On Dogs…A Tribute

thedogbookToday the subject isn’t ebooks. It’s not one of my rants about the publishing industry either. So if you came for one of those, you might be disappointed. It’s not even a boast post. This is about dogs.

It’s different, too, since I’m touting a specific book. I don’t normally do that here. My readers are looking for ways to produce better ebooks or to solve problems about ebooks or to find some tips about self-publishing. So if I shout, “Buy this book!” it’s usually for a book that will help self-publishers. Not this time. To know why I’m making such a big shift from my regular posts, you need a little background.

I lost my dogs.

It happened a few months ago. It wasn’t unexpected. They were elderly and both developed nerve damage, sort of a canine form of ALS. One progressed to crisis mode and the other was swiftly on his way to a crisis, so we had to have them put to sleep. It’s been a few months and I still look for them. I still expect to hear them coming to my office. Spot, a coal-black Chow/Lab mix–except for one golden-red spot on his shoulder, is the easier loss to deal with. He was much like Norm in the TV show Cheers. His current best friend was whomever was buying the drinks–or rather, supplying the cookies. Spot was everybody’s buddy, but he was nobody’s best friend. Boo, on the other hand…

Boo with his cat bud, Lynx

Boo with his cat bud, Lynx

He and I were destined for each other, the deal sealed the first time we locked eyes at the Humane Society and he low-crawled across the floor to beg me to take him home. He was a dog with a sense of humor and an even deeper sense of duty. He served as the household Enforcer, making sure the other pets and children behaved, and tattling shamelessly if they misbehaved. He had a certain look and “hoo hoo hoo” that let me know if a cat was on the kitchen counter or that Spot had gotten into the garbage again. He protected me from deer, bears, burglars and UPS men. In all the time he lived, nary a single deer, bear, burglar or UPS man made it through the door. (I happened to meet with the milkman one morning and he laughingly said, “I love sending new guys to your house. I never tell them about the dog.” We have a half-glass front door and Boo would leap against it, his head higher than the door. A disconcerting display that terrified delivery people.) Walks with Boo were always an adventure, especially with other dogs. If another large dog acted in a threatening manner, he’d plant himself in front of me and go into what I called “wolf mode”–head down, feet square, tail straight out behind him. And the stare: fixed, stern and utterly no-nonsense. He never growled or barked or lunged. The stare was enough so that even the loopiest dog would suddenly decide he had something better to do. Small yappy dogs were different. Especially those on extension leashes. When one of them “attacked”, Boo would look back at me, his expression clearly asking, “Okay, is this one a chew toy?” I’d say, “Leave it,” and he’d sigh and carry on, ignoring the yapper with admirable restraint. Such devotion had a price, though. If I was away from home, he wouldn’t eat or play. He’d wait for me. Nothing else. He’d just wait. I always felt horribly guilty.

Enough. This is painful.

Back to the book. The Dog Book. When Jerry told me it was in the lineup for production, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The last thing I wanted to do was read about dogs. But when the text was ready, I told him I could handle it, even knowing that stories about dogs would make me cry. And some of them did. I did it anyway and something interesting happened. You see, when I lost Boo and Spot, I vowed, never again. I couldn’t take the heartbreak. It was just too hard loving something that much and then losing it. Then I read things like:

But he isn’t Blue. In the domed shape of his head under my hand as I sit reading in the evenings I can still feel that broader, silkier head, and through his half-boisterous, half-bashful, glad morning hello I still glimpse Blue’s clown grin and crazy leaps. I expect such intimate remembrance will last a good long while, for I waited the better part of a lifetime to own a decent dog, and finally had him, and now don’t have him any more. And I resolve that when this new one is grown and more or less shaped in his ways, I am going to get another pup to raise beside him, and later maybe a third. Because I don’t believe I want to face so big a dose of that sort of emptiness again.”  from “Blue and Some Other Dogs” by John Graves

And this:

Another dog? Certainly not. What would I want with a dog? Rufus was not a dog. He was Rufus.”  from “Rufus” by H. Allen Smith

