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A coworker of mine, when he heard I was having a little girl, and discovering that I was the owner of two dogs, told me about this book. 

“I read it every night to my daughter, who is allergic to dogs, but wants one so badly” said Dave.

“I ADORE this book,” said Jessica.

And I do. I was head over heels, from the very beginning:

“The end of Kate’s bed was a lonely place. Tiger the cat no longer slept there. Tiger died last winter, so there were only Kate’s two feet to keep each other company.”

Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, or the still fresh wound of my favorite cat’s death last summer, but I’m not ashamed to say that before the book even properly started I was bawling in that most cathartic,  poignant way that we all need once in a while.

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Book CoverFull disclosure:  I read Marley and Me (hey, it has a dog on the cover doesn’t it?) and I enjoyed the book immensely.  I laughed at all the funny parts, cringed when required and even cried at the end (come on, you knew it was coming!).  I’ve read that Walking with Ollie is Britain’s answer to Marley and I agree with that in many ways. I also think that both men adore and love their dogs and any judgments that follow are solely in their roles as responsible dog owners, not as good people.

I have four rescue animals – two cats and two dogs.  They are all wonderful creatures, affectionate and loving.  They don’t know they are supposed to be thankful that I rescued them and often act quite cavalier about their living situation (they are, plain and simply, spoiled).  Three of them have stable personalities with no issues that need managing. 

One of them doesn’t. 

He came to us as a four month old puppy and the first time I took him to the vet (the second day I had him) she said “He’s a bit timid isn’t he?”  I wouldn’t realize her understatement until many months later.  By then I had come to realize the little guy was afraid of the car (he puked once he got in), strange men on the street (or boys past the age of 15 or so), my father (even after he’d known him for months), statues of people, holiday decorations, the vacuum cleaner, nail clippers (the dog version and the human version), baby gates, cats, and inexplicably, the Stop N Shop Peapod truck.   Unlike Ollie, he was not afraid of his owner (me) but he did give Tim the fish eye occasionally, just to make sure he wasn’t up to no good.

When I began reading Ollie, I couldn’t help but remember the despair I felt when I realized my dog was not normal.  I felt that I had failed.  I thought that my first dog attempt was a disaster and it was all my fault (did I make him this way?).  That I couldn’t help this poor creature who was just terrified of the world.  I felt for Mr. Foster, I really did.  I’ve been there. 

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Cover ImageI’m not a fan of Virginia Woolf.  Though admittedly I am not that familiar with most of her work.  I started reading Mrs. Dalloway after I finished the atrociously bad (though such a clever idea!) The Hours.  I didn’t get very far.  Though I like her language, I had a hard time relating to her character (a woman planning a party – no surprise there, that’s not my style).

I had heard that she wrote a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush but I never thought to read it, since I was so turned off by her to begin with. But then I read another atrociously awful book How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, in which they mention Flush and I thought, this could be interesting. 

I love stories about famous folks’ dogs (the exception being the modern day Paris Hiltons with their little rats in bags) and one of the best books on the topic is The Pawprints of History by Stanley Coren (Flush was sadly omitted).  Flush is more than that though, it’s the imagined biography of this dog told in a whimsical yet very canine oriented way.  As the reader, you really feel as if you know what Flush was thinking, feeling, and smelling (and he did have many adventures!).

Flush’s bond with Elizabeth is palpable.  Virginia herself had a cocker spaniel and it has been suggested that she used him as the model for this book.  I’m sure he was.  Clearly the author loved dogs in general and spaniels in particular, but one special dog clearly prompted this labor of love.

Interestingly though, this book is really a backdrop for the story of Elizabeth herself.  Flush is with her when she elopes.  He is with her when she flees to Italy.  He is even with her for the birth of her child.  And through it all he is unimpressed with her poetry and even her husband (though he softens a bit on that count). He is still very soundly a dog.

Maybe Ms. Woolf isn’t so bad after all.  Anyone who can climb into the canine mind with such empathy and understanding must be a dog person.

And dog people are my people.

I was worried about one of my pets, as I always do, when my mother said to me in frustration “Why don’t you just give away all your pets and. . .”

“Be miserable?” was my reply.  Because despite my anxieties on their behalf (are they sick, are they happy, are they getting all that they need????) I can’t imagine living a life without the little critters. 

Though I am not one of those delusional people who thinks of my pets as kids, they are certainly an important part of my family.  I smile even while getting mauled by the dogs each day when I get home (what human would ever greet you with such happiness?).   When away from home I cannot sleep, ironically, because it’s too quiet.  Though a purring cat can be loud, it sure is comforting.  Being flanked on either side by warm felines bodies leaves some folks cold, but I’ll take the subsequent crick in the neck for a few glorious moments of a group cat nap. 

Though I spend a lot of time attending to my pets’ needs, as an chronic worrier, it’s nice to have a respite from my own issues, even if it means worrying a little about someone other than myself.   When the dogs need to be fed or walked or the litter box cleaned, there is no time for self involvement – and that’s ultimately healthier than the alternative.

I’m not the first to delight in the soothing affect of pets. Ask any pet owner and you’ll get a litany of reasons why their pets are good for them (you may even get melodramatic or just highly dramatic accounts of noble acts and miracles, depending on the pet owner).  And more recently science has supported such anecdotal evidence with studies that show pets lower blood pressure, decrease depression and increase feelings of social support in those who live alone.

So it’s not surprising that Bruce Goldstein’s therapist suggested that Goldstein, a manic depressive, get a dog.  Where medicine and therapy failed, a tiny black lab puppy named Ozzy succeeded. 

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I would have bought this book for other reasons – it has a cute dog on the cover, it’s about veterinary medicine – but the real reason I bought this book is a little more selfish.  The author, Nick Trout is a veterinarian and he did surgery on my childhood dog almost 20 years ago.  That dog was 5 years old and for a while my parents thought they would have to euthanize him.  But the surgery was successful and he lived another 9 years.

A small part of me wanted to see him in print, but his was not a sensational surgery or an emergency one.  This book features both types of surgery, after all, who wants to read about the routine and mundane?  That’s just not exciting and probably doesn’t sell many books.

The format of this book condenses 25 years of experience (including many patients and owners) into a “day in the life” of Dr. Nick Trout.  It’s an exhausting day for him, but a vastly interesting one for the those of us reading.  Of course you must have an interest in all things veterinary.  This book is not for mere animal lovers; it’s not James Herriot (though he never shied away from the gross).  There is some technical jargon which, if it’s confusing, you can probably skim, but for those of us who love anatomy it’s very intriguing.

There is one particular patient whose overarching story connects the book and you will get attached to her and her owner.  In between there are dozens of other patients and scenarios, some lighthearted, some tragic, some funny and some just plain sad.  Dr. Trout’s experience is vast and though he has the brain of a surgeon he has a heart big enough to hold all the patients he cares for.

There are a ridiculous number of books on dog training and in my neurotic quest to get it right with my puppy, I’ve read most of them, to my own detriment.  There are dog listeners, dog whisperers and dog channelers; all of them claim to know the one right way to train your dog.  There are those who sit on their dogs, those who blitz them with “leadership signals” (whatever these are), those who believe you shouldn’t greet your dog when you get home, and those who think you should eat a cracker before serving your dog its food, just to show him whose boss.   Consequently, my head is brimming with conflicting facts and theories, ideology and philosophy.  It’s giving me a migraine.

The major fare that each of these authors (I’ll purposefully leave them unnamed, though you know who they are) is selling is that they have the GOSPEL – the holy word of dog.  In order that to find nirvana with your canine friend (to mix religious metaphors) you have to follow their way and no other.

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Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

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