When my dog Doc’s leg twitched in his sleep, I always figured that he was dreaming, probably of wide, open fields or endless stretches of beach where he could run and run and run. As fleet as Doc was — and he was plenty fast, with borzoi mixed in with retriever and chow — he couldn’t outrun old age, and it finally caught up with him this past weekend. The Big Sleep.
I could write a book about Doc, and then I realized I already have, sort of. Back when my cousins, Meg and Gail, and I were working on the first Caroline Cousins’ mystery novel, Fiddle Dee Death, I acquired a skinny yellow yearling of a dog with a happy-go-lucky demeanor. Naturally, I wrote the dog into the book, beginning when narrator Lindsey Fox first spots him on a lonely beach.
“I saw the dog then. The color of sea oats, he came over the crest of a dune and sniffed the air. Then he saw me. Tail wagging, he splashed through a shallow pool left by the outgoing tide, fifty-plus pounds of fur heading toward me.”
Later, “The dog was still sitting there, looking at me alertly, as if he understood every word we were saying. Instead of being black, his nose was the pink color of an eraser. His ears, more like a shepherd’s than a Lab, stood at attention.”
The dog, known as Pablo, makes several other appearances in the book, and later is adopted by Lindsey, who gives him a new name despite her cousin Mam’s objections. The dog becomes Doc after Lindsey’s childhood stuffed dog, who got so worn out her mother sewed him a slipcover for his torso before Lindsey took him to college. He later graduated to the top of her bedroom closet. (As the cousins say, it’s all true, except for the part that’s not.)
Doc is also in our subsequent books, Marsh Madness and Way Down Dead in Dixie, doing regular doggy things like barking at a possible ghosts, riding in boats, and peeing on a Confederate rose bush.
I have to say I particularly liked the reviewer who noted Doc’s presence (“a great dog”) in one write-up. I always notice dogs in books, even if they’re just supporting characters such as the cool Walter Payton in Carole Anshaw’s novel Carry the One. And, of course, I grew up on great dog stories: Old Yeller, Big Red, Lassie and Albert Payson Terhune’s collies, among others. Just thinking about the coonhounds in Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows makes my eyes tear up. Oh, and faithful Greyfriars Bobby, and Buck from The Call of the Wild.
There are many good ”true” dog tales, too, of late, like Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing, about her search-and-rescue Golden Retriever, and Luis Carlos Montalvan’s Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.
My new favorite hero dog is a rescued greyhound, whose poignant story is told in Steven Wolf’s Comet’s Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life (Algonquin, review copy). Wolf, an attorney suffering from a degenerative spinal condition, moved from Nebraska to Arizona for his health and was introduced to a greyhound-advocacy group. He was “adopted” by the mistrustful Comet, a cinnamon-striped racer who had been mistreated, and taught her to climb stairs, play with other dogs, and to be a loving companion. But the bond between them became even tighter when Wolf’s health deteriorated and he trained Comet as a service dog. She pulled the covers off his bed and towed his grocery cart, surprising even other greyhound owners with her strength and adaptability. It’s a story with a happy ending, too.
Doc’s favorite girl was a greyhound named Olive, who belonged to my friend Suzy, who was Doc’s other favorite person and took this great picture of him on Edisto Island a few years ago, as well the one of him and his pal Merlin. I like to think now of Doc and Olive running on some heavenly shore, along with Merlin the coonhound, Harvey the collie, Watson the wheaten terrier, and all the other good dogs that have gone before.