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Dog Years

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When Mark Doty decides to adopt a dog as a companion for his dying partner, he brings home Beau, a large, malnourished golden retriever in need of loving care. Joining Arden, the black retriever, to complete their family, Beau bounds back into life. Before long, the two dogs become Doty's intimate companions, and eventually the very life force that keeps him from abandoning all hope during the darkest days.

216 pages, Hardcover

First published March 13, 2007

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About the author

Mark Doty

63 books320 followers
Mark Doty is a poet, essayist, and memoirist. He is the author of ten books of poetry, including Deep Lane and Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, which won the National Book Award. He lives in New York, New York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 448 reviews
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,231 reviews451 followers
January 7, 2019
I admit to being a cynic in most matters pertaining to humans and their motives. How can one not be these days? But not when it comes to dogs, because they truly have no agenda other than making their owners happy. I have two old Labrador Retrievers. Their dog hair drives me crazy, it is sometimes not convenient or pleasant to walk them, going out of town becomes difficult and expensive when you deal with dog-sitters, and life would be easier without them. But something would be missing, so I will always have a dog.

Mark Doty writes about this human/pet bond much more poetically than I ever could. About what it means to live with, care for, and ultimately lose a presence that is so much a part of your life. Because they don't live as long as us, every puppy brings a promise of eventual pain. But worth it? I think so.

This memoir of his two dogs brought back memories of every dog I've ever owned, and did so beautifully. Yes, I cried, because....well,..... dogs.
And to paraphrase one of his thoughts in this book, if my dogs aren't in heaven, then I'm not going.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
448 reviews911 followers
September 3, 2013
Beautiful book. Surprising in many ways - the poetry of it; the poetry in it (a lot of Emily Dickinson). Wide-ranging, introspective: from the failure and futility of language as a way to understand another being (leave it to a poet to point out language's short-comings); to the power of love and art to keep us tethered and grounded and here, and to give us the meaning we need to stick around and to rise above grief and despair - the ever-present human condition.


Not a lot of laughs - it's not that kind of book; but the sadness ultimately felt real. Not manipulative. Necessary and cleansing, I'd say. Reconciliatory. Is that a word? It should be.

I love that Doty is unashamedly sentimental, but not saccharine or anthropomorphic as with so many dog stories. I love how tactile he is. I love that he puts his relationships with his dogs on an equal basis with that of his humans. I love how much this book honours them all.
Profile Image for Lara.
372 reviews43 followers
October 23, 2008
It would be redundant to say this book is "poetic." Mark Doty illuminates every subject he touches with the duality of hope and despair, love and loss. He resides in a world of metaphor, and for that reason he cuts into the difficult, the unsayable, with a blade of revelation. This is so much more than a dog book. We're given glimpses of a human life that is woven into and around the lifetime of two dogs. The immediacy that demands, the simplicity of love at its most basic and wild.

He describes the little exact things that dogs do that unfence our hearts: the thump of their tails, the weight of their heads in our hands, the inexplicable joy of seeing them run ahead, tails aloft.

I can't say enough about this beautiful elegy.

Profile Image for Inder.
511 reviews72 followers
August 9, 2007
This is really a book about endless heartbreaking loss, which sounds pretty depressing, and it is. But you can't have joy and love without loss. Since I have gotten my dog, this basic vulnerability seems more clear and poignant than ever. When you really give your heart to an animal, you know you are setting yourself up for loss in the long run, but the experience of giving and receiving unconditional love is so worth it. I'm a sucker for a great dog memoir, and this one is especially lovely.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
December 31, 2017
One of the best decisions I made this year, in reading and in life, was to get caught up on my Mark Doty. I five-starred three of his poetry collections in 2017, and then there's Dog Years, a memoir that's made its way onto my list of all-time favorites.

As its title might imply, Dog Years is a memoir about Mark Doty's life with his dogs. First there's Arden, a black lab he owns with his partner Wally. When Wally begins to fail from complications related to AIDS, Doty acquires another dog to cheer him up. He's supposed to get a small dog that can lie on the bed with Wally, but instead can't resist a skinny, neglected golden retriever named Beau. So this is a book about Arden and Beau, and through them it's book about Mark Doty and his loves and losses.

