Nina was a wild dog with an earnest expression who lived in the mountains of Portugal. She stole the hearts of an entire village with her canny instincts and determination.
Henry looked like Benji, but better. He served as the steadfast confidant for two little boys grappling to make sense of grown-up problems.
Hazel was a good girl eager to please – so much so that the day she graduated from dog obedience was one anyone present will never forget.
These are the four-legged protagonists of “Gone Dogs,” a new collection of 50 poems and short stories that celebrate the one-of-a-kind bond between dogs and their humans.
We recently sat down with Mitchem to talk about the project – and dogs in general. His abundant love for both is clear.
“Some people are born to think about money,” he says as we chat over coffee in Plaza Midwood, the neighborhood his family has called home since 2001. “I’m born to think about dogs.”
About a Dog
Jim’s pop-culture favorites
It’s about love
Dogs have been a constant presence in Mitchem’s family for 20 years. It was the loss of one of those four-legged family members that gave him the idea for “Gone Dogs” in 2014.
Mitchem was struggling to say goodbye to Sydney, his family’s Australian Shepherd. As a way of working through his grief, he wrote about her – something he also did when the family lost their older Aussie, Tucker, four years prior. Both times, he was struck by the outpouring of compassion, empathy and anecdotes he received in response – some from dog people he’d never met.
He realized if writing about the dogs he’d lost was cathartic for him, it’d likely help fill the holes other gone dogs had left in their humans’ hearts, too.
And so that’s the theme that threads together these tales of companionship from Charlotte, England, Scotland, Canada, Portugal and places in between: They’re celebrations of dogs lost, yes. But even more so, they’re tributes to the tremendous mark these furry family members make on the people they leave behind.
“This book isn’t about dogs,” says Mitchem. “Sure, that’s the subject matter. The glue. But this book is about being human. How we feel about this relationship. This deep connection. Love.”
We talked about that connection with his own dogs – first Tucker, then Sydney and now his current pack of three – and what it’s taught him.
“Be in the moment,” Mitchem says without hesitation. “And it’s weird; I have to learn it every day. If I’ve had a bad day and I walk out the back steps, my shepherd will see me, grab a ball, drop it at my feet, and look at me with those soulful eyes as if to say, ‘Be here.’”
And so here, in this moment, Mitchem and Smithwick will celebrate the official debut of “Gone Dogs” with a launch party at Moxie Mercantile in Plaza Midwood Nov. 2. Mitchem hopes it’s just the beginning. If all goes as planned, this will be the first of many editions in years to come. In the shorter term, you can add your own story about a dog – or cat – you’ve loved and lost at GoneDogs.com.