“Kooa’s Song” by Farley Mowat gave me a laugh, as did James Thurber’s “The Dog That Bit People.” John Steinbeck’s apology for not writing an introduction for another dog book had me, well, howling. I was awed by Donald McCaig’s description of sheepdog trials in “An Honest Dog,” and got a lesson in courage in John Muir’s “Stickeen.” I learned some history from such luminaries as Edwin H. Colbert, Jerrold Mundis and Marcus Terentius Varro. Many of the writers in this collection, appropriately subtitled “A Treasury of the Finest Appreciations Ever Penned About Dogs”, are old favorites of mine: James Herriot, E.B. White, Farley Mowat, James Thurber, John Steinbeck, Donald McCaig, and John Muir. Some were from writers I’d never heard of before, and some were downright obscure (an Anonymous Nineteenth-Century Sportsman). It’s an unusual collection. What Jerry says in his introduction:

They are mainly contemporary writers, but a few have been drawn from the past and some of the selections concern themselves with history. There are memoirs here, essays, adventures, letters, portraits, pensées and recollections. They depict the dog in a variety of roles, from shepherd, hunter and guard to friend and companion. Some of them are humorous, provocative or sad; some compelling, insightful or tense; others poignant, cheerful or exhilarating.

“I have included three poems. Why, in a book of nonfiction? Well, each clearly addresses an actual event. And poets shouldn’t be penalized simply for telling their truths in fancy dress. And finally, because I like them.

The interesting thing that happened to me? It made me want another dog. Not quite yet. My heart wounds are still too open and raw. But soon, perhaps. It’s often said that animals find the people who need them. So maybe if an animal finds me, I won’t turn it away.

So now you know why I’m writing about dogs instead of ebook formatting. Why I’m taking a break from my usual stance of not touting any particular book as a “must read”, and telling all of you that if you love dogs and stories about dogs, then this is a must read for you. I’m even going to shamelessly call in some favors and ask that if you’ve gotten some benefit from this blog, that you pay me back by spreading the word about The Dog Book. It’s been out of print for decades, but now it’s back as an ebook and available at a very low price and I really want you all to read it. Even if you aren’t a hardcore dog lover, the quality of the writing will wow you. If, like me, you are a bit battered, a lot bruised, there are stories in this collection that could bolster your spirits and make you see the world in a better light again.

Feel free to tell dog stories in the comments, if you’d like. But no sympathy for me, please. I won’t be able to read the comments if you all are too nice.

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13 thoughts on “On Dogs…A Tribute

  1. No sympathy for you? How about empathy? The post made me cry. I went to bed last night thinking of Louie, Jake’s predecessor. Jake is Jake and I adore him, but Louie was just Louie, the most perfect best friend I’ve ever had. Now I’m crying again. Sorry. I think God made dogs specifically for us, to be our true companions.

  2. I think more people should take a break from the usual programming and write posts about dogs. I’m going to slightly ignore your request and tell you I have experienced what you’re going through and feel your pain, so my heart is with you. But what a joy and blessing to know you’ve given a rescue dog a good life, and in return, he gave you rewards immeasurable. Thank you for sharing the story of Boo — and the book recommendation.

    I’m a writer/editor, and have a co-worker who is a very talented artist. He and I are currently working on a project that will benefit area (Houston, TX) rescue groups, and we’re pretty darn excited about it. It will be so more dogs can have happy endings like Boo.

    I loved reading about Boo the protector, and I’ll end with my own “protector” story. I have three rescue dogs — Big Jake, the 106-lb. Rhodesian Ridgeback/Boxer mix, Conrad, the 75-lb. Australian shepherd mix, and Daisy Mae, the little Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix. On our morning walk (me the only human), we crossed paths with the landscape guy finishing up his work at a neighbor’s. We smiled at one another and said hello. He said — in his pleasant Spanish accent — “You got lots of security.” I thought to myself, “I’m very glad you see it that way.”

