Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Going to the dogs

Marley & Me, John Grogan’s touching, hilarious take on dog ownership was a fabulously successful book published back in 2006. And like all such books its success has spawned an avalanche of imitators penned by others who've been touched by the antics of their canines.

I'm not complaining, mind you. This is what publishers do and a lot of the descendants are pretty decent as it turns out.

Some of the better follow-ups include My Life with George, Judith Summers' story of life with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel and how he helped heal her and her son after some sad events in their lives. This literary dog celebration cuts across political lines. Recently conservative talk show host Mark Levin chimed in with Rescuing Sprite, which chronicles his family's adoption of an adorably persnickety shelter dog. Not to be outdone by the vast right wing conspiracy, liberal Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen has weighed in with Good Dog. Stay., which features Beau, her beloved black Lab.

I've had a few dogs in my life, too, none of them inspiring enough for a whole book, but still they were not without interest. Take Prince (they did!), my gorgeous honey-colored collie who got in serious trouble when he bit a boy who dared to point his cap pistol in my direction when I was five. Very Rin-Tin-Tinny, I thought at the time. Then there was Dylan, space cadet dog of the sixties, who, without benefit of illegal substances, still spent a lot of time out back nosing a large rock over and over across the yard for reasons known only to him. Groovy, man. Kill the pigs.

In my own nuclear family we've had two dogs, a Brittany we called Angus (named for my maternal Grandpa) and Rosie, the sweetest and dumbest beagle to ever misconstrue a command. We bought Gus from a toney breeder in a snooty New York suburb who scrutinized my wife and I long and hard before we were deemed worthy to fork over a king's ransom for him. Still he was well worth it, a great companion dog who turned out to be a world class Frisbee catcher to boot. We had no kids then and looked at dog ownership as parent training. And it worked. Later the kids ate way more than expected and declined to follow orders, just like Gus.

Rosie the beagle was a downmarket dog from the other side of the tracks we got when the kids were around. We purchased her from a guy who owned a pizza place and kept the litter of puppies in the back, near the kitchen. My family took a few days to decide which puppy to take, but we immediately found another pizza place (yuk). The first night we had Rosie, the whole family arose at 3 AM to the most godawful sound any of us had ever heard. Thus we were introduced to the practice of "baying," a beagle vocalization that sounds roughly like the soundtrack to a disemboweling. Turns out she was just lonesome for her siblings and the baying subsided eventually.

Rosie was loaded with what's known as emotional intelligence, but was a trifle short of, well, the regular kind. On top of that she was naturally mischievous. Like Marley, Rosie knew rules were meant to be broken and so-called commands were meant to be stared quizzically at. She was nevertheless tempermentally sweet and physically adorable, which is the means by which beagles have so far avoided extinction.

So is that the kernel of an introduction first chapter of my dog book or not?

Let us know which dog books you're buying for friends this holiday season, and if you have a dog anecdote of your own, please share on this blog!


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