It's a little hard to explain what makes this book so wonderful. Books about pets are usually pretty sentimental (see, e.g., Marley & Me). I'm not bothered by that personally, but this book is something different. Mark Doty is a poet, and his facility with language, his fearlessness, his intellect, and his understanding of the need for specificity when writing about his life make this book unforgettable. That doesn't mean you won't cry. I cried over and over again. But as he does with his poetry, Doty is able to take the personal details and extrapolate from there to a view of the wider world that's somehow always a place I want to be. Against all odds, he's got an open heart to go with his precise mind. Along with Armistead Maupin, Mark Doty was the writer whose company I most craved this year. Lucky for me he's written a lot of books, so I'll be bringing him with me into 2018 as well. The way he shines a light on the darkness—I have a feeling that's something I'm going to need for the foreseeable future, and probably forever.
Profile Image for Peter Derk.
Author 24 books331 followers
May 14, 2013
As someone who is not really a dog person, a dog book is a tough sell for me. I don't want to say that I don't give a shit when someone's dog dies. But to be honest, everyone's dog dies. Either the dog dies or the person dies, right? And unless a dog wrote a book about his owner dying (has anyone done that yet? The owner dying from the dog's perspective? Holy shit: Cha-ching!) it's gonna be the dog.

So what makes this one different?

Well, it's not just about these dogs. Yeah, there are two dogs. So extra sad.

Mark Doty and his partner, Wally, had a dog, and they got a second one near the end of Wally's life. The years pass, and soon these dogs are the only thing left of what the two men had together. And although these dogs represent so much more than pets to Doty, that doesn't save them from the indignities and up and down days of a dog nearing the end.

What Mark Doty has done is to write about his dogs, but to me it sure felt like he was still writing about Wally.

In Dog Years, Doty admits that his writing had been about Wally for some time after Wally passed. One critic went so far as to call Doty "a vampire feasting on his lover's body." As an aside, I did some quick googling to see if I could find this critic before deciding to let it rest. Well, not so much rest as to satisfy myself by saying fuck that guy. Seriously. I've said some terrible shit in my time, but to say that, in an allegedly professional capacity, what a shithead.

So maybe part of why this book reads the way it does is that Doty was a little burned when it came to talking about death head-on. But it's obviously a big topic in his life.

Maybe that's part of why this book works for me better than most dog books too. Anyone can write about their dead dog and probably make it sad. Doty is writing about his dogs mostly while they're alive, and he doesn't just throw in a death so we get to see Jennifer Aniston crying. He's not playing a card for effect here.

When the critic said that Doty is acting as a vampire, I think he must have a fundamental misunderstanding of how vampires work. Plus, the guy is a shithead. Did I mention that already?

A vampire takes life from something to continue its own life. Simple as that. What Doty has done is to create, through his work, an on-going eulogy for Wally. Something that he can refine and revisit as he needs to. What he's doing is to help the rest of us understand that the way you feel about a person can change and grow, even after his or her death. Your relationship doesn't ever stop.
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 11 books467 followers
June 5, 2009
I’ll confess right up front that I’m a great fan of Mark Doty’s poetry and memoirs. This memoir is wrapped around dogs for which Doty displays a deep understanding. Although he tips perilously close to assigning them human thoughts, he never steps over the line. He allows dogs their own particularly canine dignity, without trying to make them human or assign to them mysterious, otherworldly qualities. If you were as disgusted with the novel, Edgar Sawtelle, as I was, this is the book to restore your faith in doggish literature.

It’s a wonderful book purely on the level of exploring the love between us and our dogs, but it’s much more than that. It’s a meditation on life and death. On loss, and how we move beyond it. A wise and beautiful book.

I listened to this as a recording, with Doty himself reading. He does an excellent job. I recommend it highly. But I was so taken with the book that I’m going to buy a print copy. I want to be able to linger over it, to go back and reread, to savor it slowly.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,666 reviews440 followers
September 13, 2013
Mark Doty adopted a second dog from a shelter when his partner, Wally, was dying of AIDS. The companionship of Arden, a black retriever, and Beau, a golden retriever, helped them both get through this difficult time. Later, he and his new partner, Paul, return the favor and give excellent care to the retrievers as they age.

The book is much more than just another dog story. Written in introspective poetic prose, Doty writes about love, relationships with both dogs and people, loss and grieving. The book is written with sensitivity without being saccharine. The couple was living in New York City during the Twin Towers tragedy on 9/11/01 which added to their sense of grief and loss. Doty references other writers such as Emily Dickinson who wrote poems about death, and Gertrude Stein and Leo Tolstoy who wrote about dogs. There are bits of humor as Doty tells how they smuggled their dogs and cats into motels, or how Beau kept retrieving flowers thrown into the ocean during a memorial service. It was heartwarming to visit Mark Doty's website, and see the wonderful pictures of the new dogs that were adopted by the couple who have so much love to share with their pets.
Profile Image for 'Nathan Burgoine.
Author 55 books409 followers
April 23, 2012
I rarely step into the world of the memoir unless I've met someone who inspires me to give it a shot. I heard Mark Doty speak at this year's Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, and nabbed this book immediately thereafter.

