When I was 10 years old, my family went to a neighbor’s house and picked from a litter of golden retriever puppies one floppy, fuzzy fellow to bring home. Then we sat down to brainstorm. Our neighbors had been calling the puppy Scooter, which was cute enough, but we wanted to give our new family member a thoughtful name that meant something special.
After many, many shot-down ideas, we agreed on Kip, the name of a character in a Jan Brett children’s book. Kip the Cave Boy befriends a wolf, and when they learn they can survive the harsh Pleistocene days better together, Paleowolf becomes the first dog. It was a story we’d read again and again as kids, one favorite of many.
Even those of us who don’t love dogs do love dog stories. Dogs are faithful and kind and selfless—thus stories about dogs are often triumphs of loyalty, tests of fortitude, or expressions of profound friendship. A story about dogs can believably be about pure, unironic goodness.
There’s the story of Argos, among the first dogs mentioned in Western literature, who waits diligently as his master Odysseus fights overseas. Over 20 years, Argos grows old and frail, but he hangs on. When Odysseus finally returns safely, Argos “fulfill[s] his destiny of faith” and dies in peace. There’s the poodle in John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” an archetypal “man’s best friend,” and a source of comfort and effortless companionship for Steinbeck. Then there’s Buck, the sled dog in Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” who learns to persevere masterfully in the unforgiving great white North.
The stories of real dogs capture us, too—here at the Beacon, we’ve written about Gracie, the “bark ranger” helping reduce human-wildlife interactions in Glacier National Park; Jett, the avalanche dog who works with ski patrol on Big Mountain; and Gus, a local golden who has ranked nationally in field trial sports while fighting cancer.
This week’s cover story by Tristan Scott features canine characters, too, but it’s not as heartening as most dog stories. With few regulations for commercial pet breeders in Montana, hundreds of animals have been exploited in “puppy mills,” where breeders produce a steady, unhealthy stream of pups for commercial sale. It’s gut-wrenching to see such sweet, forgiving creatures neglected or harmed. But as much as it’s a story about tragedy, it’s also about resilience and tenacity. It’s so easy to see the influence of dogs on the human volunteers, advocates, and lawmakers in Scott’s story, as they fight with Argos-like dedication, Charley-like tenderness, and Buck-like toughness to make a change.
Scott’s story comes on the heels of the discovery of neglected dogs at puppy mills in the Mission Valley, Eureka, Libby, and Plains. Many of these dogs, now being cared for by volunteers, need a new home. If you’re so inclined, reach out to your local animal shelter or the Life Savers Animal Rescue (call Lynette at 270-7072) to inquire about adoption. You might just find a dog that will make your own story better.
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