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


  1. That's funny, because other people who read the book find it funny and sarcastic and too critical and not sympathetic to animals. Perhaps it says more about the reader than the author?


  2. Have you read any of Jon Katz's books?

    It would be awesome if he stopped by here and left a comment. He's kind of a rock star.

  3. It's become too easy in this world of E-mails, Facebook,and mass communication to look the other way when man and beast alike are in need, if it's only of a hug. Ken Foster shows that compassion and altruism are alive and well. However some only see this as a way to attack one's masculinity. If I were a helpless dog in need I'd like to think that there are people like Ken Foster in the world.

  4. Oh my god, give the woman a break - she was honest from the point of view of a world weary READER - who is looking for respite from the angry crazy world we live in. Take your girly man love fest some where else. She honestly didn't enjoy your book.

    Signed: Just another grumpy broad -- who loves dogs as much as the weepy, sob sisters giving the author of this blog a hard time.

  5. Dear Anonymous Grumby Broad
    It's sad to see how cynical this big bad world has made you. You probably sit around watching TV, with your dog eating fat free popcorn and organic dog treats, shouting you go girl to a ever more manly Judge Judy. Yet you can't handle it when a guy like Teddy shows his sensitive side. All guys can't be John Wayne. The world would be a better place with more girly man love fests. signed Tex

  6. Tex -
    First I never eat fat free anything - what is the point? My dog does enjoy his organic treats and does enjoy much too much reality TV with me. But don't hide behind Teddy's skirts you Elvis lovin, karaoke sissy-boy - and don't dis JJ - who retains her real world anger despite a $32M salary - and is living my dream.

  7. Dear Grumby Broad
    Glad to hear you have a healthy appetite. One of the many reasons I love dogs so much is that they have such a zest for life and relish eating organic treats, a good roll or belly rub, even if some owners force them to watch reality TV while holding their paw. I'm not hiding behind Teddy's "skirts", It's just that I know he's to much of a gentleman to be involved in the likes of this. As for Elvis he makes 6 times as much as Judge Judy and he's dead, when JJ is dead she'll just be another foot note in day time TV. As for Karaoke, Japan one of the fastest growing economies in the world trains it's CEO's by making them sing Karaoke. "Even though none of them can sing." It builds courage, confidence and poise, going back to the days of the Samurais. You probably think that the Samurais were sissy boys because they wore silks and braids into battle. Try and let go of the anger you don't need it to live the dream.

  8. Snark or no snark, Ms. Z, you've taken in many a pooch in need. They're lucky to have you, with or without irony.


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