The book is clever - at first you believe you'll be reading "just" a story about the life of this one particular dog, but it's very quickly obvious that this dog, like all dogs, has woven his way into every part of the lives of his people, and the story widens and narrows in scope throughout the lifetime of this lovely animal.

In parts touching, in parts funny, in parts gut-wrenchingly honest, and everything in between, I was not expecting this book to go to all the places it went. Doty's gentle way of nudging just enough of a description into your lap that the memoir comes alive is quite deft.

Dogs live shorter lives than we do, and this slice of Doty's life, told only while this animal was his companion, is an interesting way to tell a part of his own tale. Events unfolding in Doty's life seem reflected in the loving eyes of his dog, and there's a kind of counterpoint that results that is quite charming. The dog steals the show, of course, but one is left with the impression that Doty wouldn't have it any other way.
Profile Image for Kristen Freiburger.
413 reviews9 followers
January 7, 2016
This book is about the dreaded trifecta: grief, loneliness and depression. I believe people who have suffered have a silent stream running through them. I can speak to someone and know immediately if their soul and heart have been scarred by unspeakable grief/loss. It's such a tricky conversation to start but one that needs to happen for the slow process of healing to begin. And important to note: when you come out, you will forever be altered. The author does a good job of ripping open the lid about how low seemingly rational folks can go into oneself. Suffering alone is such a horribly lonely and dark place to be.
Profile Image for h.
1,105 reviews59 followers
August 13, 2007
a beautiful memoir organized around the two retrievers in doty's life. doty is, by the way, one of the great contemporary american poets. this book contains everything that his best poems do: wit, humor, self-awareness, communal-awareness, philosophy, warmth, sorrow. i cannot recommend it highly enough. perhaps the great achievement of dog years is that it is emotional without being sentimental. it examines life and love without pretense or arrogance.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,411 reviews178 followers
November 19, 2011
One of the most beautiful memoirs I've ever read. Doty, a wonderful poet, clearly knows his way with words as he navigates grief, death, depression, the afterlife, language, and the illumination that comes from sharing one's life with dogs. Few books have intensified my desire for a dog as much as this one. Doty accomplishes it all without sappiness or excessive eloquence. He writes simply and beautifully and honestly. What more could one ask from a memoir?
26 reviews
September 19, 2007
I didn't particularly enjoy this author's writing style, and he seemed to jump around a lot, but I kept reading because of his love for his dogs. When both of the dogs died, I cried each time, out of love for my dog, and for the he love he had for his dogs.
Profile Image for Mel.
256 reviews9 followers
December 28, 2010
After reading an excerpt from the first chapter and the book's description I was so excited to read this book. I love dogs, I love memoirs, I loved the comparison the author made of telling people about your dreams to telling people about your pets.

I read the first 70 pages, a solid third, and I just couldn't stick with it. While I enjoyed the individual anecdotes, it was so meandering that I just couldn't get hooked. A quick story about his current dog followed by a tidbit about his childhood dog followed by an anecdote about his dog who has passed. To me it felt like a rough draft, like getting all the thoughts and things he wanted to say down on paper so they could be edited and compiled into a book.
Profile Image for Patrick Santana.
191 reviews5 followers
June 14, 2014
There's a nice wandering quality to this memoir. Mr Doty meanders over poems, death, Provincetown, animal traits, anything and everything that his path crosses in this meditation upon dogs and their meaning to him (and to us, collectively). His deepest thoughts settle around mortality -- and I found it a good read. There are insights here which come as no great revelation to me, as a fellow dog guardian, but still feel important to read, ponder, and absorb. And some of the chapters are plain funny, like the adorable animals themselves.
Profile Image for Jami.
1,630 reviews7 followers
July 27, 2012
This is just okay for me; I would rate it around a 2.5-2.75. As a dog person, I was expecting to enjoy this more. There are some tidbits that I found I could relate and some parts are moving, but sometimes the story is very disjointed. Also, I am listening to this on audio and the author probably should not be narrating the book; it may be more enjoyable in book form.
Profile Image for Jack Tomascak.
38 reviews14 followers
April 7, 2018
"Don't judge a book by its cover," indeed. I originally strayed away from this despite having a fierce adoration for Doty's poems and essays. Hearing him in conversation with Eileen Myles at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in 2017 gave me pause to reconsider -- on the heels of Myles' own dog-oriented memoir they spoke about "dog books" as market category, being poets/writers shoehorned into these Marley And Me-esque color schemes and precious narratives about what dogs do for us. Approaching "Dog Years" with this in mind (as well as the fact that, like, he's a poet -- so get ready to jump around between points and the timeline a bit) is endlessly beneficial. Doty is not heavy handed in discussing spirituality, and bypasses the needlessly precious. As much as his two dogs benefit him and his partners, the human role of the caregiver and benefactor is not forgotten. Thus we come full circle -- if such marketing techniques have allowed the poignancy and realism of Doty to be exposed to a general audience that wouldn't come otherwise, then it's all for the better. Also might bear mentioning that I have no interest in ever owning any variety of pet.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
October 22, 2011
This is a wonderfully moving story of a man and his love for all of the dogs who have passed through his life. Mr. Doty is a teacher of poetry and a poet by profession and his writing has a beautiful lyrical quality which I loved.

