My Life in Dog Years

by Gary Paulsen

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What are the names of Gary Paulsen's dogs and when did he own them?

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Paulsen’s dogs are Cookie, Snowball, Ike, Dirk, Rex, Caesar, Fred and Pig, Quincy and Josh.

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The book called My Life in Dog Years is somewhat an autobiography of Paulsen but he is not the true star of the book -- his dogs are. The order that the dogs appear in the book are Cookie, Snowball, Ike, Dirk, Rex, Caesar, Fred and Pig, Quincy, and Josh....

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When Paulsen ran dogs in sled races, Cookie was his first lead dog. Paulsen describes Cookie as being a team leader who saved his life when he made the mistake of coming too close to the ice near a beaver lodge. Cookie was able to communicate to the team of sled dogs and pull Paulsen up; this sets up the theme of the book which is man’s dependence on dogs.

In Paulsen’s life Snowball was the first dog to truly matter to him. When he was seven he acquired Snowball in a village in the Philippines. Paulsen recalls that he and Snowball were inseparable; with her, Paulsen is able to learn how to tell different smells apart and how to find food. When Snowball dies, he describes this as being a great loss for him as a boy because he had very little contact with people and socialization mainly took place with her. Ike was the next dog to take some of his loneliness away, however Ike is not his dog. Ike was a trained hunting dog, which Paulsen liked because he enjoyed hunting as well. Ike disappears from Paulsen’s life and it is not until years later that Ike had returned to his owner who was now a wheelchair bound Korean War veteran. 

Dirk is the next to appear and depending on your take he can be considered funny or scary. His interaction with the dog is scary because Dirk saves him from the four muggers trying to rob him. Paulsen describes Dirk as seldom to show affection but fiercely loyal. He takes Kirk to live on a farm where the dog thrives.

When Paulsen is in his young teens and working on a farm, he meets Rex. Rex is a very conscientious dog that checks the entire perimeter, even making note that a skunk had tried to get in to the chicken coup. Rex seems to take pride in his work, even keeping watch at night. Caesar is next to be introduced, he is a Great Dane that is left to Paulsen by a man who no longer can care for him. Caesar is sad that his owner has left him but is very enthusiastic when it comes to food.

Fred is the next dog in the book, he is introduced along with a pig called Pig. Fred is bought by Paulsen from a little boy. Pig, though intended to be food, becomes a pet, and Fred and Pig bond with one another. Fred is described as being very determined, an example of this is when he repeatedly tries to get past an electric fence protecting Paulsen’s garden. 

Quincy, the next dog, is also very determined. He is a dog that has been abandoned, and after ending up in Alaska he is taken in by a woman. Paulsen quickly sees the determination in Quincy and trades one of his sled dogs for him. Quincy bonds with Paulsen’s wife, he defends her with an extreme devotion. Quincy lives for 18-20 years, a very long time for a dog.

Josh is the last dog in the book and he is 18-20 when his story begins. He is a border collie that is described as being thoughtful, intelligent, and devoted. Paulsen says that Josh is more a person than a dog. Josh finds Paulsen’s work fascinating and often follows him around to help. Paulsen even call Josh an extension of his mind. 

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The stars of My Life in Dog Years are, in order of appearance, Cookie, Snowball, Ike, Dirk, Rex, Caesar, Fred and Pig, Quincy, and Josh. Cookie was his lead dog when he did the Iditorod in Alsaka, Snowball was the first dog to matter to him, he had him at age 7, Ike he hunted and fished with, Dirk Paulsen had when he was homeless, Rex he had when he was 13 or 14, Ceaser is a Great Dane he rescued, Fred was sold to Paulsen by a little boy, Quincy becomes a sled dog, and finally Josh is a sweet dog that Paulsen currently owns. As you can see, the story isn't chronological, but goes with the story of the dogs, their personalities, and what they meant to Paulsen.

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