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Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: England

Book: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) – Jerome K. Jerome

By Pamela Douglas Webster

How does a travelogue first published in 1889 remain continuously in print to the present day? By being gut-bustingly funny.

Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome meant his now-classic tale, Three Men in a Boat, to be a travel guide describing a journey on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. But while people continue to duplicate the journey themselves—many of the pubs depicted in the book still exist—most of us read it as comic literature.

The story opens with Jerome recounting his many ailments. His self-diagnosis came from consulting a medical encyclopedia. With each reading of a new set of symptoms, Jerome discovers another disease he’s suffering from. In fact, he finds himself suffering from every malady—typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria—everything except for housemaid’s knee.

When he talks to his friends, Harris and George, the author finds they also suffer from lethargy and an extreme reluctance to work.

As far as I could tell from the book, George is the only one of the three men with a job. Or, as Jerome explains,

“George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two.”

And as for Montmorency, the dog of the title, he lives at the expense of the author.

The three humans decide to take a wooden skiff up the Thames to escape the stress of 19th century life. Despite making his displeasure unknown, the fox terrier is outvoted three to one and the trip is on.

A Thames skiff like the one used in 3 Men in a Boat.

A Thames skiff.

The three men are on a lark and continually afflicted with misadventures. As the book progresses, I found it hard to imagine any three characters less equipped for an adventure that involved rowing, towing, and sailing. (Jerome’s description of the three getting tangled in the sails had me relieved that they spent most of their time at the sculls.)

But they are just aiming to have fun, which they do between misadventures. Montmorency has greater aspirations.

“Montmorency’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere he particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day has not been wasted.”

The dog somehow ends up being the most rational character in the book.

Jerome alternates comic stories with descriptions of the burial places of famous people, historic events, and scenic views. His description of his friend Harris becoming lost in the Hampton Court maze was one of his funniest stories.

The Hampton Court maze.

The maze at Hampton Court.

 

But some of his historic descriptions are purple and overwrought. I found myself skimming his discussion of King John’s face-off with the barons at Magna Carta island. But frankly, the book is so funny overall that one might be grateful for relief from laughing.

To this day, Three Men in a Boat is read by British school students. It has been made into three different films, including one that was adapted by Tom Stoppard and starred Tim Curry and Michael Palin in 1975. And many people read it over and over.

I laughed out loud throughout the book. At his best, Jerome K. Jerome could be the love child of P.G. Wodehouse and David Sedaris. The humor has aged well.

And at the time of year when we’re approaching the darkest days of the Northern hemisphere, Three Men in a Boat, is a charming escape. You might even find yourself rereading it every solstice.

Disclosures and Photo Credits: The Thames Skiff is by Hackworth on FlickrThe Hampton Court maze is by bobgjohnson on Flickr. Both are used under a Creative Commons license. The book link takes you to Amazon. If you buy a book after using that link, I will earn a few cents but your book will not cost you more. Thanks for your support.

Tales of An Adventurous Sailing Dog on the World’s Oceans

Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: Oceans of the World

Book: A Sea Dog’s Tale: The True Story of a Small Dog on a Big Ocean (2012)

By Pamela Douglas Webster

[NOTE: WIN THIS BOOK and read more of Pamela's thoughts about sailing dogs at Something Wagging This Way Comes.]

Sailor and adventurer Peter Muilenburg tells the story of cruising with his spirited, sailing dog in A Sea Dog’s Tale. The story takes the form of a memoir of a life well-lived. And the dog at its center provokes the storyteller and his reader to weigh the risks and rewards in leading the well-lived life.

Muilenburg spent years building a sailboat at his family’s home in the Virgin Islands, and then took off with his wife and two sons to cruise the world in their new, floating home.

Well, not quite a home. After all, they didn’t have a dog.

This is a Schipperke puppy.

A Schipperke pup, not Santos.

