The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

What I’ve learned about dogs

Grady the Golden tastes the running water.One thing I’ve learned about dogs is, “don’t buy one.” The only dog to ever live with me that I paid for didn’t stay long.

Actually, I think someone stole him to hunt deer – you could use dogs in Virginia when I lived there. I bet he didn’t object when the dognapper promised a life in the woods. In a way, I don’t blame him.

Then there was Fred the Famous Female Collie, who came with my wife to Gettysburg about three months after I did.

Of course, when I came here, I had to find an apartment that would allow a dog, so Fred stayed behind while I searched. Three months later, wife and dog arrived.

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 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. 

The message was clear. 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, and Fred the Famous Female Collie, became my almost constant companion, in the woods and in the car, until she expired a few years later. 

Then came Grady the Golden. He’d been chained outside by his previous owner; we were introduced by the veterinarian who had surgically removed his collar. How anyone could mistreat critters or humans that way …

Grady divided his time between mooching Oreo cookies from my new wife at home and teaching me stuff about the forest on our wanders around the South Mountains.

Dogs have 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 been back when he stopped at the exact spot to sniff around, sometimes dig a little. I don’t know what was there, but he clearly remembered it was at least interesting.

He would sample nearly every bit of water he came upon. Sometimes he would go out of his way to sample a source he had not yet visited.

What is it about a dog that makes him want to taste and smell every bit of water he comes upon? It’s not a thirst thing. I’ve watched pond levels drop as Grady refilled his internal canteen.

But he would stop to taste nearly every stream or puddle he came upon. Just a lap or two to catalog the sample. I’ve seen him turn his nose up at water he found uninteresting. Or just plain hazardous. He never said which, but I came to figure 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. Finding water was not the only reason I enjoyed wandering with Grady, but it was one of the things he was good at. And he wasn’t for sale.

You have read this far, for which I thank you. Now, I have a request. Please share this column. Click the “Share” button on Facebook to share it on your timeline, or copy the URL and send it to to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.


  1. Great dog story! I’ve missed reading your posts. Not sure where they went. But, I’m glad to have stumbled on this one.

    • I’m glad you refound it. I’m glad you wanted to. I don’t always post notifications in all places because sometimes their theme doesn’t fit some forums — when the environment is more slanted to human relations, for instance — but they all are on this site by Monday every week. Thanks for your note.

    • BTW, I wonder if you’d tell me how you found it?

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