It has become a matter of editorial dogma around here that if there had never been a Hudson River, Bob Boyle would have had to invent one. His accounts of life and conflict along that river have been enlivening these pages for years. Even when he seems not to be writing about his favorite waterway, and he seems not to be doing so in this week's Nobody Touches Me with Impunity, you can usually look closely and find something. Sure enough, on page 75 there it is: a reference to the home of his central character, Robert Abady, in Stormville, N.Y. And where is Stormville? In an area known as the Hudson Highlands. Perhaps you were expecting Morris Heights?
Boyle can be excused for his provincialism in this case because his real reason for doing the story had nothing to do with the Hudson. The assignment appealed to yet another Boyle soft spot: dogs. If you can get him off the subject of rivers, Boyle is enthusiastically (but not uncharacteristically) voluble on the subject of man's best friend.
His personal taste in breeds runs more toward gundogs like his own 2-year-old Labrador retriever, Whygin Argus, than to attack dogs like the bear-like bouviers he describes in this week's article. His pride in his particular gun-dog was buoyed when Argus finished second in his first licensed derby.
Aside from his Labrador, Boyle has previously written about Irish wolfhounds, Albert Payson Terhune's collies, the dogs and officials of the American Kennel Club, a Westminster judge named Percy Roberts (who is also known as Mister Airedale), a dogged lady named Ann Hone Rogers and Trainer Dick Wolters, whose controversial methods Boyle has used in training Argus.
"Much as I respect my Lab," Boyle declaims loudly, "the best potential bird dog I ever owned was a cross between an Irish setter and a pointer I had when I was a kid. That dog used to point at flies on bananas on the stalls at Third Avenue fruit markets. Passers-by used to stop and stare, wondering why this dog was standing like a statue, holding a perfect point at a banana." Argus, fortunately, is not that addicted to fruit stands, but he does, says his master, love the sound of the .22 blanks Boyle fires in training him. "Argus may be the only living creature who would volunteer for World War III as long as it started with a bang."
Boyle thinks it's a sad comment on the human condition that dogs with as many attributes as the bouviers cannot be appreciated simply for their passive merits—that they must be bred, trained and sold as defensive weapons.
The time he spent with Abady and his bouviers had some unexpected benefits for Boyle. "I learned a lot about animal nutrition, and even gave Argus some of the vitamin supplements Abady gives his bouviers. What happened? Argus developed a remarkable fondness for my altered male cat. Side effects, said Abady."
Which anecdote, along with his bouvier account, may be the best shaggy river story Boyle's told all year.