Thursday, July 22, 2010
The Literary Dog: Dog Tales of 9/11 & Katrina
Teddy's Johnny loaned me his copy of The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind (The Lyons Press, 2006) by Ken Foster. I put off reading it for a while. I mean, look at the cover. Look at the big sad eyes on that dog. And the blurbs. I generally don't read books described as "wonderful . . . funny . . . and moving" on the cover or that have back-cover blurbs about life lessons, bravery, and gratitude. The book's obvious earnestness and lack of snark meant that it kept getting rotated to the bottom of my bedside stack in favor of a predictable Ian Rankin mystery or a half-completed New York Times Sunday crossword. (The Mother's Day xword was deceptively easy. I did it in ink, in about two hours. It hangs, like a trophy, on my refrigerator door, next to the movie schedule for the Paramount summer series, which I never go to. I'm thinking that it was kind of patronizing of the NYT to make the Mother's Day puzzle so easy. Come on. "Happy Mother's Day! Here's one that you can do, Mommy.")
But I digress. Because I don't want to have to tell you about this book. Look, it's fine. The author is a sweet, sensitive guy who has had a lot of bad luck that he has turned into meaningful experiences. For example, he was living in New York with his dog pit bull Brando during 9/11. Four years later, he moved to New Orleans shortly before Katrina. In between, he found and rescued at least a dozen dogs from neglectful neighbors and the mean streets. I have to give Foster credit. One thing he captures really well is the ambivalence one feels (okay, I feel) when finding a stray, that sinking realization that the rest of your day is probably going to suck, that you'll be inconvenienced and maybe have to shell out some bucks, but also that you're doing a good thing. The lesson that Foster learns repeatedly is that rescuing a sick, frightened, lost dog means making yourself vulnerable to many things--bites, disinterest from other humans, and, more devastating, feelings of attachment for an animal that you probably can't keep. The fact that Foster keeps rescuing dogs is a testimony to his refusal to become blind to the suffering of animals or cynical about the deeply flawed and selfish human race.
The weirdest thing about this book was that I kept having to remind myself that the book's author is a guy. Seriously, I kept stopping to look at the cover for the writer's name. Ken is not one of those names that can go either way. I can't quite figure out what my problem was. Was I confused because the book reads "girly"? Reading it was like perusing a pre-teenager's secret journal, full of ardent hopes and crushing fears as well as artless descriptions of helpless animals and earnest checklists ("How to Let Go" and "What to Do When You Find a Stray Dog.") Life, the writer discovers, can be so cruel, but thank God for dogs. Well, yes, I completely agree, but I also find that a little irony helps some of us get through the day. Others may feel differently, of course. And to them I recommend this book.
So, thanks to Johnny for loaning the book. And thanks to you all for reading this humble blog. -z