Critter crisis on the high seas

September 2007

By Dodge Morgan

I know a sailing couple with a small child and a large dog. When they go cruising, they place the kid with a baby-sitting relative and bring the animal aboard with them. How’s that for setting priorities! And not that uncommon in this weird world of ours.

We live in a canine society. It is difficult to find a home or a boat without a dog – or a community without a dog hospital, a dog psychiatrist, an exotic dog breeder. Dogs are anthropomorphically referred to as “children.” People converse with their dogs. Authors are pictured on book covers cheek to jowl with their pets to slyly indicate kindness and sensitivity. Dog bragging competes with food and real-estate prices in cocktail party conversations. One will stand out as a crass brute by telling deprecating anti-dog stories. That would be me.

For some reason dogs like me, even though I do not like them. I have owned dogs from a spaniel that yipped continuously and ate furniture to a 185-pound part wolf that could consume a stack of steaks right off the grill fire. I can put up with other people’s dogs, if not the endless dog stories. But I cannot comprehend why one would put a dog on a small boat. Yet so many people do just that.

I once attended a rendezvous of live-aboard sailors. Damned near every vessel housed a dog, and the prevailing talk was on the various methods of disposing mutt excrement. One boat, however, was the proud home to a Skipperkey, a breed known to be particularly adept at boat boarding because it is rodent-like small, short-haired, and instinctively whizzes over the lee side.

I am perfectly comfortable with the W.C. Fields quote “Anyone who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad” because I do like children. You might note how poetically instructive it is that when used as a verb, dog means to annoy. I believe that since cans and ice chests have made chickens and goats obsolete as food for sea passages, animals do not belong on board boats even though some do have entertainment value.

I met a singlehander who sailed with a pet monkey; the critter lived wrapped around the guy’s neck crowning his bald head with a ball of fur with eyes. I knew a boat with a parrot that constantly screamed two four-letter words beginning with “f” and “s”. I myself have had temporary visitors of flying fish, poisonous spiders, flitting cockroaches, marauding mites and, once, an abandoned cat that transformed into a paranoid state during a storm and then, when finally we anchored, immediately jumped overboard and swam to the nearest land with the fervor of an escaping convict. I did have one pet on the old schooner that I found acceptable. It was a one-legged cricket.

Readers with objections to my anti-boat-dog exhortations should direct their reader-rage to Tom Snyder, care of this publication. Tom by himself qualifies as an on-board animal and, unlike me, will be gloriously empathetic.

Dodge Morgan views the world and its inhabitants from his home on Snow Island, Maine.