I love dogs. I love cats, too, and I’ve shared my life with a number of wonderful, caring members of that species, especially my big, goofy Maine Coon, Philly. But if I have to come down on one side of the dog people/cat people divide, I think I'm slightly more of a dog person.
I’ve made such deep, soul-level connections with dogs, and I so admire their ability to love unconditionally. People who don’t like dogs will often insist that they love everyone, which has the effect of reducing their offerings to nothing. But that’s not true. They’re more discerning than non-dog people believe, though they often are better at forgiving than we humans.
Not always, though. We once adopted an Old English-Gordon Setter-mix we named Jake. We got him from a woman who was raising two pups along with a mother dog she took from a shelter, and she wanted to give up one of the puppies. I can only imagine some of the cruelties this woman and her husband had perpetrated on those dogs, based on the effect Jake displayed throughout his sixteen years. Amazingly, she was studying to be a vet. I can only hope she washed out of the program, or eventually developed a conscience.
Although Jake was always open to friendship from other dogs, he never trusted humans, apart from the few, like us and some of our friends, who won his trust and love. And on the rare occasions when we ran into the woman who gave him up on occasional walks or jogs, I have rarely seen any creature look at another with such fear and loathing. Dogs might have a greater ability to love unconditionally than many of us do, but they really don’t squander it universally.
Customers of my bookstore sometimes ask me which are my favorite dog books. I’ve enjoyed so many, but I can narrow my absolute top choices down to two: One that I especially enjoyed was Pam Houston’s Sighthound. Sighthound deals with the last year in the life of an Irish Wolfhound, Dante, a Buddhist dog (yes, a Buddhist) dying of cancer, and his human companion, who has been slow to learn the lessons he’s offered her. Sighthound conveys the idea that dogs come into our lives to teach us things, and when we learn them, they move on. This novel thoroughly charmed me, and Dante and his lessons have stayed with me for years.
Another dog-novel that I’ve thoroughly loved is Susan Wilson’s One Good Dog. In One Good Dog, a successful, wealthy, but miserably unhappy man, Adam, loses the control that is all that holds him together, and with one ill-conceived act, he loses everything. Soon, he’s doing community service in a soup kitchen, and gone are his job, his wealth, his high-powered friends, his snooty socialite wife, and his spoiled daughter. Making things even worse, he gets stuck with a pit bull-mix fighting dog, Chance.
Chance is no “fluffy,” as he describes other dogs. He doesn’t buy into the idea that canines exist to serve and love humans, although he does unexpectedly find himself moved enough by Adam’s lowest point to offer a bit of comfort. But that comes as a surprise to him. Chance sees himself as a professional fighter, and it’s fighting that he takes pride in.
Adam forms an unexpected friendship with a pet shop owner who has deplored everything he’s stood for, and comes to know his daughter on a level that he never would have achieved, had he not lost his prior station. Rather than trying to be heartwarming, One Good Dog takes a unflinching look at two beings who start out as unlikable. But their mutual redemption involves a believable, and amazing, transformation. The man who has lost everything, and the dog who never had anything beyond pride in a questionable activity, heal each other in ways that neither could have predicted.
A retired minister I know told me he thinks it’s an especially good novel for men, because it deals with the issue of masculinity as it relates to success and earnings and job performance. I suppose it does speak well to men on that level, and probably to more than a few women hung up on employment issues as well, but all kinds of people will find something that they can relate to in One Good Dog.
Do you like dogs? What are your favorite dog books?