I’m a dog person. Today, I am without a dog for the first time in more than 20 years after losing my dog (Lucy, a Bouvier) two weeks ago to cancer. Even as we grieve her death, my sons and I have begun thinking about when we will be ready for another dog or dogs in our lives. And that led me to think about how often I read about dogs:fiction and non-fiction that is strictly or tangentially about the amazing relationship we have with dogs and have had, apparently since long before written history. So I thought I might share a few favorites.
Nicholas Dodman’s The Well-Adjusted Dog is a recent book on how to live with and train dogs and a welcome relief from the disciplinarian (punishment) school of dog management. Dodman suggests various humane and thoughtful ways of understanding dogs and managing their behavior, with huge emphasis on adequate exercise (most dogs need much more than people know or plan for, but that exercise is good for dog and human alike), appropriate diet, and reinforcement-based training methods. Whether you have a puppy or older dog or you’re just thinking about adopting a dog, this book is a great orientation to incorporating a dog into your life (and you into the dog’s!). (Request from Heights Libraries.)
Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog is a memoir of his life with Merle in rural Wyoming, from their first, unforgettable meeting to Merle’s death at age 14. As well as a vivid and moving biography, Kerasote shares a vast amount of information about the history and nature of the domestic dog and his understanding of how and why we are drawn to this relationship. Merle was probably born on a Utah reservation and spent at least some time roaming independently before he adopted Kerasote. Because of Kerasote’s lifestyle, Merle had an unusual amount of independent life (as well as a deep bond with Kerasote), and this made for an opportunity to develop different kinds of intelligence and experience than most dogs currently have. Additionally, Kerasote’s take on human life on the planet in the 21st century is provocative and engaging stuff, from his thoughts on hunting versus farming to his powerful portrait of the wilderness areas in Wyoming and Utah. (Request from Heights Libraries.)
Two old favorites are novels narrated by dogs, Richard Adams’s The Plague Dogs and Paul Auster’s Timbuktu. The Plague Dogs is the story of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who have escaped from a research facility in England and their harrowing journey in search of their previous lives and sanity. The early chapters may be challening to American readers because of Adams’s use of dialect and his attempt to convey the mental processes of the dogs, but we soon adapt to the style and enter into the fascinating, though distressing story. This book was written in 1977, five years after Watership Down. As you may know, Adams is an outspoken animal rights activist, but first and foremost, he is a fine writer. (Request from Heights Libraries.)
Timbuktu by Paul Auster is the story of Willy G. Christmas, a homeless schizophrenic man in Brooklyn, told by his dog, Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones takes the vicissitudes of their nomadic life matter-of-factly and knows the likely rejection or even outright cruelty to be expected from many of the people they encounter. His unsentimental loyalty and Willy’s dependence upon him ring true. This simple, loving relationship (in marked contrast to the complicated, devious, and self-serving motives of most of the human characters) suggests why humans have long sought the company of dogs. As well as a biting commentary on life of the mentally ill and homeless in contemporary society, this is a touching portrait of the canine soul. (Request from Heights Libraries.)
More books with dogs soon.