I want to tell you about my dogs.

The first one I named Colleen, because I wanted a dog and I wanted a name I could yell out across the fields on a farm where I lived. Colleen sounds good when you give it all you’ve got and the sound goes out and over those wide expanses, up into the sky and your dog comes running because she loves you and you’re glad, because the sight of a dog running free and over every obstacle to greet you is wonderful. You kneel down as she gets closer and you meet and you say, “Good dog,” and you both go home.

Colleen is buried beneath an oak tree on the farm where we used to live. I buried her with a collar and a scoop of food in a quilt I wrapped around her and I cried for days. She’s the first dog I ever owned. I never had a dog as a boy. That’s a shame. Every boy should have a dog. I had Colleen fifteen years and I never thought I’d have another until I met Stetson.

I own a Stetson. It’s a hat. In my case now stained with sweat and smudged a bit from handling along the crown and down along the brim and my Stetson is white or at least started out that way and so when I met that big white greyhound in a kennel and watched him run like lightning with the some grease on it and a big wide smile on his face until he got to me and stopped and just stood there looking at me with his tongue hanging out I knew I had to name him Stetson. I knelt beside him first and I asked him a question.

“Do you want to be my dog?” He answered yes. Then I put him on a leash and I gave him a walk and he followed without so much as a tug, so I called him my White Shadow or my Mystic Greyhound. I had those names for him, that tall, elegant, sophisticated goof and he could walk up to my table and put his muzzle on it without so much as lifting or lowering his head. He graced the earth and now I say, “He runs with the clouds,” because he does and I loved to watch him run so much I cannot bear to stop, so every time I look up into the clouds they are white and he was too. I see him fly along. I really do. His ashes and his collar are on my shelf.

Then there’s Ole and Lena, the dogs I have now rescued from a hell of starvation and neglect, two magnificent Bernese Mountain Dogs left to die in the presence of human beings not worthy of the name. If this is what people do then this is what should be done to people who do what people do to dumb animals who only want to be loved and obey and instead get kicks and blows and curses and threats and grass to eat without food or decent water. That’s over now and Ole and Lena are comic in their determination to be puppies once again, free to frolic and jump up and gnaw on everything or everyone and run themselves silly without thought or repercussion. Lena is the brains of the outfit and Ole is a goof like Stetson and they all come into my life as a gift. I am not the master. They give to me an authority I do not deserve. I’ll do my best. They teach me tricks. How to be patient and kind and humorous and pick up messes I didn’t make and try to understand what they are saying without a clue. Give me time and I’ll try to understand.

Colleen is watching from beneath her shade tree. Stetson is looking down from above. Ole and Lena are fighting over a rug they’ve ruined for fun.

I never had a dog as a boy, but I’ve got dogs now.

They keep me young.