Many years ago, in a different life, it seems, I steered a little aluminum boat with an outboard motor across the glistening surface of a lake. The memory is so vivid that it includes the oily smell of the exhaust swirling around my head and mixing with piney puffs of the soft summer air. In the prow of the boat stood my deep-chested standard poodle, Muddy, staring resolutely ahead while the breeze ruffled his ears and curly chestnut-brown coat. He looked so heroic that it was comical.
He sprang from the boat when we reached our destination, a rocky little island studded with trees. I secured the skiff, grabbed my fishing pole, and joined Muddy on dry land. Within 15 minutes I had hooked my first catch. As I reeled it into shallow water, the fish, a decent-sized bass, came into view, and my dog splashed toward it, furiously wagging his stubby tail. Muddy lunged toward the fish as I lifted it into the air, and I gently pushed him away, not wanting the hook to snag him.
After I freed my catch from the line, I held it up for Muddy to inspect. He sniffed it, barked at it, and finally, licked it. Catching the fish had been fun. Witnessing Muddy’s reaction was pure joy.
These scenes played in my mind like a home movie when I hatched the idea for this magazine’s cover story last January. Then, a few weeks later, a co-worker emailed me a link to the Devils Backbone Brewing Company website—specifically, to the page calling for entries to a photo contest called Adventure Dogs. Clearly, something was in the air.
When I called Marisa Black, Devils Backbone’s marketing director, I could tell that her enthusiasm for the subject of adventure dogs, and their owners, matched mine. She was a little breathless on the phone. “We’re really overwhelmed and excited by how many people have been interested in the contest,” Black said. “We got the idea based on how many people come to our brewery with their dogs, a lot of them after a day of hiking.”
Limited to residents of 15 states, including Virginia (of course), the contest started—and people began sending in photos of their dogs, along with heartfelt accounts of spending time outdoors with them—ran from February 25 to April 1. According to Black, the final tally reached 6,054 entries and 86,674 votes. “That’s way, way more than we ever expected,” she said.
The winners, which received between 3,000 and 4,000 votes each, are Archie, a golden retriever, Pokie, a Jack Russell terrier, Clementine, a bulldog, Brody and Valor, labradoodles, and Murphy, a collie. The dogs will be rendered by an illustrator and have their images printed on cans of Gold Leaf Lager. The beer, in 15-packs, hits the market June 1 and will be on shelves for four months. For each sale, $1 will be donated to Devils Backbone’s charitable partner, Washington, D.C.-based City Dogs Rescue and City Kitties. The nonprofit rescues animals from high-kill shelters and fosters them until they are adopted.
Black says the contest has inspired her, and confirmed the genuineness of the connection between dogs, their humans, and outdoor adventure (and beer, natch). “It’s been really cool to hear from the owners about how dogs enhance their lives, about the special relationship they have with them,” she said. “The heartstrings part of this has been endearing.”
I can relate. It’s been 14 years since my fishing adventure with Muddy, who crossed the rainbow bridge, as they say, on July 24, 2017. I will never forget that day, and I will always love Muddy.
Now, I’m going to cry into my beer.