“Dog Years: A Memoir”–a man and his dogs

Doty, Mark. “Dog Years: A Memoir”, HarperCollins, 2007.

A Man and His Dogs

Amos Lassen

Having a dog myself, I know how important my little Jack Russell, Sophie, is to me so I was really glad to see another gay man write down how he feels about his dog. Mark Doty, an award winning writer and poet explores with intelligence and great compassion the relationship between his dog and himself in “Dog Years: A Memoir”. I have long been a fan of Doty’s so when I saw this book I was very anxious to sit down and have myself a good read which is exactly what I did. He roped me during the first chapter and I sat riveted and reading for the entire next day. It is pure poetry combined with a great deal of intellectualism. What I love the most is the way which he shows how our canine pets teach us more about humanity than we could ever teach them about anything. Doty wrote from the point of view of the dog and he showed that dogs are not just pets and that they are with us during major life changes and minor happenings and are as affected by them as we are.

This is a beautiful memoir and deals with grief and loss and the comfort that we receive from our dogs. Doty’s two adopted pets—Beau, a Golden Retriever and Arden, a black retriever brought comfort to him when he needed it most. In the most convincing and persuasive manner he shows us that his dogs found him as important to them as he found them important to him.

Doty has already made valuable contributions to the field of literature and when seeing a book about dogs written by him lets the reader know that he is in for a special treat. He deals with the relationship of humans to dogs but he also deals with grief and loss with wisdom and extreme grace. In fact even though the book is supposedly about dogs, I found it possible to suppose that it is equally about love and how to find pleasure in the minutest details of life. There were several times I had to stop and dry my eyes as well as laugh loudly. Doty has that kind of command of the language and emotion.

This is quite simply a wonderful book and Doty manages to capture thought beautifully. While reading the section of Doty’s experiences as his longtime companion died of AIDS and how Arden was the one that pulled Doty through the ordeal, I literally wept. The dog carried the grief so as to absolve Doty of some of the pain but Doty also says that the dog “carried his will to love”. He regards his dogs as “secret heroes”. And when the dogs begin to decline, the poet of Doty arises and handles the situations with true beauty. As he was lucky to have his dogs, they were that much luckier to have a master with such wisdom and compassion. This is unquestionably the most beautifully written book I have read in a long, long time. What a treasure we have in Mark Doty.

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