John R. Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series, includes among his many talents the ability to take you inside the mind of a dog—which, oddly, is a kinda-bizarre-kinda-sane place to be. And he is a master of the running gag. In each of the stories, there is always some doggy quirkishness going on.

Book Cover: Quest for the Great White QuailFor example… Who hasn’t observed, sometime in their life, a plastic object that has been chewed up by a dog? Erickson takes a commonplace like that, and goes one step further. Consider this snippet from The Quest for the Great White Quail:

“I started chewing the truck and I LOVED IT!

I had never dreamed that chewing plastic could be such an exciting experience, but it was, and all at once Drover didn’t seem nearly as crazy as I’d thought.

I chewed it to smithereens and wanted more… more plastic! Yes, plastic. Who needs bones in a world full of nice, chewy plastic? Bones can wear down your teeth and cause bone particles to collect in your estomagus, but plastic… it doesn’t splinterize and poke your gums. Furthermore, since you don’t swallow it, all the various pieces remain outside the bodily so-forth.

See, plastic was invented for DOGS. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe I didn’t know it either, but after conducting this first experiment with a plastic substance, it became very clear to me that someone out there had invented plastic so that dogs could chew it.

Why not? For thousands of years, dogs have been man’s best friend. We’ve liked our people when they were unlikeable, loved them when they were unlovable, forgiven them when they were unforgivable. We’ve licked their ears when we really wanted ice cream, kept them warm on cold winter nights, laughed at their stale jokes, and listened to their corny songs about Old Paint and Dunny.

Don’t we deserve something special? Yes, of course we do, and that special something is PLASTIC.”

That little episode explains why, 60 pages later, when Hank is poised to whisk Plato the Bird Dog from the coyote’s den (the coyotes, unbeknownst to them, are in the back, asleep), we get this bit of business:

“Plato dropped to the floor of the cave, covered his eyes with his front paws, and began moaning. ‘No, I won’t go! I’m a failure. I can’t face the shame and disgrace!’ He whimpered and sniffled for a long minute, then peeked out from behind his paws. ‘You don’t understand any of this, do you? It must sound crazy.’

‘Yes, as a matter of fact, it sounds as nutty as a pecan tree.’

‘I guess cowdogs don’t have any of these wild compulsions.’

‘Apparently not.’ For some reason, my mouth began to water and I found myself… well, glancing around the cave. ‘You don’t have any plastic in here, do you?’

Plato uncovered his other eye and stared at me. ‘Plastic?’

‘Right. You know, toys, milk jugs, bread bags, garden trowels… anything made of plastic.’

‘I don’t think so, but why do you ask?’

“No reason, just curious.’ My mouth continued to water. ‘Are you sure there is no plastic in here? I mean, it doesn’t have to be huge, just something made of… Why are you staring at me?’”

And so on… There’s something very human about that dog, and the “human” side of him is as amusing as the “dog” side.

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To access (from its beginning) the profile of “Hank the Cowdog” creator John R. Erickson, go here.

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