by Mark Doty
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Dog Years was, perhaps, not the best choice of read for a time when I was convinced we were going to lose our chihuahua, Zorro. (He’s got a heart condition, and while we know we don’t have much time with him, he’s no longer in that “death rattle” stage.), but I couldn’t resist the happy golden retriever on the cover.
This memoir of the author’s last months with his partner Wally, of the new relationship with partner Paul, and of his two dogs, Arden and Beau, is a rambling story, loosely chronological, but not entirely orderly, in much the same way that walking the dog around the block really involves zigging this way to sniff a fence post, or zooming the opposite direction to pee on that particular blade of grass, or going wildly off course because it was imperative to chase a bird/cat/squirrel/kid on a bicycle.
A gentle read, parts that stood out for me were moments on the beach at Sandy Hook, NJ, which is where I grew up, and the daily routine of dog stewardship (because really, they own us more than we ever own them), and the pain of loss when each finally went to his end – this isn’t a spoiler – it’s obvious from the back cover that the dogs would not survive the book. I laughed when I read about Arden spitting out his medication, and cried when I read that he suffered from anxiety attacks after 9/11 (the dogs lived a good part of their lives in New York).
Dog Years is, in many ways, a memoir of a man told through the eyes of his dogs, though it’s never in their voice. Author Mark Doty is also a poet, and you can hear the poetry underlying the rhythm of his prose.
Goes well with:: Cool water and bits of cheese to share with a cuddly canine friend.