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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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