Friday, June 1, 2012

Why Dogs Make Everything Better by Elsa Watson

Thank you so much for having me at My Friend Amy!

I spent this past weekend on a family camping trip in eastern Oregon. The weather was supposed to be gorgeous, but it was actually awful – it rained and gusted so hard that (I swear) our tent almost blew over. As a result, we spent a lot of time in camp, huddling behind windbreaks and watching our fellow campers. Or, I should say, that’s probably what it looked like we were doing. Really, we were watching the dogs.

And, boy, was there ever great dog-watching to be had. In this campground of 30 occupied campsites, there were probably 24 dogs. Dogs were everywhere. They lounged in campsites, swam in the lake, and headed out on fishing boats. They chased sticks and got into scuffles. Occasionally they even wandered over to our tent to say hello.

Something I love about dogs is that they don’t hide anything. They’re completely themselves every second they’re awake. They never try to be extra dignified or clever or flirty. Gizmo, the Jack Russell terrier at the site next to ours, trotted all over camp as if what he was doing was the most important thing in the world. Whatever his mission was, he was very busy doing it and didn’t care who watched him. In contrast, Murphy, an Australian shepherd who was camping near us, liked to sneak into our campsite and stealthily sniff the picnic table when he thought we weren’t watching. We were, but we never let on.
Dogs also don’t get embarrassed. When a pair of dachshunds got into a scuffle with two larger dogs, their people were mortified. Not the dogs, though. They never once hung their heads or looked apologetic. Why should they? If they had a dispute with those dogs there was no sense in hiding it. I admire the way dogs have the guts to just say “hey, you’re stepping on my foot,” if that’s what’s happening.

The best thing about having all of these dogs at the campground was watching their uninhibited joy. They didn’t care about the rain and the wind, and watching them swim in the drizzle made it easier for me to care less about it, too. They didn’t waste their time worrying what we’d do if the tent did, in fact, blow over. The dogs were loving life, enjoying being outside with their families, doing something new. And, I’m sure, they’ll put that same exuberance into doing the same old routine come Monday morning.

This is why I want to be more like a dog. I don’t want to waste my time stressing about upcoming deadlines and due dates. I want to plunge headlong into whatever I’m doing right this moment and give it my all. Isn’t that a much better way to live? When the sun is shining, I’d like to enjoy the feel of its rays on my skin. And when we have rain instead, I want to run barking into a lake, not worrying about the fact that afterwards my fur will be wet and I might get cold.

Now, unfortunately for me, I’m a human, not a dog. I know that I get cold and that knowledge keeps me out of almost all lakes, rivers, and swimming pools. But nothing can stop me from trying to think like a dog.

It’s this urge to understand them that led me to write Dog Days. In it, I get to tell half the story from the perspective of Zoë, a white German shepherd. Putting words into her mouth was a real treat—it was something I looked forward to every day.

Not that that’s surprising, since I just spent the weekend doing the same thing. When I watched Gizmo trotting down to the lake, I loved trying to guess what he was thinking. Was he sniffing for deer? Looking for a good place to pee? Plotting his escape? I’ll never know, but nothing can stop me from trying to guess.

Elsa Watson is the author of Dog Days, in which Zoë (a dog) and Jessica (a person) are struck by lightning and switch bodies, leaving Jessica trapped in a dog’s body—and giving Zoë thumbs and the chance to speak. Find Elsa online at

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