Today 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…
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
“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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