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I don’t count years to measure my life. I count epochs—dog epochs. It is said we might own six dogs in our lives and, if we’re lucky, they will teach us about the tenets of companionship and compassion. I am halfway there, having owned three perfect pooches.

When I was 11, we raised a barrel-chested Chesapeake Labrador retriever named Flip. While I did my best Huck Finn routine wading through creeks or bushwhacking in forests hunting Civil War bullets, the dog dutifully tagged along. Or rather, he seemed to reel me in as he barked at the late-day shadows as a reminder to head home. Flip’s great heart gave out after 14 years. My post-college dog was Maggie, a black Labrador, purchased (unwisely) with a girl I’d been dating. Maggie’s passion was water. I lived alongside a lake, so her morning swims chasing mallards were legendary. When the girlfriend and I broke up after a few years, guilt forced me to concede Maggie in the settlement of our lives. I never saw Maggie again and often wonder how her life played out. It involved water, I’m guessing.

Next came Sam, a Golden retriever I’ve written about in this space. Sam died on a Friday morning this winter. I stayed with him in front of the hearth all night, rubbing his cancer-stricken stomach and whispering to him about the past 13 years. My wife and I purchased this Golden as a pup from a Virginia farmer. We were newlyweds living in an old house we’d just bought. We joked that he was our first-born. The chapter that followed—three children who learned to walk while using Sam’s back as a crutch—was long and sweet, with romps through woods and on beaches, and a determined spirit to catch just one squirrel in his lifetime (he never caught one, but even in his dotage, the boy never gave up). The hardest thing about letting Sam go was admitting that this heavenly epoch was over.

Naturally, we also mark time by the homes we own. Whether they were sublime (a cozy fishing cabin from childhood) or dreadful (a split-level with a leaky roof), these spaces help define eras in our mental scrapbooks. After all, how often do you catch yourself saying, “Remember that place we lived in when the kids were born” or, “Can you believe we used to fit all those people around Thanksgiving table?” Sure, some of these housing benchmarks are cringe-worthy, but we continue to learn from them as we prepare for the next home.

We can help, too. I think you’ll love our guide to building simple cabins which showcases our favorite ideas for building a modest-size masterpiece. Our old friend Jim Cooper, the magazine’s resident building pro, also gets into the act. We asked him to tackle one of his favorite subjects: building fewer square feet while keeping tight reins on the budget. And if you’d like your not-so-big house to boast plenty of character, don’t miss our Home Products Guide. You’ll be well on your way to creating a new housing epoch.

My family’s next canine epoch comes in the form of a yellow Lab named Marley (pictured). We adopted him from a rescue agency. When I walked up to him for the first time, his eyes told me he was kind and gentle. They have not lied. He is 2, with a head the size of a cinderblock and a soft coat my children can’t stop petting. The fur on his haunches is worn—perhaps from being left outside by previous owners—but it’s growing in nicely as he luxuriates upon a new bed purchased for his lordship.

Marley is just what we needed, and it feels like he’s always been around. It’s heartening how creatures, large and small, can adapt and merge wonderfully into the new.

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Comment by Kathryn Scott-Witthar on May 12, 2009 at 9:30am
Beautiful Dog! I bet he takes awhile to brush! :)

Comment by Michael McCarthy on May 11, 2009 at 10:38am
Tom, this is great! Thanks so much for sharing...
Comment by Tom Heatherington on May 9, 2009 at 10:56am
You dog lovers will appreciate this... as I mentioned in my first post on this topic (above), my bride works for the local Humane Society and gets involved in many community activities to help create awareness of their mission. Last week the shelter dogs took place in a fashion show. I'm talking a real fashion show with beautiful models dressed in the latest styles... but I hate to admit that the dogs stole the show.

After the models strolled down the runway, a volunteer would lead one of the shelter dogs and let the audience get to see and pet them. As we are proud parents to a Great Pyrenees, my wife gets atached to every Pyr that shows up a the shelter.

This is Lori walking 'Sammy Bear' around the stage so that people could get to know him. As a result of this exposure, Sammy found a new home and he will be adopted this week. The local Humane Society is a 'no kill' shelter, so placing dogs and cats with good homes is their top priiority. Rather than repeat everything here, you can read the rest of this fashion show story on my Log Home bLog.
Comment by Kathryn Scott-Witthar on May 8, 2009 at 6:19pm

Here are the horses. Big white thoroughbred is Duchess, Creme colored Quarter horse is Dixie, Sorrel horse is our baby Otter and the small paint is Patty (she is 30 yrs. old). All part of the family. Otter we have raised from a very small pony. She helps us unload the wood from the truck, will get a mouth full of nails and dump them near you, and will push you in the back if she feels you are not getting her grain fast enough. Patty was also bought when she was a year old, for all of the kids. She is nearing her end and we are putting off having to put her down.
Comment by Kathryn Scott-Witthar on May 8, 2009 at 6:05pm

The above picture is Lexy. The picture I am inserting now hopefully will be Rikki and P.D. All 3 dogs have their own personality and place in our lives. Lexy is the smartest and very loving dog, Rikki is a born hunter. She has dragged up every bone in the county. She usually does a 40 acre tour and always comes home with presents. She loves to play, as well. She is very hyper and is going strong from the time she gets up until sundown, then she is very mellow and wants to be in your lap. P.D., God Bless him is surrounded by females (horses included). He is a cute little toot and also very hyper. Not hyper enough to keep up with Rikki, or maybe it's just his legs are to short. He loves the horses, as does Rikki. They all play chase together. It is great to watch. Lexy is always by our sides, wherever we are and looks at the other animals like they are all crazy. It is never a dull moment at our place. We love them all!
Comment by Kathryn Scott-Witthar on May 8, 2009 at 5:50pm

We too, are animal lovers. We have 3 dogs and 4 horses. Our dogs are Lexy (4 yr. old Springer Spaniel), Rikki (3 yr. old German Shorthaired Pointer) and P.D. (P.D. stands for Pretty Dog, my 84 yr. old Mom named him, and he is a Jack Russell Terrier).
Comment by Michael McCarthy on May 23, 2008 at 3:13pm
You're awesome for saying that----thanks! Marley is a wonderful companion, and we're taking him hiking this weekend in the Shenandoah. Should be a blast...

Hope you enjoy the long weekend!
Comment by ShadyL on May 23, 2008 at 3:11pm
awesome pictures...and I want to add that I was sorry to hear about Mike's Sam passing on to doggie heaven, but the new member of your family, Marley is stunning and so blessed to have you as his new family.
Comment by Tom Heatherington on May 20, 2008 at 7:47pm

Michael, as you can see from my member photo, I'm too am a fellow dog lover. I hope you are wrong about us averaging only "six dogs in our lives" as I'm approaching my limit!
My wife and I have had the pleasure of living with a number of different dogs, from a 10 lb. Peekapoo that was our best friend for 14 years to a Karelian Bear Dog and our current Great Pyrenees, Lilly Belle. Lilly is my wife's baby and no four-legged creature ever received more love from the people 'she owned'.

When Lilly is not patrolling our property keeping the bears and occasional lion at bay, she can be found at her mama's side -- or straddling the front and back seat of Lori's Toyota helping her drive. My wife is the Admin. Director of the NW Montana Humane Society so she is able to take her 'baby' to work with her every day. They are inseparable, except when I am awakened each morning by a insistent pooch demanding her morning walk through the woods.

Lilly's been with us for only four years, but I can't remember not having her around. And you're right... they're all "perfect pooches"!

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