Just what we need now, Olive, Mabel & Me: Living and Adventure with Two Very Good Dogs, is a rare reward from a book that will make you laugh and maybe also expand your understanding of your dogs. This unique and unforgettable book is about two dogs, Olive and Mabel, and their extraordinary chronicler, Andrew Cotter.
These two laboratories took the digital world by storm in early 2020 when the author transferred his interpretive skills to their everyday lives. The quiet narration is done in the style of a sports announcer, a job Cotter did for the BBC when there were sporting events to be announced. After Covid and the disruption of his normal routine and work scheduling, Cotter decided to turn to his two “girls” Olive, a five year old black lab, and the younger Mabel, a yellow lab, to help get over the lockdown blues.
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The first video, “The Dog’s Breakfast Grand Final,” which recorded the dogs feeding from their respective bowls and told by Cotter as if they were participating in a rugby match, had nearly 2 million views. In a short time, greats such as the “Game of Bones” and numerous others followed. It’s all very simple, with little choreography, just capturing dogs doing what dogs naturally do – but with Cotter, usually in muffled “she kicks off” tones, she interprets her movement and inner thoughts or just talk to them. Once you’ve looked at a few of these, it’s hard not to come across all of them.
And now we get a book that takes us behind the scenes and delves deeper into their everyday lives, including their high mountain adventures. While there have been memorable books on the outpatient connections between writers and their dogs, such as John Zeaman’s Dog Walks Man and Stephen Kotler’s A Small Furry Prayer, Andrew Cotter sets new standards with this work. Part memoir and part Scottish travelogue, the reader goes mountaineering in the Scottish highlands with this cheerful trio.
We share the experience of Olive’s first day on the slopes and the puppy’s first jump in the snow: “Whirled around like a dervish, jumped in the air and then ran at full speed … your unrestrained joy was something to see.” Her climbing adventures bring them even closer together. The dogs fully trust their husband, and Cotter is upholding his end of the bargain by making their safety, welfare, and happiness his priority – even to the extent that he decides when it is in the dogs’ best interests is to reverse before reaching the sharpener.
While there’s a lot of fun entertainment and a dash of wisdom in this book, you can pick up on some helpful health pointers like I did. For example, the reason dogs don’t suffer from frostbite like we would if we were in the snow without shoes. Cotter conducted his research and found that dogs’ feet have a heat exchange system in which “arterial blood flows to the end of their legs and then warms venous blood before it is returned to the heart.”
Then there’s the limp tail puzzle, a condition Olive struggled with after one of her colder trips up the mountain. When Cotter saw that her tail was bothering her, he took her to a veterinarian who diagnosed a smooth tail (also known as a dead tail). He was told that it can happen when dogs overexert themselves or spend too much time in cold water or in extremely cold conditions (as can occur when hiking in the mountains). Fortunately, it healed quickly. After this experience, Cotter devoted himself even more to the knowledge of how to “read” his dogs on the fly.
One of the discoveries of this delightful book is that learning to really pay attention to our dogs (a skill that Cotter has mastered) gives us the opportunity to share their excitement and joy in the simpler things in life. For me, having a “Cotter voice” in my head telling my dogs about it adds another, more amusing dimension to our relationship. Fortunately, dogs will be “just” dogs.