For nearly two decades, my life has been intertwined with dogs since the inception of Glencadia Dog Camp in the picturesque heart of Columbia County, New York. As a haven for city dogs seeking boarding and overnight care, our camp has witnessed the joy and companionship that countless dogs have brought to the lives of their owners. Having cared for over 5,000 individual dogs and hosted more than 50,000 boarding stays, I’ve come to appreciate the profound and often unspoken connection that exists between humans and their canine friends. In this article, I wish to share my unique perspective on the concept of “the best dog” and reflect on the recent loss of my cherished companion, Gustav.
The “best” dog is a concept that transcends language and logic. It’s a sentiment that anyone who has ever shared their life with a dog can understand. As Louis C.K. so aptly put it, owning a dog is akin to embarking on a “countdown to sorrow.” However, it’s a journey that we willingly undertake, knowing that the joy and love these remarkable creatures bring into our lives far outweighs the pain of their eventual departure.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of caring for numerous dogs, each cherished by their owners as “the best.” This paradoxical notion of multiple “best” dogs may seem deceptive when viewed through the lens of human language and categorization. Still, it perfectly encapsulates the profound and non-linguistic nature of the dog-human relationship. Dogs operate in a realm of pure being, free from the confines of past, future, or linguistic complexity. They exist in the present moment, and in doing so, they become the best dog for each unique owner.
This truth becomes even more apparent when we experience the loss of a beloved canine companion. Just recently, our camp mourned the passing of an old friend—my loyal companion, Gustav. Gustav had shared his life with us for an impressive 16 years, a testament to the enduring impact of canine companionship.
Gustav’s story is one of courage, loyalty, and remarkable intelligence. In his prime, he served as a fearless guardian, protecting our home and the entire dog camp from the threat of coyotes. His legacy was so profound that I sought to find a successor capable of fulfilling his formidable role. However, Gustav’s replacements opted for discretion, cowering beneath the bed at the mere hint of distant coyote howls.
But Gustav was more than just a guardian. He was a brilliant watchdog who knew the ins and outs of our household. One unforgettable Fourth of July, as my family attended a celebration, Gustav remained behind, diligently watching over our home. His vigilance was unwavering, yet he had one Achilles’ heel—thunderstorms and fireworks. On the eve of July 4, a neighbor’s firecrackers in a nearby cornfield prompted Gustav to seek refuge at my mother’s house down the driveway. Unfortunately, my father-in-law, in the grip of dementia, could not respond to Gustav’s knocking on the door. What transpired during those solitary hours remains a mystery, but somehow, Gustav embarked (excuse the pun) on an extraordinary journey.
Gustav’s incredible odyssey took him to the Hudson River, where he undertook an astonishing swim across its waters, covering a distance of at least four miles. He was eventually discovered in a park in Coxsackie, where a compassionate family took him in and shared his story on social media. It was through this online post that my wife learned of Gustav’s whereabouts and promptly retrieved him.
In his final days, Gustav’s mobility dwindled, but his spirit remained indomitable. He continued to care for an orphaned lamb, providing it with unwavering companionship and warmth. On a serene day in May, not long after the writing of these words, Gustav peacefully passed away. He ate, meandered about, and attended to his lamb companion. Then, in a tranquil moment, he laid down and began his final journey.
Working at Glencadia Dog Camp has given me a unique perspective on the concept of time, particularly as it relates to the lives of dogs. Each day, we witness the equivalent of two months of dog life, with every six days marking the passage of a year in dog time. Every 72 days, or roughly two and a half months, signifies an entire lifetime for our canine guests. Statistically, one might expect to encounter the loss of a dog here five or six times a year. However, the reality is far different.
The rare occurrence of a dog’s passing at the camp serves as a poignant reminder of the circle of life, a truth that every dog owner eventually confronts. Yet, even in the face of such inevitability, the bond formed between humans and dogs remains a source of immeasurable joy and companionship. Working at Glencadia, we bear witness to this connection on a daily basis.
The loss of a beloved dog is a profound and inevitable part of the human-dog relationship. Gustav’s story is a testament to the extraordinary nature of these bonds, forged through countless moments of joy, companionship, and adventure. While the countdown to sorrow may be an ever-present reality, the joy and love that dogs bring into our lives far outweigh the pain of their eventual departure. Gustav’s memory lives on, reminding us of the unique and timeless connections we share with our canine companions, and for that, we are forever grateful.