A fellow cruiser with a litter of Schipperke puppies convinced the young family that their boat needed a genuine boat dog. Schipperkes had been bred historically to live aboard canal barges and serve as watch dogs. For a modern-era cruiser in an iffy anchorage, a noisy alarm dog could be the difference between keeping a dinghy motor and losing it to an opportunistic thief.

Peter knew that having a dog aboard would complicate their lives. But the boating breeder made a convincing case. And besides, who can resist a puppy?

Santos soon earned his place aboard by being a good crew member. He served as watch dog, provided entertainment, and was often the first spotter of land.

But the dog was more than a crew member for the Muilenburgs. He also gave the family a way to test, justify, and reflect on their chosen lifestyle.

What was life for? Experience, love, and adventure? Or responsibility, substance, and security? It was hard to have both….The trouble is, it’s hard to assess in process. Hindsight is so much clearer.

By watching a dog’s life, maybe we could get perspective on our own–while there was still time.

Duke is cruising as a dog in the San Blas Islands.

Duke is cruising with his people in the San Blas islands aboard the sailboat Karma.

And what a life that dog had. Santos had so much excitement, in part, because of his family’s adventurous choices. The oceangoing Schipperke was kidnapped, fell overboard, swam in a crocodile infested river, was hit by two cars, and lived to bark about it. (Apparently cats aren’t the only animals with nine lives.) The Muilenburgs nicknamed the indomitable dog, Perrito Macho, loosely translated as “little dog with big balls.”

Besides worrying if Santos would survive his latest scrape, readers may find one other aspect of the book challenging.

Loki is the Brittany Spaniel on the boat Infinity in the San Blas Islands.

Loki, the sailing dog aboard Infinity in the San Blas Islands.

Muilenburg, who trained as a historian, peppers the book with obscure references. And sailing terms are baffling to non-sailors. The reader who is not familiar with Plutarch, the Hanseatic League, and Zoroaster, or who wouldn’t know a halyard from a windlass, might want to keep a dictionary nearby.

I found the book an entertaining armchair adventure that left me thinking about risk, and about the challenge of balancing my responsibility to provide for my own dog’s safety with my desire to give her life-enriching adventures.

In the month I recently spent aboard a sailboat in Panama’s San Blas Islands, I got to meet several families who cruised with dogs (and one with a cat) aboard their sailboats. I learned of the difficulties of keeping food or fishing enough to feed a pet miles from stores. I heard the challenges of choosing routes based on where dogs would be welcome in marinas or anchorages. And anyone who has reluctantly walked a dog will relate to the challenges of providing four walks a day (following a dinghy ride to land) for a dog who simply can’t adjust to “going” on a rug on the deck of a boat.

Jack was the boat dog on the sailboat Gilana.

Jack on the deck of the sailboat Gilana.

And yet, every comment about the challenges of having an animal aboard was accompanied by the admission that all the extra work was worth it for the love and enjoyment of having a beloved pet for company.

Muilenberg would obviously agree.

The family’s travels could easily have filled a book without Santos. But the sailing dog with a big heart made their boat a home. His presence made their adventures unique among volumes of sailing adventures. His spirit and love of life served as an example to his family, friends, and even those of us who only know him through this book. And that’s not a bad legacy for a little dog.

Photo credits: Schipperke is from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. Jack on Gilana is used with permission of Laura Brasler. Other photos are provided by Michael Webster.

Disclaimer: Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when you do your Amazon shopping through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.

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Dog Man – The Savior of Japan’s Akitas


Pet Travel Tuesday

Dog Man (Japanese Akita)
Destination: Japan

Book: Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, by Martha Sherrill (2008)

By Pamela Douglas Webster

See Pam’s thoughts about Breeds at Something Wagging This Way Comes. 

Weakened by wars and deprivation, the Japanese people nearly lost a precious piece of their cultural heritage in the early 20th century: their Akitas.

An informal count in 1945 identified only 16 of these primitive dogs in the entire nation of Japan. Starving families in the mountainous, snowy region of northern Japan ate the dogs for survival and sold their pelts to line military officers’ coats. Continue reading