There’s hard luck and then there’s Camden hard luck.
With fewer than 200 people and about as many buildings that need serious attention, this Missouri town has endured losing a state highway, its public school and a vibrant riverfront to time.
To be fair, it’s not alone. Other small towns have withered when highways were widened and rerouted or their businesses lost battles with retail chains, suburbia and online shopping.
But how many have lost a river?
That’s what happened to Camden in the second decade of the 20th century. Residents of a town where steamships docked to load and unload freight and passengers woke up one day to learn flooding had caused the Missouri River to cut a new, straighter channel and leave Camden high and dry.
It was the death knell for a town with a skating rink, the Play-Mor opera house, Octavia Kelly Hotel, restaurants, general merchandise stores and all the other trappings of a happening place.
Almost a hundred years later — the river changed course July 3-4, 1915 — there’s not a single place in town to spend money.
It would be cruel to say Camden, located on Route T (old Highway 210) in Ray County, has gone to the dogs. But it feels that way. It’s not an easy place to be a dog, or for that matter, a person.
There’s a four-way stop on the two-lane road that runs through. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about the place that makes people think it’s the perfect spot to dump an unwanted cat, dog or whole litter.
Jacque Obbink owns a home at the four-way. “People think it’s Camden,” she says, “so we’ll dump our dogs.”
That may explain why it’s common to see a dog crossing the road or taking a leisurely stroll down the center line like it owns the place. In a way, it does.
When a small furry black dog was struck and killed by a car at the east edge of town, it lay on the shoulder until a resident named Richard Dunwoodie hooked a little trailer to his riding mower and picked it up.
Richard called the dog Tiny – it’s a town where a dog can have as many names as there are people – and buried him, cross and all, on his property. Just because a place is down on its luck doesn’t mean it can’t give a dog a proper burial.
Camden dogs live a precarious life, and the standard-bearer for courage is Shadow or Shadow Man, as his owner calls him. Obbink, the resident at the four-way, takes good care of him, even though she, like most of the others, scratches to get by.
Shadow’s mother Suzi — the Obbinks called her Chow-Chow — was a stray who had her litter on Obbink’s back porch.
Like other Camden dogs, Shadow makes his rounds. “He’s kind of everybody’s dog,” said Obbink.
Not long ago, she had her niece come to stay at the house and care for him while she was away. Nobody knows what happened, but Shadow was gone for three weeks and then suddenly reappeared with his left rear leg missing.
Obbink learned he’d been hit by something – from the way he reacts to them, she thinks it was a big truck – and was found by a resident and taken to a vet in Richmond. The good Samaritan paid for the amputation that saved the black dog’s life.
Obbink doesn’t really know her.
Today, Shadow hops or drags around, but his eyes tell a story of simple canine contentment, not hard luck. Much like the town that adopted him, Shadow understands that losing something like a leg — or a river — doesn’t mean it’s time to turn out the light.