My Life in Dog Years
is a work of non-fiction by young adult author Gary Paulsen. Constructed from a series of vignettes about various dogs Paulsen owned and loved, some of the stories are sad, others are funny, but each contains deep love and appreciation for a specific dog. Paulsen wrote the book in conjunction with his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, and together they craft character portraits of their dogs, not just as animals, but as unique and complex companions.
The book begins with the story of Cookie, a dog that Paulsen met later in his life, but one who was perhaps most vital in his telling of these stories. Cookie was a sled dog that Paulsen ran. He took her and a team of other dogs out on what he thought would be a routine beaver trapping excursion. Paulsen parked the sled dogs to let them rest after a long run, and as he stepped away from them, he fell through thin ice to what he thought would be his premature death. Cookie, an attentive and intelligent dog, noticed Paulsen's shouts for distress. She banded the other dogs together, and they helped pull Paulsen out of the water, saving his life.
The rest of the book moves chronologically, as Paulsen recounts dogs from his past. As a seven-year-old boy, Paulsen had a dog named Snowball, who lived with him in the Philippines while his family was there. His father was in the army, and Paulsen spent most of his time alone, isolated from others because of his background. His constant companion, Snowball journeyed with Paulsen through the Philippines and even saved him from a deadly rattlesnake bite. Ultimately, Snowball was hit by a car and died, leaving Paulsen to grieve the death of his first best friend.
Other dogs include Ike, a black lab who kept Paulsen company when he went out hunting to avoid his drunken parents as a teenager. The two would hunt ducks, and then Ike would return home. Later, Paulsen discovered that Ike's owner was fighting in Korea, and each night, Ike returned home to see if his owner was back yet. Dirk played a similar role for Paulsen during this time. Dirk was Paulsen's dog, and he protected Paulsen when street gangs mugged him as a lonely teenager with two alcoholic parents, fending for himself. Dirk began his life as a street dog but became loyal to Paulsen after Paulsen fed him a hamburger. From that day on, Dirk attacked all of Paulsen's enemies, including thugs who tried to rob him on his way home from work each day.
Other chapters serve more as peeks into the lives of hard-working dogs of all kinds. For a while, Paulsen worked on farms during the summer where he met a number of collies who kept the animals in line and checked in on the children each day. Rex was one of those dogs. Paulsen goes into Rex's daily routine, talking about the work he performed on the farm. In the chapters about the Great Dane, Caesar, and the puppy, Fred, Paulsen writes short, humorous anecdotes about goofy, hungry dogs he adopted at various points in their lives. These anecdotes convey the fondness Paulsen had for these animals and their unique personalities.
The novel ends with some heroic dog stories, including the story of the scrappy mutt Quincy, a nine-inch tall street dog that Paulsen got with one of his huskies. Quincy scared off a bear that tried to attack Paulsen's wife, proving to be worth more than his stature suggested. Finally, Paulsen tells the story of Josh, his current dog, and an old pup at nearly twenty years old. Paulsen reflects on the short lives of dogs and their meaning, as well as his own mortality in this section, connecting his life and happiness to the dogs he knew and loved.
Gary Paulsen is the author of many books for young adults and children, including the well-known Hatchet
series. Paulsen is known for writing survivalist and adventure books for kids. Born in Minnesota, much of his life is reflected in the more than two hundred novels he has written for young adults over the course of his career. Known for being an avid dogsledder, Paulsen competed in the Iditarod in 1983 and many subsequent years. He currently lives in rural Willow, Alaska, with his wife.