Determined that I would not suffer the
indignation of having a dog who is not a
"boat dog," this week I took Mocha to the
lake with me.
My beloved, late English springer spaniel,
Shadow, was the consumate boat dog. Shadow
was as much at home in a boat as I am, perhaps
more. He would stand on the deck of the little
wooden bateau, ears flapping in the wind, nub
of a tail wagging in sheer delight. Shadow
would sniff every fish that I caught, demanded
it in fact, and would pout if I let one go
without allowing him a flaring-nostril perusal.
Mocha's is the same breed, but her few experiences
with boats have so far been pretty dismal. She is
normally wrapped around my feet when the boat is
in motion, whining. And once at a drift, she tends
to look for any avenue of escape, jumping into
patches of water lilies believing they are dry
land. She did this three times, total. Mocha is
not, you understand, the brightest bulb in the
But I decided we'd try it again, in the big boat
I recently acquired. It took some doing to convince
her to willingly leave the safe boat launch wharf
and step into the boat, but she finally did so.
I pushed off quickly so she wouldn't try to jump
To my great surprise, I found out Mocha either
has overcome her fear of boats under power, or
is more comfortable in the big 18-foot boat. I
also learned that Mocha is in desperate need
of a bath. I know this because she insisted
on sitting right in front of the boat's
steering console, where I sit of course, and
that distinct doggy smell was pretty intense
as we were on our way.
Once adrift and I took out the fly rod to start
fishing, Mocha entertained herself by exploring
the boat, particularly the gunwales, where she
would peer down at the water and woof at pieces
of duckweed floating by. She'd perk her ears,
waggle her nub, and woof at the duckweed. She
totally ignored a large egret perched on a log
a few feet away.
She became terribly interested in the back end
of the boat. She'd hang over the transom, about
to fall in, and get the tips of her ears wet.
It's not that she was trying to drink, I think
it was the first time she saw her reflection
in the water, and was probably carrying out one
of those mental conversations dogs do.
Each little perch that I brought in, I called
her over. "Mocha! Come see! Look at this. Does
that look good to eat? Hmmm?"
Mocha would come, sniff the little fish once,
snort, and go back to stare at the water behind
the transom of the boat.
"You're not even a shadow of Shadow,"
I grumble. But I feel guilty comparing her to that
most noble, dignified and extraordinarily brightest
of dogs. Perhaps I'm spoiled. I have never in my
entire life owned or even known a dog as uncannily
intelligent as Shadow was. Nevermind that he didn't
have the good sense to not get in a fight with a
copperhead snake, which was his final undoing.
He was otherwise scary he was so smart.
Maybe Mocha's not an idiot savant like I think.
Perhaps I'm judging her unfairly. I felt guilty,
but then I looked over at her tail-free behind
up in the air as she hung face-first over the
transom looking at her reflection in the lake
water, and I realized she probably isn't even
in the bulb pack at all.
Eventually she tired of the conversation aft,
and came over to sit by me. We were moving
into the slight breeze, which brought that
wonderfully obnoxious doggy smell to my
"You stink," I said.
Thinking I just said, "I love you so much,
you big, furry, beautiful hunk of doggy,"
she snuggles closer to me, panting.
"When we get home, you get a bath," I say
through held breath.
This only succeeded in making her lick my
"Bath!" I said loudly.
She wiggled her behind in joy.
She has no idea what the word "bath" means,
though she doesn't particularly like having
"Go on back to the back of the boat, please,"
I plead. "You're attracting alligators."
This she understood, and fled to the transom
again to stare in the water. I sighed, trying
to content myself that at least there was no
other fishermen around to see this spectacle.
As the sun started to sink low behind the
cypress trees, it was time to go. I broke
down my rod and stored my gear, started the
engine and put on my life vest. I wondered
if I should put a life vest on Mocha, too,
should we get into an accident. I've never
seen her swim, but she should be able to do
it by instinct. I have my doubts.
We took off for home, and she plopped down
in front of the steering console again. It
takes about 10 minutes to get home from the
lake. I breathed in shifts. At one point she
turned around to face me, panting, tongue
flapping so far out of her mouth she smeared
Finally we were home. I made her stay in the
boat while I loaded it onto the trailer and
pulled it out the water. She jumped down as
soon as there was dry land beneath her, went
spiralling in great wide circles of triumphant
joy to be back on solid ground at last. I said
a silent prayer of thanks that there was nobody
at the boat landing to see this, either.
Once home, Mocha went back to the yard. It was
too dark by then for a bath, so I'll tend to it
this weekend. As soon as I closed the gate, she
collapsed on the ground and went to sleep, her
legs twitching, eyes rolling to and fro beneath
her lids. I am sure, in her dreams, she was
trying to hang on to the lip of the boat transom
while carrying out a conversation with that wispy
dog just out of reach of the tips of her ears.
"I wonder what kind of boat cat you would make?"
I asked her.
She resonded by curling up on my legs to nap.
Question answered. ~ Roger