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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Dog Tales Prove Real Love Can Walk on Four Feet

There's something about a dog story that captures the imagination. Even if you think of dogs in terms of hair on the furniture and muddy footprints on the floor, accounts of dog/human relationships strike a cord. Maybe it's because the bond with canines goes back to prehistoric times, or maybe it's as simple as growing up with Timmy and Lassie.

At any rate, there's a reason we call the dog "man's best friend."

Dog lover or not, you'll enjoy hearing John Grogan talk about his dog, Marley, at the library's One Book/One Community event this week. "Marley & Me" (William Morrow, 2005) is almost a primer for dog owners, one that should probably come a big label reading "Don't do it this way."

Still, he and his wife stuck with their big doofus, and he rewarded them with the same loyalty.

Jon Katz, author of several best-selling books about his dogs, writes about his own "problem child" in Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life (Villard, 2006.) The border collie came to Katz as a rescue when he washed out of competitive obedience. In addition to the high energy level typical of his breed, Orson had developed some serious behavior problems.

Katz's previous dog experience with two gentle, trainable Labrador retrievers had not prepared him for a dog whose compulsion to herd everything from birds to school buses was combined with a strong will and high intelligence.

Despite their difficulties, man and dog developed a special bond. Devon came into Katz's life at a time of midlife crisis and helped him to change his work, his home, his friends, and his way of looking at the world.

This isn't one of those sweet books about the happy adventures of a man and his dog, though. Katz lavished time, attention and training on the dog, trying holistic diets, acupuncture and a dog psychic.

These things, absurd as they sound, actually helped in small measure, but the fact remained that Orson was broken in a way that couldn't be fixed. This book is a monument to everything fine in the relationship between dogs and their people.

Caroline Knapp puts a different slant on the closeness between dog and owner in Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (Dial Press, 1998.) Knapp adopted her first dog from a shelter, hoping to fill the void in her life left when she stopped drinking (Drinking: A Love Story, Dial 1996).

At least in the beginning, Knapp was the needier of the two.

Great journalist that she was, Knapp began to explore the New York version of dog culture and discovered the great and sometimes expensive measures owners will take to make sure their pets are well-trained and well-balanced.

Immersing herself in dog matters with the fervor of a first-time mother, she gave Lucille obedience training, playdates, and visits to behaviorists.

She agonized over leaving the dog alone and then felt hurt when Lucille didn't experience the same anxiety.

Ultimately, she and Lucille saved each other. This is the story of their wonderful and complex relationship.

And then there was Gracie, star of Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff's Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale (Workman, 2000.) A white Great Dane, Gracie was alive only by chance. Gracie's breeder, not notably responsible, thought her color might make her more valuable but intended to euthanize her when he discovered she was deaf and partially blind.

Enter Dan, whose childhood dog, age 18, had just died.

At their first meeting, Gracie bumbled to her feet like the clumsy foal she resembled, nuzzled Dye's nose, and he was smitten.

Never a healthy dog, her refusal to eat commercial dog food led him to desperate measures.

He taught himself to cook for her, and in a matter of days began to make the dog cookies that led to a nationwide chain of Three Dog Bakeries (two locations in Indianapolis).

Gracie responded beautifully to her new diet, and shared her personality with a growing circle of friends while helping to put the bakery on the map.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.