Mr. Doty wrote his very personal story in a way which really resonated with me. He put into words things that I've felt but could never express.He talks about the grief that he felt over the passing of his lifelong partner from AIDS, the death of their dog, Beau, who he had brought home to be a comforting presence to his partner in his last days and finally he speaks of the death of his lifelong dog and friend, Arden. He describes how it seems that it is somehow not acceptable for people to allow themselves to grieve over the death of a pet. People say things like.. 'it was just a dog' or it was 'just a cat'. So we often feel like we have to hide that grief. That really resonated with me. I have felt that way myself.

Mr. Doty described very beautifully his feelings of joy over the presence of these animals in his life. And it seemed to me that with the death of each one and the grief that he felt, he learned something very important too about living. He sums it up himself with a stanza from a poem by Robinson Jeffers... "The Housedog's Grave"...

"I've changed my ways a little, I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream, and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there."
Profile Image for Beverly.
Author 38 books23 followers
March 19, 2008
Extraordinary. I am listening to it a second time. I was already a HUGE fan of Mark Doty's poetry, (and had the distinct pleasure of meeting him at a poetry conference in Florida where he charmed everyone he spoke to). But when I heard about this memoir, I knew I had to read it. It concerns the two dogs he had for sixteen years and their deaths. But do not be misled that this is some ordinary dog book. Mark, who lost his partner to AIDs (and wrote a memoir about it) does not deal with dogs in any of the normal or cliched ways one might imagine. This is a book filled with the buoyancy of finding life and love in the heaviness of disaster and grief. This happens during the 9/11 attacks and the contrasts he draws between the public and the private, the enormous and the small are brilliant. He travels in the language of love. This is the voice of a poet who knows of what he writes, and I was carried along, almost musically, on the strength of his immense voice and sound philosophy. Well, I just cannot tell you how much I was impacted by this book. I'm going to write my own memoir as a result.
Profile Image for Kelley.
578 reviews9 followers
September 27, 2008
So, I'm only on page 5 but this is beautiful. Mark Doty is a poet but he's written another memoir, Firebird and it's also beautiful. Already though, the dog-human relationship just reminds me of my mother and me - later in her life she was just all love.

Now far more into the book and it just gets more beautiful. Perhaps I can chalk it up to where I'm at in my life, emotionally, but I think this writing is empirically brilliant - Doty just has it down when it comes to naming things and describing them perfectly.

I finished it - weeping in the car (I was listening to the audio CD read by the author) and it blew me away. The whole book blew me away and I don't think it's entirely just my psychic-state either. I went out last night and bought the book so I can read it again...and again and again. In the PB edition, they've included some 'fan mail' Doty got after the book was published and they're amazing to read. Others who've experienced a loss, not just the loss of an animal, have found this book profoundly comforting and their words, and Doty's of course, have been so helpful in my whole process. Thank god for books!!
Profile Image for Mary.
199 reviews3 followers
September 7, 2015
This was a gem of a book.

Two dogs, Beau and Arden, form the skeleton of this book, which covers loss, depression, 9/11, poetry, love, drag queens doing Judy Garland, antidepressants, and resilience. Doty never lets go of the dogs, though, and takes a close, thoughtful, and lovely look at the uniqueness of our relationships with our dogs.

It never gets schmaltzy, but Doty can write about emotions without apology or irony. And he pokes at a question that intrigues me: What is it about our dogs that allows us a particular kind of emotional connection, a different kind than that we experience with other humans?

Threaded throughout the book is a meditation of sorts on despair versus joy, citing Emily Dickinson's poems a number of times.

