Children are wonderful—I have two myself, and I highly recommend them to anyone who’s curious—but there’s nothing as gratifying as the relationship between a person and an adventure dog. I’ve had several dogs in my life, and I like to think each of them made me a better human. So here we go, an ode to my adventure dogs over the years, and what I learned from each dog.
A small, scrappy thing that had a hard time growing hair and sired babies all over the small town where I grew up, Benji was adventurous in his own way (he camped every night of his life because my father refused to let him in the house), but I was too young to really join those adventures. I was learning to walk and not poop in my pants, so we sort of coexisted and he spent most of his time hunting for his next sexual partner or laying in a sun patch in the middle of the road. One of his puppies made its way back to our house. I named it Scrappy and I knew I would love him forever, but then my grandma came to visit and I ended up selling Scrappy to her for $2. Love is fickle.
I learned from Benji that you don’t have to be gorgeous to be successful in life; personality and self-confidence go a long way.
She was a black lab mix that we bought for a few bucks out of the back of a pickup truck during one of my Little League games. I was maybe 7 when we got her as a puppy and we had her until she died during my second year of college, so we came up together on the hard streets of Kennesaw, Ga. She never wore a leash, never went to the vet, and was essentially allowed to roam free and do what she wanted. Fortunately, what she wanted to do was explore the neighborhood and surrounding woods with me. She was my constant companion. When I got older, she would go for long runs with me, sticking to my hip for miles as I cruised through the neighborhood. As she got older, she would run the first quarter mile, then peel off into a grassy yard and sit in the shade for 30 minutes until I climbed out the depths of the neighborhood, then she’d stretch and join me for the last quarter mile of the run back home.
I learned from Ebony that loyalty might be the greatest attribute a person can have. Also, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Cooper the Dog
A wiry, ill-behaved golden retriever that was kicked out of his first home for standing on the table and eating the Thanksgiving turkey, Cooper was a tornado of energy. I loved him immediately and he saw me through college, then moved with me as I headed west, first to Texas, then Colorado, then California, and finally back here to North Carolina. We were inseparable. When I taught classes in grad school, he sat in the front of class with me. When I went to Las Vegas to camp in the desert, he went with me. He surfed every morning that we lived in San Diego, rolling in the seaweed that gathered on the beach. He was there for my first mountain bike rides. My first real trail runs. He camped with me, slept in the back of a tiny Volkswagen Jetta with me, and stayed awake worrying about the scratches coming from the walls in sketchy, $39-a-night hotel rooms.
He was too excited to sleep when we camped in the sand on the Outer Banks, so I let him sit outside the tent, holding his leash in my hand so he couldn’t run into the breakers. He was probably happiest when we were cross-country skiing, putting in big miles along the A.T. over Big Bald. Or maybe when we were canoeing in North Georgia. Or maybe when we were jumping from rocks into deep swimming holes. When we drove, he sat in the front seat and put his paw in my palm so we could hold hands. Honestly, he was always happy. Except on the rare occasion when I left him home alone. He had separation anxiety and chewed holes in his arms if I was out of sight. I get it. I didn’t like being apart from him either.
I refer to him as Cooper the Dog, because we eventually named our son Cooper to honor his legacy, and it gets confusing around the dinner table when I start telling stories about Cooper cornering a skunk in San Diego or jumping out of the window of a hotel in Vail and my son doesn’t remember doing any of those things.
I learned a lot from Cooper the Dog. Mostly I learned that powder days are actually better with friends.
Moses the rescue dog. Moses the worrier. Moses the biter of children. Moses the protector. Moses was anxious about the world in general. Other dogs made him angry. Other children worried him. Concrete statues of bunnies frightened him. He skipped the puppy phase and seemed to be born an old man. More specifically, he seemed to be born an old man who watches too much Fox News and is angry at the world. He was also the smartest dog we’ve ever welcomed into our home.
Because he didn’t have “social skills,” we couldn’t take him many places. He couldn’t come to the office with me. He couldn’t play with other dogs. We had to put him in the bedroom when the kids had friends over. When he was younger, we ran together. He never loved it (I’m not sure that Moses ever loved anything except his family), but he did it because I loved it. He was selfless like that.
From Moses, I learned that sacrifices don’t feel like sacrifices when you make them for the ones you love.
Rocket the Adventure Dog
Where to start with Rocket the Adventure Dog? He’s a rescue who was living on the hard streets of Marion before he came to us at the beginning of the pandemic. He has his own theme song titled, appropriately, “Rocket the Adventure Dog.” He has two modes: “snuggle” and “party.” There is no in between. He likes to run fast and far and nothing I’ve ever done seems to wear him out. He doesn’t chase squirrels, he catches them. It’s a problem. He’s game for any adventure as long as it’s on dry land; water of any kind is his kryptonite. Lakes, rivers, oceans, puddles, rain…he wants nothing to do with it. He’s young, and we’re still learning from each other. Maybe the most exciting aspect of Rocket the Adventure Dog? He goes for runs with my daughter and I see the cycle starting over again. She’ll have her own adventure dogs eventually, and so will my son, but right now, we share Rocket. We’re all learning from him.
Cover photo: Rocket the Adventure Dog, with the author’s wife, Liz, and daughter, Addie. Photo courtesy of the author