Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs

By Andrew Cotter
Reviewed by Claudia Kawczynska, December 2020, Updated August 2021
Olive, Mabel and Me

Just what we are needing now, Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs is a rare treat of a book that will make you laugh aloud and perhaps expand your understanding of your dogs too. This unique and quite unforgettable book is about two dogs, Olive and Mabel, and their chronicler-extraordinaire, Andrew Cotter.

These two Labs took the digital world by storm in early 2020, when the author applied his interpretative skills to their everyday lives. The hush-toned narration is done in the manner of a sports announcer, a job that Cotter did for a living for the BBC, back when there were sporting events to announce. Come Covid and the hiatus from his normal routine and job scheduling, Cotter decided to turn to his two “girls,” Olive, a five-year-old black Lab, and the younger Mabel, a yellow Lab, as a way to get over the lockdown blues.

The first video, “The Dog’s Breakfast Grand Final,”which recorded the dogs eating from their respective bowls and was narrated by Cotter as though they were competing in a rugby match, amassed almost 2M views. In short order, it was followed by the likes of the “Game of Bones” and numerous others. All very simple, with little choreography, just capturing dogs doing what dogs do naturally—but with Cotter, usually in hushed “she’s stepping up to the tee” tones, interpreting their move-by-move action and interior thoughts or just talking to them. Once you watch a couple of these, it is hard not to binge on all of them.

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And now we are treated to a book that takes us behind the scenes, going deeper into their day-to-day lives, including their high-mountain adventures. While there have been memorable books about the ambulatory connections between authors and their dogs, such as John Zeaman’s Dog Walks Man and—on the more gonzo beat—Stephen Kotler’s A Small Furry Prayer, Andrew Cotter scales new heights with this work. Part memoir and part Scottish travelogue, the reader goes mountain climbing in the Scottish Highlands with this merry trio.

We share the experience of Olive’s first day on the slopes, and the pup’s first plunge into snow, “Whirling around and around like a dervish, leaping into the air, and then running full speed … Her unfettered joy was something to behold.” Their climbing adventures bring them even closer together. The dogs put their total trust in their man, and Cotter holds up his end of the bargain by making their safety, welfare and happiness his priority—even to the extent of deciding when it’s in the best interest of the dogs to turn back before reaching the peak.

While there is plenty of enjoyable entertainment, along with a dash of wisdom, in this book, you may also pick up a few helpful health pointers, as I did. For example, the reason dogs don’t suffer from frostbite, as we would if we went shoeless in the snow. Cotter did 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 heats up venous blood before returning it to the heart.”

Then, there’s the limp-tail mystery, a condition Olive came down with after one of their colder trips up the mountain. When Cotter saw that she was bothered by her tail, he took her to a vet, who diagnosed limber tail (aka dead tail). He was told that it can occur when dogs over-exert themselves or spend too much time in cold water or in extremely cold conditions (such as might be encountered during mountain treks). Luckily, she healed quickly. After that experience, Cotter became even more dedicated to knowing how to “read” his dogs on the fly.

One of the takeaways of this delightful book is that learning to really pay attention to our dogs (a skill Cotter has mastered) gives us opportunities to share in their enthusiasm and joy in life’s simpler essentials. For me, having a “Cotter voice” in my head narrating my dogs doing this and that brings another, more amusing, dimension to our relationship. Dogs will be “just” dogs, luckily for us.

Image courtesy of the publisher