  3. I miss Boo and Spot, and I never met them. I just heard your stories and saw your pictures, Jaye. I lost my little terrier Bethel before you lost Boo and Spot. I wasn’t left dogless, but my sense of humor has been slow to return. I miss my Bethel every day. I know I’ll never have another dog like her. Having Bethel was like having an imp in the house. She would swear she had to poop when she really wanted to go outside to eat berries. She would actually do a quick fake squat and then make a break for the berry bush. She played Hide ‘N’ Seek with me…she would hide and then bark to let me know that the game was on. I got a “spare” dog when it became apparent that she was aging swiftly. I knew that Stevie, my rat terrier, wouldn’t cope well as a solo dog. I brought home a soulful little neglected chihuahua. Indie is a sweet boy who never met a stranger, and I hope that he gets over his night terrors, soon. If you think a howling chihuahua in the dead of night can’t raise the hair on your head, think again. I’m glad you are not against getting another dog, Jaye. They are Woman’s Best Friend. And guys, guys get along with dogs, too. I’m looking forward to the day that a little girl dog shows up and I have the resources to take her in. I feel her out there. It’ll happen. Your new dog will happen, too. In the meantime, I look forward to reading this book! My favorite subject AND some of my favorite writers? Can’t miss.

  4. Wonderful post. If I had even a particle of humanity in my soul, I suspect I’d have found it touching.

    And I bet Our Lad sells a book or two.

    Lawrence Block LB’s Bookstore on eBay LB’s Blog and Website LB’s Facebook Fan Page Twitter: @LawrenceBlock

    Our Guarantee: No infinitives were split during the transmission of this message.

  5. Okay, something weird is going on. When I first clicked on the Amazon opportunity to buy, the price was over $2,000.00. I was so shocked I took a screen shot. Now I went back and the only thing I find is a ‘used’ for 0.34 C. Something went wrong, and no, I did not break the internet. Not again…I’m pretty sure.

  6. Great blog and now I have to have the book! I think one of the surprises in my life with dogs is that they are all so different. I had an exceptional dog for most of my childhood, and I spent too much time after losing her trying to get new dogs to be like she was. It took me some time to realize dogs are as individual as people. My current dog, a loyalty-impaired labradoodle, is as different from my first as can be, but has carved as deep a place in my heart.

  7. Book purchased! I’m glad you blogged about it.

    Our dogs are our dearest loves. I’m sitting here now with my old yellow lab — the dog who grew up with my son, who was the only creature who could comfort him when his father died, who “taught” the abused pup we adopted how to be a happy, confident Real Dog. I know we’ll lose Ty soon. I know, too, I’ll never regret giving him my heart because, truly, he gave me his first and never asked a thing in return but affection.

    Okay, he asked for munchies, too. All the time. He’s a lab after all! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing about your pups.

  8. We lived in an apartment on Passage Street in Paramount when this stray, white puppy appeared. The whole block of apartments , the families chipped in to care for her, taking turns putting out food and water, that kind of thing. She started showing signs of swelling in her abdomen, and everyone thought that maybe she was going to have puppies. Then one day, my dad was outside fixing my brother’s bike or something along those lines when he caught the grouchy lady (no one liked her much) across the lawn flat out kick the poor dog. My dad, who even in his old age is an imposing man at 6’7″, lit into this woman with the voice authority of a military general, leaving the woman in tears.

    The dog limped and whimpered after the kick, and so my dad took her to the vet to get her checked out, thinking that maybe the pregnancy was disturbed. Turns out, the dog had developed a benign tumor, so after treatment, my dad paid for the bill, and for the additional procedure to get her fixed.

    From that moment on, that dog rarely left my dad’s side. She would follow him to his car in the morning on his way to work, and wait for him to come home again in the evening. And she’d bark and growl at any stranger who approached him like she was going to rip them to shreds, a habit she never developed for anyone else. We bought a house not long after that, and the neighborhood decided that we should take the dog with us, knowing that she would be crushed if my dad left her behind.

    We named her Passage, and we got to keep her for nearly 15 years, during which she had been in a cat fight and lost an eye, developed cataracts in the other eye, and had arthritis so bad she could only walk in tiny circles. Which is terrible, I know, we shouldn’t have let her progress that bad, but she didn’t seem to care. And if she was ever in pain, she never once showed it. She still thought the world of my dad and refused to leave his side whenever he was in the backyard. He even walked slower and paused a lot so she could keep up. And we got other dogs down the line, mostly labs, but she was alpha over them all.

