The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Dogs who have owned me

One thing I’ve learned about dogs is, “don’t buy one.”

The first dog to occupy my life was my mom’s, an English Setter named Devil, short for JAM’s Devil Dog (a story that is a dog for another bone.)

I was about 12 when Devil came into my life. We romped and swam and on hot summer days, he was a great pillow for a youngster taking a break from sweating chores.

Several years later, I was visiting a new friend on Adak. An Irish-Lab named Dutch lived there and found he could get and keep my attention. At the end of the visit, the human lord of the house asked would I like to take Dutch to live with me; there would still be too many dogs in residence, he said, and it appeared Dutch and I had bonded.

“You want to go with me,” I asked the dog, who immediately jumped into the Datsun pickup. For the next two years, except for when I was at work, if you saw one of us, the other was not far away. Like many people who ended their Navy-mandated sojourn on the island, when we left, Dutch took up residence with new arrivals. I’ve often wondered how many other families loved him as much as ours did.

Fast forward a few years to a new abode in Hampton, Virginia, and the only dog to ever live with me that I paid. Unfortunately, though I do like beagles, this one did not stay long enough to imprint his name. Someone stole him, probably to hunt deer – you could hunt with dogs in Virginia when I lived there. I bet he didn’t object when the dognapper promised a life in the woods. I don’t blame him.

Another press on the Fast-Forward button and there was Fred the Famous Female Collie, who came with my wife to Gettysburg about three months after I did.

The first night they were here, Wife Sandy and I went out to dinner. When we got home, a bag of knitting was strewn around the living room – but not taken apart. Fred just lay there. Not particularly proud, but not guilty; she’d made a statement and left it for us to translate.

A couple of nights later, Sandy and I again went out without Fred. When we returned, the knitting was again scattered across the apartment floor, but this time it was completely disassembled. The huge plastic knitting needles had been crunched and tossed in pieces. Even a shoe, a cheap summer sandal of womanly design, had been nibbled upon. 

Fred was OK sharing the house with another woman but was absolutely unwilling to be left at home alone while the other woman went to the town with the man.

Sandy died a year later, followed nearly two years later by Fred. One of the nice things about being a human is our approximately 80-or-so-year life expectancy. Unfortunately, dogs age about a week for every day they’re with us.

Then came a rescued Golden Retriever named Grady who had been chained outside by his previous owner. We were introduced by the veterinarian who had surgically removed his collar. I normally eschew violence, but had I been the person who rescued Grady, I might have made an exception.

Grady was my new lady’s dog when we were home, and mine when the mountains called. Thus, he divided his time between mooching Oreo cookies at home and teaching me about the forest on our wanders around the South Mountains.

Dogs keep an amazing catalog of places they’ve been, with notes about whether they want to go back. That even includes things they found to eat and drink. I’ve been out with Grady when he discovered something interesting, then stopped on the next trip at the exact spot to sniff around and, sometimes, dig a little. I don’t know what was there, but he clearly remembered it had been at least interesting.

Occasionally, he would turn his nose up at water he found uninteresting. Or hazardous – he never said which, but I decided if he didn’t want to drink it, neither did I. Occasionally, he would take a taste, decide it was unfavorable, and next time we went by there, he would simply sniff: “Yup, same water. Let’s go” he seemed to say.

I visited my niece last weekend. We fell asleep visiting and watching TV. A couple of hours later, I woke with one of her pups using my leg for a pillow, and the other asleep between us. For a few moments, I flirted with jealousy.

My spouse and I have come close a few times to inviting another pup to join the household, but situations change and it just hasn’t been workable. That’s OK, though. Whenever I hear a little snuffle in the weeds and turn to find Devil, Dutch, Fred and Grady – and several others – leading, following or simply using my leg for a pillow.

I’d wager I’m not the only one with such memories. Please share a note in the comments.


  1. Rufus was a Puggle and a purchased pup. Before he had to go we would take him and the other pups hiking to the various places around here. On a Kings Gap hike we decided to take a new for us trail. We were a bit disoriented on the return trip and nearly took a wrong turn. Rufus stopped and took a good sniff at one particular spot and immediately we realized that he knew which way we were to go if we planned on heading back the way we came!

  2. I am constantly amazed at how many of us so easily blow off the wisdom of those who are not us.

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