Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dog Days

On the Vineyard I've been reading and staying up way too late at night to finish the most unforgettable novel I've read in a long time -- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by first time novelist David Wroblewski.

It's a big, compelling, beautifully written, yet totally accessable book. I'm glad I didn't read too much about it before I picked it up. I knew that dogs were an important part of the story and I wondered if I'd relate. I've never had my own dog. Mookie, Larry's dog, was the first dog I ever loved.

She was also the first dog I ever knew well. I called her my grand-dog. George and I took care of her when Larry had to be away. She stayed with us in New York and one November afternoon George took her with him when he went running in Riverside Park. He was gone a very long time. I later learned he was afraid that he'd lost Mookie . He thought she was right there with him and then, she wasn't. He searched everywhere, asked everyone if they'd seen a small white and brown dog. By then it was late afternoon and growing dark. I don't know what George must have been thinking as he crossed Riverside Drive, a busy street, and entered our apartment building. Surely he knew I not to go there.

But when he entered our lobby ready to face the music, there was Mookie! She'd crossed Riverside Drive on her own and come home. Amazing - since she didn't even live there. I don't know what we'd have done or how we'd have gone on if we'd been responsible for her disappearance.

Another time, Mookie was in our care on the Vineyard. It was around Labor Day weekend and I was watching the US OpenTennis finals on TV when I realized I hadn't seen Mookie in a while. She wasn't anywhere in the house. We searched outside, down by the water, out in the woods - but no Mookie. Again, it was late afternoon and growing foggier by the minute. We live a mile down a dirt road, with other dirt roads going off in different directions.

We got on bikes and covered the area, calling to her. Nothing. We knew that when Larry left town Mookie always tried to find him. It was Larry's idea to take her with us to the airport. She would know that Larry was getting on a plane and since she didn't like to fly, she'd accept his absence. But I was sure she had followed his scent all the way to the airport. I convinced George that we had to drive there right away. So we did. (What was I thinking...Lassie Come Home?)

When we pulled up I saw a policeman who recognized the panic in my voice. He hadn't seen a small white and brown dog but suggested I call the police and report her missing. Of course! Why didn't we think of that first?

We learned the police (or was it animal control?) had indeed picked up a small white and brown dog on Lambert's Cove Road -- this is a busy road at the beginning of the mile long dirt road leading to our house. My instinct was right -- she was trying to find Larry. I hesitated before asking -- was she okay?

Yes, he said, but she was a very bad dog. She'd brought traffic to a stop on Lambert's Cove Road on a Sunday afternoon. The police were called by someone in a car who couldn't get to where he was going because Mookie kept zig-zagging across the road. When they arrived they couldn't catch her. Mookie could be scary if you didn't know her. She was an alpha dog. She growled. She snapped. They had to catch her with a net. Even then, she wouldn't let them get close enough to read her tag or her tatooed ID. She was taken to doggie jail but at least she was safe.

I said I would get her right away. I was told I'd have to wait until the next day. That doesn't make any sense, I said. So George and I drove there. Mookie was in the last kennel. A runaway curled up with a stuffed teddy bear she'd been given.

She was chagrined when she saw us, tail between her legs. I told her I'd get her out if it took all night. And it almost did. I called everyone I could think of -- I said things I couldn't believe I was saying -- I threatened: If you don't let me have her tonight I'm going to sleep outside her kennel and write about this for the local paper! One call led to another. I talked to a lot of animal lovers that night and I've never forgotten their understanding of my situation and their kindness. Finally, someone knew someone who knew someone with a key. Arrangements were made to meet him.

At last Mookie was rescued. By then it was quite late. We kept her in our bedroom all night.

We didn't let her out of our sight until Larry returned home and when he did and I told him the story he said, You should have let her spend the night in jail. Maybe she'd have learned a lesson.
Gee, thanks Larry!

And those were only two of Mookie's many adventures. There were so many more. She once rolled out of Larry's car onto a highway.

She once jumped into the water and tried to catch Larry, who was sailing into Vineyard Sound.

He and George had to drop the sails, scoop Mookie out of the water, bring her back to me in a dinghy, then continue their sail.

I wrapped her in a blanket and held her for an hour until she stopped shaking.

Mookie lived to be sixteen. I can't see a Jack Russell without thinking of her -- without missing her, the humor she brought into our lives, the unconditional love she had for Larry.

Did reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle remind me of Mookie? It reminded me of her loyalty and her intelligence. But the Sawtelle dogs are something else. All I can say is it's a good thing I'm not trying to write a novel this summer. There's no way I can even read another book right now, let alone write one. I'll savor this story and the characters, both human and canine, for a long time. Thank you, David Wroblewski, for writing this book. Read it and let me know what you think.

Happy Reading!
And Happy Dog Days of Summer,