    I think something fell on her or maybe she got into another cat fight (there are a lot of feral cats in our neighborhood) I forget now what happened to her, but we knew that night that she was ready to go. Because when my dad tried to check on her wounds, she bit him. That was a long night, longer even I think for my dad. I know even these twenty years later, I still expect to see her turning tiny circles to get to the back porch for her treat.

    Humans can learn a lot from dogs, about loyalty and faith and acceptance. I know Passage taught me a few things in my youth that I still reflect on from time to time. The best I think is not to pass judgment against a 6’7″ man cuddling a 5 pound Pekingese, no matter how odd it might look.

    As a side note, if I remember correctly, we received a phone call from one of the Passage Street residents the year after we moved that the grouchy lady got picked up on a shoplifting charge and got maximum sentence because she tried to hit the policeman with her purse.

  9. Dogs *do* smile. And Boo obviously had a great one.

    I buried two of my own dogs own when I lived in the mountains, in upstate New York, during the ’70s and early ’80s with my wife and two children. We had a big old rambling house and a number of outbuildings on 7 wooded acres of land that adjoined 10,000 state acres.

    There was a small little cemetery area on the property, in the pines, with 6 headstones – members of the originally settling family. The oldest stone showed a birthdate of just before the Revolutionary War, the freshest a burial date of just before the end of the Civil War. My property deed had an easement in it guaranteeing access to the little cemetery to any relative of that family (of which none had been heard from in anyone’s memory).

    I buried my dogs there, Olex and Valkyrie, both of them wonderful, wonderful animals, German shepherds, each in turn when his and her time came, within its bounds (and didn’t mark their graves with anything more than a natural fieldstone) because I knew that there, and buried in that manner, no one who would came later, as others finally did, would ever disturb their final resting place.

    Thanks, Jaye

  10. Jaye, big, big hugs and tears. Thoughts and prayers. Losing a dog, it’s always hell. I lost my ‘Grin Boy’ Luther, my last Akita in January 2013. Tore hubby and I to pieces, even though he was old and sick and we knew it. He beat the vet by only a few hours. He died in my arms. Oh, it’s never easy. Luther was a big, dark, scary looking Akita. He was my boy from the very first moment. He might have looked as if he’d eat a bear, but he was the gentlest soul on the planet. He helped me raise four tiny, orphan kittens, he looked after the various rescue puppies we fostered. Nubba who is currently dosing in front of the fire, a puppy born on a farm and afraid of sheep and so a throwaway, grew up with Luther. She used him as a chew toy, he taught her to speak Akita. Really, he did. Every morning she’d come in and sing Akita/Kelpie songs to him. We didn’t realise she was singing to him (dopey humans though she was singing to us) until the day after he died. No more songs from Nubba.

    You can never replace them. They’re all special. The only thing that has helped us through were two foster dogs who came six months later. One a starvation case Whippet, and the other a tiny, old, pathetic bundle of bones and matted fur. Lulu and Lady, now healthier, and firmly entrenched members of the family. They’re not my grin boy, but he’d approve, and if he was here, he’d look after them too.

    Hugs, again

    Carole

  11. Mike D. Dog was our perfect dog, irreplaceable. When we had to put him down, I went to a bar and drank shots of tequila through the tears and thought, “There can be no other dog.”

    But within days my husband started visiting the SPCA. If he found a dog he thought might be ours, he’d call me at work and I’d go see at lunchtime. I rejected dog after dog. Then one day almost six weeks later, after I’d rejected another dog who wasn’t Mike, I walked past a cage with a black puppy, about four months old and thought, “What about this one?” She has a white heart-shaped patch on her chest.

    We took her out to the play yard. And there she was. Our dog. She was completely focused on us. She stayed right on my husband’s heel as he walked the length of the yard. She ran right back to me when I called, looking at me with sparkling black eyes. Babe E. Girl, our perfect dog.

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