Darcy Scott, again, determinedly ignoring the upcoming holiday to answer this most pressing of questions—one we’ve been getting a lot now that almost twenty years have passed since our dog, Harley, died.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like dogs; I’ve loved many of these most devoted of creatures. Peering deeply into my mental rearview, I can conjure a childhood spent glued to the family TV watching fearless canines coming to the aid of mankind. Such classics as Lassie, The Adventures of RinTinTin, the feisty Toto in the annual re-runs of The Wizard of OZ. And when I wasn’t watching, I was reading: Buck in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Old Yeller from the required-reading tear-jerker of the same name, and countless others that spoke to the loyalty and character of man’s best friend.
Dogs figure prominently in my own writing as well. In 2010’s Hunter Huntress, my protagonist Jamie Lloyd and her marine biologist husband shared their sailboat home with a Dachshund named Lucille—her sausage-like body constantly in motion—and Gus, whose wide, disinterested yawns emanated from beneath his furry, Airedale mustache. Boats being the snug (some would say impossibly tight) places that they are, these two were generally in the way, always underfoot, and loved beyond belief. In Matinicus, the first book in my Island Mystery series, a litter of thirteen Lab-mix pups unceremoniously dumped on one of the island beaches by some heartless lowlife are adopted by resident families to grow portly and gregarious, and all but interchangeable as they wander the island confusing the heck out of just about everyone.
My own family has always had dogs—the first in memory being Chrissie, a Boxer already seriously long in the tooth when I first registered her gray-muzzled presence snoozing beside me in the summer hammock. Next up was Susie, a black-as-night Standard Poodle and defacto puppy factory who stoically bore litter after litter of pureblood pups—their sale some eight weeks later helping to keep our family afloat through some seriously lean times.
During my teen years there was Max, short for Maximilian DeFleurville Ginsberg, III—quite the moniker for a scruffy, shepherd-mix rescue with an uncanny aptitude for imitating human behavior, most notably his widely remarked-upon ability to ring the front doorbell when he wanted to come inside. Impressive.
Flash forward a few years, my siblings and I continuing our doggy love affair as we moved into adulthood—my brother raising a half-wild wolf/husky mix that spent some ten years determinedly chewing his way through most of bro’s belongings, while my sister’s growing attraction to smaller breeds blossomed into a fascination with Papillons that resulted in a long tenure as northeast coordinator of a national Papillon rescue organization. For me, though, there was Harley.
By the time Harley came into our lives, I was the single parent of a teenage daughter who more than kept me on my toes, and I had zero interest in acquiring the dog she’d been begging me for since she was five. Not in the plan, I kept telling both of us—one that changed the weekend we returned from a night away to find someone had broken into our home. A dog might actually be a good thing, I quickly backpedaled. He’d not only protect us, he’d teach my daughter some much needed responsibility. And when she eventually moved out, he’d go with her. Yeah, right.
So, off we went to the shelter, where a male pup of about ten weeks quivered against the corner of a pen in abject terror. My daughter made a beeline, already having set her heart on those liquid brown eyes, despite the lack of any encouraging backstory. Quite the opposite. This little guy had been half-starved and severely traumatized when rescued just two weeks before from a farm in northern Maine where half-wild dogs were breeding indiscriminately, barely surviving a savage, Lord of the Flies existence.
We dove in, heart and soul. How could we not? It was my daughter who named him Harley, certain he’d grow into an enormous German Shepherd who’d protect us from meanies and beasties alike. The vet wasn’t so sure of his ancestry. “Could be part Terrier,” he surmised when Harley pretty much stopped growing at nine months. “Some Dachshund thrown in, maybe.”
Okay, so he’d be small, but he’d be fierce. Our own version of Toto, perhaps. After he got over being terrified of strangers, that is. Strangers of the male variety, to be exact. Males with beards. Harley hated beards—the sight of one inevitably resulting in episodes of what we called peeing in place.
There were the usual puppy antics, of course, cute until they weren’t anymore—the gnawing of slippers morphing bizarrely into an enthusiastic gnawing of the walls—a blessedly short-lived craving for wallboard that seemingly overnight became an even scarier appetite for the pink, disposable razors my daughter kept on the edge of the bathtub. He was picky, though—delicately teasing out the blade for consumption while leaving the plastic bits behind. Twice.
Back to the vet—who was skeptical, as well he might be. How could any dog consume such things without shredding those delicate canine insides? But the x-rays confirmed our story, x-rays that are still displayed on his office wall today. “You know,” he said, taking a hard look at Harley as we were on our way out that day, “there could be some Beagle in him. They’ll eat just about anything.”
Harley might have been shy, a mere fifteen-inch high little dude, but he loved the company of people he knew and trusted. And he loved to converse in his own way. When company dropped in, he’d settle himself on the living room rug and join in the chit chat, articulating in long, yawn-like yowls. I kid you not. An aneurism in middle age almost felled him, left him dragging his back paw for the rest of his life, but any dog who could survive swallowing razor blades wasn’t about to let a few mobility issues slow him down. Aboard our boat, he continued to claw his way up the companionway with the ease of a mountain goat. Only once did I grow impatient and carry him up that short run of steps. The look he shot me was one of pure contempt. We never went there again. He remained proud to the end, uncowed by his rough start and the various challenges life kept throwing at him. How many of us can say that?
So back to that original question. Why not another dog? Losing Harley in the fall of 2000 broke our hearts; it’s as simple as that. The thought of replacing him with another, less quirky animal…well we simply couldn’t. His collar lives on a hook by the door to my writing studio now; and while its jingle’s not quite like having him here, it’s close.
Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Award, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in 2010 by Snowbooks, Ltd., UK.