Will Rogers wrote, “No man can be condemned for owning a dog. As long as he has a dog, he has a friend.”
For Jim Hastings, that friend is a 45-pound canine named McKinley. True to his breed—a Vizsla with sleek rusty-gold fur and a slender athletic frame—McKinley has abundant energy and a drive to move.
“This is not a lapdog. This is a field dog,” says Hastings, 90, who walks with his canine cohort 4 to 5 miles every day along the American River Parkway near River Park. “Otherwise he’d be a nervous wreck. Anybody who has one should know that.”
McKinley became Hastings’ “constant companion” when the East Sacramento resident retired in 2017 as chief financial officer for Inside Publications, which he co-owns with wife and publisher Cecily Hastings.
At 5 years old, McKinley is a well-mannered, graceful, gentle pooch who lavishes affection on his owners, as well as complete strangers.
“He introduces me to all kinds of people at the river—men, women, kids,” says Hastings, who is never without a half pound of beef jerky bites on their daily walks. “Every dog that comes up and says hello, we give a treat to. They know when they see us coming that they’re going to get a treat. McKinley has made so many friends of the other dogs.”
McKinley, who lives with his family across from the East Sacramento park for which he is named, never misses a day of exercise, rain or shine. “I bought him a rain outfit,” Hastings notes. “He looks like a Canadian mounted policeman all dressed up in this red costume with green trim. Santa Claus himself couldn’t do better.
“And he wears it well and does not gripe about it,” as many other honorable hounds might. “As soon as you get it buttoned up, he’s ready to go.”
Friends come easy to a dog like McKinley, who is comfortable in public places and “likes everybody,” Hastings says. “He’s just like Cecily and me—when we’re out, we’re smiling and saying hello.”
When the Hastings built their East Sacramento home in 2007, they owned two female dogs of the same breed. With an eye for design, Cecily Hastings had side-by-side kennels built into cabinets off the kitchen with decorative grate doors to disguise their purpose. McKinley now has his own cubby in which to sleep.
The only obedience training McKinley has received is from Jim Hastings, who taught his friend to sit, come, down, retrieve and go to his kennel. “He almost always follows instructions,” Hastings says with a laugh.
And with McKinley by his side, Hastings has no problem reaching his goal of 26,000 steps a week. “You have to get out and get going and do something. He keeps me going and doing.”
What does McKinley bring to the relationship? “Companionship. All the time. He’s there. If I want to do something, we go. I am not alone. He’s a great partner. We’re just two guys walking around together.”
Author Dean Koontz wrote, “Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished.”
Hastings and McKinley are proof that life is better with a dog.
“I’m 90. But I don’t feel old,” he says. “A lot of it is that damn dog who won’t let me sit quietly somewhere and go to sleep. I never appreciated how much contribution animals made to my life. Now I have it. And now I appreciate it.”
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.