Not your average retired warden book: ‘A Good Man with a Dog’ worth a read

Over the past several years, Mainers have learned that the law enforcement officers tasked with protecting their state’s fish and game resources live pretty interesting professional lives.

‘North Woods Law,’ the Animal Planet TV show that focuses on the Maine Warden Service, certainly helped by demystifying the life of wardens. John Ford Sr. has done his fair share as well, writing three books based on the diaries he kept while serving as a warden. And author Paul Doiron has given us a fantastic fictional take on the service in his series of novels featuring Wdn. Mike Bowditch.

The latest warden offering — “A Good Man with a Dog,” is on store shelves now, and fans of the genre, or the warden service in general, will surely enjoy it. Written by retired warden Roger Guay with award-winning author Kate Clark Flora, “A Good Man with a Dog” isn’t funny, like so many of Ford’s stories. It also isn’t fictional, like Doiron’s work. Instead, it’s a deeply personal account of some of the incidents that helped shape, and nearly destroyed Guay.

The book provides a stark look at a law enforcement reality: People die, and somebody has to be there to figure out why … or to recover the body.

For 25 years, one of those people was Guay, who became well-known both in and out of the warden service in part because of the K9 partners that he trained and worked with. Over the years, those dogs found people that others had missed, mounted successful searches for the missing and the dead, and even responded to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help look for bodies.

And Guay makes one thing perfectly clear: The New Orleans assignment changed him forever.

Part of that was because the situation was mishandled by government entities more focused on generating positive reports on national news — a Maine man with a fabulous dog, for instance — than actually recovering the dead. Guay also discovered that New Orleans at that time was a dangerous, largely lawless city.

In “A Good Man with a Dog,” Guay recounts one tale that haunts him to this day: A lone man drove up on his search team — Guay was guarding the truck — loaded a gun, and began stalking the warden as he tried to keep the truck between him and his pursuer.

Only the barking of the dogs that were in the truck — both were trained to sniff out gunpowder, and recognized the present danger — ended the situation, sending the man scurrying.

While it’s easy to root for Guay and celebrate his dogs after reading about the cases they helped solve, and the people they helped find, there’s another side to the book that is stunningly open and heart-wrenching.

Guay explains that so many years dealing with the deaths and near-deaths of others took a toll on him that he hadn’t expected.

Now, he says, he recognizes that he had post traumatic stress disorder. At the time, two warden colleagues recognized that their friend had changed, and was not himself at all. They stepped in, told him that he had to take time off, and helped him begin his journey on the road to recovery.

From that dark place, Guay has found light. He tells stories that need telling, in a first-person style that is very readable. Part of the credit for that, of course, belongs to Flora, who agreed to help tell Guay’s story.

Others in his shoes —  non-writers with stories to tell — would be well-advised to do the same, and seek the aid of a professional who knows how to craft a tale.

In this case, Guay picked well: Flora has published 14 mystery and true crime books, and her “Finding Amy,” about a case that Guay helped solve, was an Edgar Award nominee.

With that said, those accustomed to the hilarious warden tales, a la Ford, won’t find those here. Guay’s accounts are factual, and interesting, but there aren’t many laughs to be found.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

Even the dark stories deserve to be told. And here, they’re told very well.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.