My life without a dog

A newspaperman wonders if he's the only person around without a canine friend.


On my newspaper’s website, there’s a tab that’s marked “our dogs.” Click on it, and you’ll find a gallery of the dogs owned by the staff. Everyone’s dog but mine, that is, because I am currently dogless deep in the heart of Dog Country, and I say that as a journalist who despises the Stupidly Inappropriate Use of Capital Letters.

To say Washington’s Methow Valley is dog-friendly doesn’t begin to capture the truth. Dog-mandatory is more like it. And the prevailing attitude among many valley residents is: Now that we have one dog, why not two?

My doglessness does not go unnoticed. There are about four dog-free folks in the entire valley, and everyone knows who we are. They don’t say anything, but they know.

A while back, I was looking out the front window of our newspaper office, chatting with the advertising manager, when a work-worn F-250 parked in front of the building. Bounding around in the truck bed was an odd-looking, spunky dog with a mottled coat. I pointed the animal out to the ad manager -- her dog’s name is Ringo -- and asked, “What kind of dog is that?”

“Mutt,” she said. “Cowboy dog.” Sure enough, the lank fellow in the driver’s seat wore a sizable, beat-up cowboy hat, clamped down hard. They were made for each other.

In the Methow Valley, you will know your neighbors by their dogs. People are familiar with each other’s dogs’ names, personalities, histories and maladies. If you drop into the middle of a conversation, you may not be able tell if the talk is about kids or dogs. “Toby scraped his leg the other day” may need clarification – unless, of course, you already know that Toby is the dog, while the kid’s name is Jake or Cody or something.

Anywhere you go, doorways, sidewalks and porches are understood to be recumbent dog zones. You step over or around the lounging pooches, but you never begrudge them the territory. It’s not only Dog Country, it’s Real Dog Country. The typical Methow dog is not just full-sized, but often big enough to hold off a bear (which may be necessary out here). Two of them might strike you as capable of pulling your rig out of a ditch.

You don’t see many of what my partner Jacqui calls “snack dogs” on leashes, or worse, being carried around, because there are a lot of untamed critters out here that will eat them. And they just don’t look good in the back of a spattered, jacked-up, four-wheel-drive pickup truck, or hanging out the window of a dust-draped Subaru station wagon.

Local dogs are well behaved but not docile. They are runners, jumpers, fetchers and waggers. Many of them also are, less endearingly, barkers when left alone for long periods. The police blotter usually has a few entries of people complaining about the incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog(s). I don’t blame the dogs. I blame the owners. But because the dogs usually shut up when their owners get home, owners often have no idea what their angry neighbors are yapping about.

Dogs have to be walked, fed, watered, paid attention to. It’s not unusual for some of my staffers to take a dog-walking break during the day. Phone conversations with veterinarians are routine. Related dogs have visiting privileges with each other. Dog welfare is at the top of everyone’s mind. We have some summer scorchers here, and if someone leaves a dog in a hot car on the main street of my little town, they may come back to find a stern note on their windshield -- or someone standing there waiting to remonstrate with them in person.

There is no escaping the dog imperative. At a gas station in town the other day, on the other side of the pump island, was an impressively dilapidated crew cab pickup; the per capita incidence of rust-ravaged, utterly woebegone pickups here must far exceed that of even some Third World countries. And three enormous dogs jostled back and forth on the passenger side of the front seat.

The driver was a young fellow who pretty much complemented his ride, meaning that he looked like he by gum works for a living. In my mostly unblemished, dogless Pathfinder, I felt like a poseur.

I’d actually love to have a dog -- Jacqui even has names picked out – but I’m not set up to take appropriate care of one right now. Call it fear of commitment. But one of these days …

Don Nelson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is the owner, publisher and editor of the Methow Valley News, a weekly newspaper in Twisp, Wash.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Jul 27, 2013 06:00 PM
hey don, wait till you reach retirement age. my canines are teaching me some new philosophy of life. like napping to regenerate energy, finding shade to lay down under in this Arizona summer heat, on and on. I had a red (queensland) heeler once who bit and penetrated the sidewall of 4 different tires on motor vehicles. can't repair the sidewall so replacing those tires cost me a bundle. but I didn't think once about getting rid of her, she was just too great a hiking partner!
David Sabold
David Sabold Subscriber
Jul 30, 2013 01:45 PM

Fun to read, Don! We're also in the Methow Valley Dogless Club. No cat either.

Steven Lundin
Steven Lundin Subscriber
Jul 31, 2013 05:02 PM
Right on Don! My wife and I are more recent members of your "dogless club" and I must say it's a welcome change! For our entire (almost 50 years) married life we have had dogs(s) around the house. Through the years a series of wonderful Springer Spaniels monitored our children's growing pains and escapades. When we retired and moved to a motor home for 14 years we inherited a loveable Cocker Spaniel from our youngest son who found it unwelcome in college dorms and pizza joints. After "Arrow" went to the happy hunting grounds we were thrust into a wondrous new world! We suddenly could plan our days activities, even trips, based on our needs alone! No more worrying about vets, boarding or house sitters. No more feeling guilty about an extra long evening of dinner and a movie or a spur of the moment change of plans that extended a days activities! There is, however, a small white fur ball next door that sits with sorrowful eyes staring through the fence each morning until I show up with it's treat and a thorough rubdown. Only then can I leave to complete my day unhindered by guilt.
Janet Haw
Janet Haw Subscriber
Sep 05, 2013 08:28 PM
Whats true in town in the Methow is not so true in the hills. When we lived there we got nothing but grief out on the trails because we had our dogs with us. Once on the Blue Lakes trail a guy poked at my leashed dog with his walking stick, as in, "get away from me!" Another time, thinking I was having a pleasant conversation about spotting wildlife, I was informed I would see a lot more wildlife if I left my dogs home. Even as a dog owner, I remember going in to Twisp & wondering about all the loose dogs wandering around town. Don, you need to get out of town more.
Jennifer Butterfass
Jennifer Butterfass
Sep 08, 2013 08:23 AM
My 50 lb mutt and I moved to San Diego after living in Lake Tahoe CA about 10 years ago. I have never understood the many "snack dogs" in Southern CA. However the dog owners want to bring them everywhere here as well..I often see little heads hanging out of purses and even in strollers around stores. Reading this I realized I've been pretty judgemental thinking thats not a "Dog" but it really comes down to people just loving dogs and having them around.