The Land of Eternal Dog Days

Note: A version of this column appeared in The Olympian, July 26, 2006.

I’ve read that folks in the Pacific Northwest have more dogs than children. If this is true, I should probably update my first impressions of our new home here to include those of Copper, our 2-year-old Aussie.  This being dog country and the dog days approaching, his opinion of Olympia should count too.

Last fall, as Copper started investigating his new neighborhood, he discovered the fun of snitching gloves and shoes from neighbors, an activity we cut short with an invisible fence. Next, he learned to pick blackberries, nosing his snout in among the vines.

His first real adventures, however, began with the seal. One morning, descending with Copper and my son to the beach, I spotted a log lying above the tideline. Not unusual, except this log had flippers. Quickly, I hustled boy and dog back to the house and went looking for someone to help me with a dead seal. Eventually, I found someone at Cascadia Research, who took some blubber from the seal and anchored it at the water line for the tide to carry out.

The next morning, Copper disappeared from the yard, which was unusual since the electric fence went in. He reappeared shortly after I called, ecstasy in his eye, red streaks down his white chest — reeking. After hosing him down, I spent the rest of the morning, rake in hand, trying to shove that seal back out into the tide.

A month later, as I was walking with my children on the beach, Copper had his first-ever vision of his reason for being. We were collecting a caché of golf balls that had washed up, and a friendly dog came down to sniff Copper out. A moment later, I noticed three more dogs meandering down, and I stood trying to puzzle out why these dogs looked so angular. Then they began to bleat. Copper’s instinct went off, an instant before mine, and no more did he care about his doggie playmate. He was after the goats. There we were, me, my two children, two dogs, three goats, the owner of the goats and his wife, chasing Copper round and round, trying to nab him before he nabbed the goats.  (My thanks to the owner and his wife, who graciously understood a dog fulfilling his mission.)

But it wasn’t just goats. Besides herding seagulls, sandpipers, and an otter, one evening Copper flushed a deer from a thicket and was in hot pursuit.  I was no match for him in my yard shoes. Thankfully, he was no match for the deer. Still, he disappeared down the beach and, after searching and calling till twilight, I turned sadly homeward. Trudging up the steps to the yard, heart heavy, I wondered how to tell my children I had lost their dog. When I reached the top, there he stood in the yard — tongue lolling, eyes sparkling, looking at me as if to say, “Hey, where ya been?”

Oh, doggie.

If I have any skills at interpreting a dog’s mind, I’d say Copper loves this place. His home here sure beats the fenced-in postage stamp of yard he used to know.