By Wendy Hodge

If there is one thing, one pure thing, on this earth that we humans do not deserve it is the presence of a dog in our lives. If you’re fortunate enough to have grown up with a canine best friend, or even if you’ve acquired one late in life, then you know exactly what I mean. Some dogs are treated like family members and are loved as they should be. Others are not so lucky. My daughter and I used to play a game called “What Would You Do If You Won A Billion Dollars?” We made the typical list: several houses all over the world, new cars, trips to any country whenever we liked. But always we returned to the idea of a ranch – thousands of acres with elaborate dog palaces and full-time vets always on hand to take care of every stray dog we could possibly find in the world. The older I get, the less I want the multiple houses and fast cars and the more the thought of an oasis in the middle of nowhere with a thousand rescued dogs to love sounds like the best plan.

While there are pure breeds of dogs who are more refined than some of the men I’ve dated in years past, there are also dogs who …. well, let’s face It…. they sniff and scratch and sometimes drool. They can be, as my grandmother would say, “simple.” But underneath all that fur and simplicity is an uncanny perception – both of the earth itself and the humans who live on it. As Woodrow Wilson said, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”  My grandmother agreed. She once said, “If a dog bares his teeth at someone, take the dog at his word.”

Among the many breeds of dogs, there is a select group that personifies everything that is good and lovely under the stars… the lake dog. These are dogs whose seasons are marked by the cicada’s song in summer, the hawk’s cry in winter, and the tree frog’s trill all year long. They are up with the sun and in bed when their humans tell them it’s time to end the day. Water is their playground, and they ride in a skiff as easily as they travel in a pick-up truck. They are the personification of loyalty, and I’m blessed to know a few.

My best friend’s parents have a lake dog. His name is Camo (short for camouflage). His coat is a luxurious black and is often sparkling with lake water. He has the kind of eyes you can sink into … the kind of eyes that harbor no ill will and shine with love. When we come to visit, he runs in large, full-speed circles around us, often falling over his clumsy beautiful feet. If you ever feel as if you are not important, come meet Camo. Be kind and rub his belly, and you’ll know what it’s like to be adored.

My best friend and I have spent several Sunday morning sunrises cruising slowly around Lake Harding. Sometimes Camo is with us. We fish and we laugh. Mostly we sit in silence and marvel at the “peace of wild things.” And without exception we are greeted along the way by lake dogs. There’s the labradoodle with fur as golden as the sunrise itself who sits on the porch of his lake mansion and watches, never uttering a sound. He surveys the lake, protecting his home and his humans, without flinching. I want so badly to sink my hands into that beautiful coat and take him with us.

There is also a Pekingese who I have given the name Her Majesty. Her hair is black and silky, and she has a pink bow on top of her head. She runs to the end of the dock as we glide by, yapping and prancing. I think if we could speak Pekingese, we would know that she is inviting us in for tea and crumpets. And I would gladly accept.

A pair of beagles lives just around the slough. Every move they make is rough and tumble, like a pair of preschool twins on a sugar high. They bark at us, but it’s a friendly hello. There’s the shih tzu who reminds me of my Elvis at home. There’s the bulldog who lies in the sun like a retiree who’s escaped South for the winter and has no intentions of ever moving from that spot. There are mutts galore who run up and down the shoreline and swim with their little people and fetch and chase squirrels and live their best dog lives.

They are all beautiful and irresistible, and I hope they are as loved as they deserve to be.

If lake dogs could talk, I think they would ask us to be quiet for a moment and just listen to their straightforward truth. I think they would say simply this:

Be nice. Don’t hit. Fill our bowls and rub our bellies. Just let us love you and love us right back.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”

Camo and I agree. Maybe there I’ll have my ranch of a thousand dogs, and every lake will have a Camo.