Welcome to one year of postponed travel, reconfigured home life and so many dog walks.
Like many, I’ve been reading a lot recently – a passion rekindled first by a surge of political books hitting the market. Second, by joining a serious book club which introduced me to titles I otherwise would have passed over. (I highly recommend reading ‘outside’ your comfort zone). And third, thanks to a year of lock downs, working from home and social isolation, reading is one of the few things I’ve been motivated to do.
Maybe it’s the escape. Reading takes you places, into other’s stories and out of your own head – even if we can’t travel out of our homes. Reading, if you’re in a book club, also unites – even if it’s only on a Zoom screen.
It also gives me something to look forward to because, not only have I been reading more, but buying books at a rate surpassed only during the years I spent studying literature in grad school. Watching for brown box packages from either Amazon or bookoutlet (a site I’ve become obsessed with that’s to a steady stream of overstock discounts) has become an almost weekly ritual.
Of course, pet books aren’t they only thing I’m buying (and eventually reading), but they’re on the list. Or in the case of this post, are the list. After all, thanks to primary school learn-to-read books featuring literary pooches Mr. Mugs and Clifford the Big Red Dog, I learned to read decades ago.
Here’s my suggested dog-themed reading list … growing by the week.
(Note: this list contains affiliate links)
Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond by Alexandra Horowitz
Admittedly, Our Dogs, Ourselves was my first introduction to Alexandra Horowitz, a professor at NYC’s Barnard College who runs the canine cognition lab exploring dog behavior. Although a dog lover and pet parent, she approaches her subject with somewhat of a scientific detachment exploring a paradoxical bond between mutt and man. Humans have a deep love and attachments for canine companions, yet legally they are property bought, sold and yes, euthanized. (I recommend skipping chapter two where she describes in disturbing detail the sufferings of laboratory animals, particularly last century).
Heads up: she also isn’t a fan of dressing up dogs or dog breeding, a practice she argues has genetically hurt the animal. However, the chapter documenting overheard conversations with dogs is particularly charming.
I’d recommend On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by the same author before Our Dogs, Ourselves, mainly for the chapter where she walks around NYC with her dog, carefully observing what he does. She does a similar route with very different experts observing the city from unique perspective, but the dog walk sticks with you.
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz
Inside of a Dog predates Our Dogs, Ourselves by almost a decade, but solidified Horowitz as the ‘dogdom’ expert. In this book, similar to the dog-walking chapter in On Looking, she utilizes her cognitive scientist skills to explain the world from a dog’s perspective. What it’s like to smell everything from food to emotion and why dogs use their mouths like we use our hands.
Inside of a Dog is not a training guide – there are a lot of those on the market – but a guide to understanding the behavior of you pup just a little better.
A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron
A classic and a remarkably successful first of a series, you’ll need a box of tissue for this one. Within A Dog’s Purpose, we travel through the lives – yes, plural – of one dog who positively impacts the lives of humans around him (even if not all deserve it). Eventually, he circles back to the first little boy, now an aging man, who gave him his first forever home, helping the elderly man move to the next stage of his life. Moral: Dogs return to us when we need them the most.
Check out the film version (which Hollywoodizes the ending a bit) if you want to move through the emotional catharsis faster. It will also have you hoping – even believing – a departed four-footed fur baby will actually make its way back to you. After all, a dog’s only fault is a shorter than human lifespan.
The Dharma of Dogs: Our Best and Spiritual Teachers edited by Tami Simon
I picked up The Dharma of Dogs because I’m interested in editing and publishing a collection of dog stories myself. However, I’m planning to make my focus ‘dog found’ rather than ‘dog lost.’ Everyone, including me, seems to want to write about the dog no longer here who changed their life.
The Dharma of Dogs, however, doesn’t steer clear of dog death; more accurately cascades into it with thoughtful mostly Buddhist reflections about the spiritual transformation of canine love. Considering Eckhart Tolle is one of the listed contributors, you’d expect the collection to embrace the metaphysical. About dogs, Tolle writes, “Ultimately, what we love in the dog is not the external form; we love in the dog that which has no form – the underlying consciousness that is the indestructible essence of all life.”
While introspection sets the tone for the collection, there’s a few light-hearted entries too, such as the one from Susan Martin who marries her dog (as a way to get her out-of-town friends to visit) and JP Sears who writes from the perspective of his dog Zephyr.
Entries are accompanied by black and white photos of dogs and authors; but fair warning: many of the pictured pups have passed.
And yes, there is a feline version too from the same publisher: The Karma of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from our Feline Friends, edited by Dianna Ventimiglia.
Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories About the Animals Herriot Loves Best by James Herriot
Ah James Harriot, the original Dr. Pol. One of the first collection of books I ever bought was an entire series of James Herriot books – All Creatures Great and Small – because at the age of 12, I thought I wanted to be a Vet. I loved the collection, but only read the first in the series. Somehow, stories of birthing cows on an early 20th farm was not the romantic idea I had of veterinary work. (Later, not being able to dissect animals in high school science class would seal the deal for me: Vet school was not in my wheelhouse).
However, books, stories and tales of tails (rather than cow births) is within my circle of interest as is this collection of captivating 50 Herriot dog stories, selected and repackage for a contemporary audience without sacrificing the original charm and, well, realities of a country vet.
Cozy Reading Wear
Finally, if isolating, working and socializing at home has taught me one thing, it’s I don’t own enough sweatshirts. So, to celebrate a year of screen time, daily dog walks and increased reading, I’ve introduced a new lightweight hoodie to the dogtrotting.net store: Sit. Stay. Get it? (Please do – find it under the ‘shop’ icon above or HERE).
Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for decades and a travel writer for the last two. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America and travels almost weekly with her canine companion, Victoria. All written content is original, written by a person, and based on experience and research.