Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

September 6th, 2003

Mocha, The Boat Dog
By Roger Emile Stouff

Determined that I would not suffer the indignation of having a dog who is not a "boat dog," this week I took Mocha to the lake with me.

My beloved, late English springer spaniel, Shadow, was the consumate boat dog. Shadow was as much at home in a boat as I am, perhaps more. He would stand on the deck of the little wooden bateau, ears flapping in the wind, nub of a tail wagging in sheer delight. Shadow would sniff every fish that I caught, demanded it in fact, and would pout if I let one go without allowing him a flaring-nostril perusal.

Mocha's is the same breed, but her few experiences with boats have so far been pretty dismal. She is normally wrapped around my feet when the boat is in motion, whining. And once at a drift, she tends to look for any avenue of escape, jumping into patches of water lilies believing they are dry land. She did this three times, total. Mocha is not, you understand, the brightest bulb in the pack.

But I decided we'd try it again, in the big boat I recently acquired. It took some doing to convince her to willingly leave the safe boat launch wharf and step into the boat, but she finally did so. I pushed off quickly so she wouldn't try to jump back.

To my great surprise, I found out Mocha either has overcome her fear of boats under power, or is more comfortable in the big 18-foot boat. I also learned that Mocha is in desperate need of a bath. I know this because she insisted on sitting right in front of the boat's steering console, where I sit of course, and that distinct doggy smell was pretty intense as we were on our way.

Once adrift and I took out the fly rod to start fishing, Mocha entertained herself by exploring the boat, particularly the gunwales, where she would peer down at the water and woof at pieces of duckweed floating by. She'd perk her ears, waggle her nub, and woof at the duckweed. She totally ignored a large egret perched on a log a few feet away.

She became terribly interested in the back end of the boat. She'd hang over the transom, about to fall in, and get the tips of her ears wet. It's not that she was trying to drink, I think it was the first time she saw her reflection in the water, and was probably carrying out one of those mental conversations dogs do.

Each little perch that I brought in, I called her over. "Mocha! Come see! Look at this. Does that look good to eat? Hmmm?"

Mocha would come, sniff the little fish once, snort, and go back to stare at the water behind the transom of the boat.

"You're not even a shadow of Shadow," I grumble. But I feel guilty comparing her to that most noble, dignified and extraordinarily brightest of dogs. Perhaps I'm spoiled. I have never in my entire life owned or even known a dog as uncannily intelligent as Shadow was. Nevermind that he didn't have the good sense to not get in a fight with a copperhead snake, which was his final undoing. He was otherwise scary he was so smart.

Maybe Mocha's not an idiot savant like I think. Perhaps I'm judging her unfairly. I felt guilty, but then I looked over at her tail-free behind up in the air as she hung face-first over the transom looking at her reflection in the lake water, and I realized she probably isn't even in the bulb pack at all.

Eventually she tired of the conversation aft, and came over to sit by me. We were moving into the slight breeze, which brought that wonderfully obnoxious doggy smell to my nostrils again.

"You stink," I said.

Thinking I just said, "I love you so much, you big, furry, beautiful hunk of doggy," she snuggles closer to me, panting.

"When we get home, you get a bath," I say through held breath.

This only succeeded in making her lick my hand adoringly.

"Bath!" I said loudly.

She wiggled her behind in joy.

She has no idea what the word "bath" means, though she doesn't particularly like having one.

"Go on back to the back of the boat, please," I plead. "You're attracting alligators."

This she understood, and fled to the transom again to stare in the water. I sighed, trying to content myself that at least there was no other fishermen around to see this spectacle.

As the sun started to sink low behind the cypress trees, it was time to go. I broke down my rod and stored my gear, started the engine and put on my life vest. I wondered if I should put a life vest on Mocha, too, should we get into an accident. I've never seen her swim, but she should be able to do it by instinct. I have my doubts.

We took off for home, and she plopped down in front of the steering console again. It takes about 10 minutes to get home from the lake. I breathed in shifts. At one point she turned around to face me, panting, tongue flapping so far out of her mouth she smeared the windshield.

Finally we were home. I made her stay in the boat while I loaded it onto the trailer and pulled it out the water. She jumped down as soon as there was dry land beneath her, went spiralling in great wide circles of triumphant joy to be back on solid ground at last. I said a silent prayer of thanks that there was nobody at the boat landing to see this, either.

Once home, Mocha went back to the yard. It was too dark by then for a bath, so I'll tend to it this weekend. As soon as I closed the gate, she collapsed on the ground and went to sleep, her legs twitching, eyes rolling to and fro beneath her lids. I am sure, in her dreams, she was trying to hang on to the lip of the boat transom while carrying out a conversation with that wispy dog just out of reach of the tips of her ears.

"I wonder what kind of boat cat you would make?" I asked her.

She resonded by curling up on my legs to nap. Question answered. ~ Roger


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