I liked the structure, too. Doty gives us a narrative of shortish chapters separated by "entr'actes," which are a sort of meditation on the chapters.

Although I think I'd skip the "Envoi"--the very last page--next time I turn to this book, I'd like to add it to my library.
Profile Image for Marilyn Matheny.
42 reviews
July 10, 2014
Exquisite. His powers of observation and ability to express them are stunning. He wrestles with grief in the way that one struck deeply by it must do. Why are we so unprepared for it? How does it change us? How do I go on?

He loses his lover after a long illness but is sustained by the presence and physicality of their 2 dogs. The death of these dogs as well leads him to dark psychological places. He is a poet and writes of the illness and the death of these two dogs as carefully and familiarly as that of his lover.

His losses are so very deeply felt and richly explored that you are able to mourn with him and it is the elucidation of mourning that is this book's gift. It's about dogs, yes, and wonderfully so, but it's really about loss and the grieving process. If you have had a wrenching personal loss you will recognize yourself in these pages and perhaps find some comfort. His healing process is gradual but real and leaves you hopeful.
Profile Image for Allison.
Author 1 book218 followers
August 17, 2011
A friend told me to wait 3 months after the death of my beloved Chihuahua to read this book. I did and began the reading on the date of Corduroy's would have been 8th birthday.

What I enjoy about this book is that it is profoundly the experience of one man, and yet every person who loves a dog understand the depths of the grief and so it becomes so much more than the grief of one person. This memoir becomes a philosophical reflection on love and loss, the need for desire and despair and how we humans get to have these things in our lives when we love animals (in this case, two big dogs). I'm also a fan of the use of Dickinson.
Profile Image for Vid.
11 reviews
March 14, 2009
This book is so much more than just a reflection upon the meaning of dogs in our lives, which is a worthy subject in itself. As a poet, Doty is able to express what is most inexpressible about the nature of relationships between 2 beings - in this case man and dog - and he also delves into the deeper realms of what it means to be alive and connected to this world. I know I will return again to this book as there is so much more to absorb. Warning: keep a box of kleenex handy. Doty's willingness to expose his most raw and vulnerable feelings and experiences has cathartic effect upon me.
Profile Image for Cara Achterberg.
Author 8 books158 followers
January 6, 2021
I loved this book - read it slowly, savoring words and re-reading lines. It is a beautiful tribute to the love shared between a thoughtful, eloquent man and the dogs that shared his life. Clearly written by a poet, I found myself underlining so many thoughts/phrases/sections and wondering how a mind puts particular words together to capture emotion so raw. It's a love song and a thoughtful story that is funny, touching, and endearing. When I finished, I so wished I could call up Mark Doty and thank him and then ask if we could be friends. I love his dog-filled heart.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,510 reviews11 followers
April 11, 2018
i truly was touched by this book. doty has beautiful passages not only about the beauty of a dog's simplicity, but about the ache of losing a long loved companion. there are so many great quotes from the book that i found myself dog-earing pages to go back and underline the words. i cried more than once and doty's words made me appreciate and look at my six furry companions in a new light. excellent.
Profile Image for Meagen.
2 reviews
September 13, 2007
this book should only be read by those dog owners who love to cry as much as they love to laugh. it's really well written; even though i might have had to put it down for days at a time (because of the sadness) i could not just not finish it. it's reminded me to enjoy tessy as much as possible NOW, since the time will pass more quickly than humanly imaginable.
Profile Image for Mayelle.
16 reviews1 follower
September 19, 2021
This is an old book, one I picked up at a second-hand bookstore after my dog died. In the years since, I've lost more people in my life and in the wake of the pandemic, everyone I know has lost loved ones as well. I finished it last week after sending yet another message of condolence.

"With the world in such a state, isn't it arrogance or blind self-absorption to write about your dogs? I know it might seem absurd, to place the death of my dog on this page with all these people, vanished parents and children and lovers and friends. Yet Beau's body was a fact, too, wasn't it?"

In the lines above, Doty is talking about the victims of 9/11. In the first chapter alone, you know he loses his partner and his dogs in this book. But it's reductive to call this a pet grief memoir. Instead it's a wondrous exploration about unsayable joys, oddball companionship, and the inevitable heartbreak of loving people and loving dogs. There are as many chapters on the swallowing void of loss, as there are about chewed up gloves, walks gone awry, and motel pitstops.

There are no new questions here; "How does one keep agreeing to fall in love over the long haul of erasure?" Doty's prose shines in these spiraling interrogations, but it never feels pretentious. He never anthropomorphizes dogs because he doesn't need to. It's unsentimental, even grating at times, but wholly tender.
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