Cape £11.99

Dog Years: A memoir, By Mark Doty

A dog-loving poet's memoir tackles the sadness of losing a pet and a partner

Although his partner Wally enjoys the constant companionship of one dog, their black retriever, Arden, Mark Doty decides that it is time for them to have another one. The terrible truth is that the terminally ill Wally is now completely confined to bed, to the big-four-poster brought down into the living-room from upstairs, and "Arden's mostly to be found curled on my side of the big square... Arden is Wally's guardian, animal counsel, who quietly and thoroughly observes and considers every coming and going".

Wally is suffering from an Aids-related brain infection, is capable now of only minimal movement, and has so short term a memory that he exists in virtual timelessness, watching the same video cassette over and over with never diminishing delight. So deeply does the dog Arden love him that he is prepared to stay beside him indefinitely; doesn't seek, or seem even to need, any diversion from this. But shouldn't he be leading a more physical life? Hasn't Wally's illness too thoroughly depressed him? Wouldn't the presence of another dog in the house galvanise him into natural activity?

And so Doty acquires Beau, three years old, whom he discovers in a pen in a dog's home, "a very skinny and very calm golden retriever sphinx-like on all fours". In fact he's labelled as "part Saluki", but this Doty doesn't believe, though his purple-spotted tongue points to some chow in his make-up. Friends tut-tut: "You're taking care of a man who can't get out of bed and you're adopting a golden retriever!" But from the beginning Doty appreciates the wisdom of his arguably eccentric action. When Beau first leaps on to that large four-poster and greets Wally by vigorously licking his face, the sick man "laughs and laughs". There is something transforming in this new dog's energy ("he's never really still until he simply keels over"), and before long even the mildly suspicious and jealous Arden is reinvigorated. The two retrievers, the one black the other golden, synchronising their salutatory leaps of welcome or bounding off together on walks along the Atlantic shore (though it is always Arden who returns first), become for Doty treasured daily symbols of zest for life and wordless friendship, especially after Wally is dead. On the long-feared, long-expected day of his death, Arden slept beside Wally continuously until 15 minutes before he died, at which point the retriever fell off the bed, then slunk away.

Arden and Beau will survive Wally by many years, and Doty will have another loved boy-friend, Paul, a continuous presence in this moving, artistically fashioned and profoundly pondered book. The two men embrace life beyond their ménage, and have wide social sympathies. For five years Doty's work as a visiting lecturer in creative writing propels them into a happy existence "on the road", during which they transport their animals with them (they have cats as well as dogs) and strike up friendships with old and young. Back in New York City they are bewilderedly present for 9/11, re-created here with an intense inclusiveness of feeling.

Mortality – the bare fact of it, with all the ugly, scaring attendant details, and our general awareness of it even when we refuse it full acknowledgement – is Dog Years's major theme. Every animal-lover bemoans the brevity of a dog's life compared with our own, but every animal-lover must also face up to it, must be on the look-out for symptoms betokening the arrival of that always too early, dreaded end. Mark Doty and Paul are of the enlightened company who do both.

As one would expect in a writer of Doty's stature, this book is imaginatively and intricately, rather than conventionally structured, for which reason I shan't disclose which of the two dogs falls ill or dies the first. I'll simply state that I've never read a more bravely accurate account than here of those telltale warnings of decline, those hopeful visits to the vet and consequent remedial treatments, those deceptive but relished reversals of ill health assisted by the dog's own optimistic spirits, and then the unmistakable slump towards death. I know! I have lived through them all, and like everyone with a dog (my beloved border collie Harvey is only six) greatly fear going through the ordeal again. Yet perhaps the most impressive and joyous part of Doty's book is his celebration of his dog's restricted but truly contented later years.

As Doty says: "It isn't that one wants to live for the sake of a dog, but that dogs show you why you might want to."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road