I am 12 for 17 in rescuing stray dogs that randomly come across my path. Not good enough. I sprained my shoulder diving for a runaway greyhound on the beach. It was never seen again. I always carry a dog rescue kit in my car: leash, treats, water, water dish. The last piece of printed material after the American Apocalypse will be a Lost Dog Poster. I like dogs with American names from a bygone era, such as Fred, Irma, Mabel, and Ralph. I love wandering around disheveled cemeteries and seeing references to dogs that were once an important part of their owners’ lives, so important in fact, that their names or faces got etched in marble. I once marked Druid Dog Reformed as my religion on the census.
One afternoon not too long ago, I was overwhelmed by dogs, or I should say dog books that had been thoroughly dog eared. I was browsing in a humane society thrift store (supernaturally) because I only buy books (and clothes) in these type of shops when I discovered, within the space of ten feet, the following pack of titles: The Dog with the Old Soul, a Harlequin anthology of inspiring, non-sexy dog stories; Dog on It, a detective novel written by Chet, a dog owned by a forlorn private investigator named Bernie; Woof: Writers on Dogs, a collection of dog mini-memoirs by some edgy writers; Dog Crazy, a chick-lit novel about a bereavement counselor who goes looking for a stolen dog: The Dogs Who Found Me, a memoir by an acerbic writer who reluctantly rescues dogs; Die Like a Dog, a pulp novel where a detective has to dig up dead dog to prove a murder by poising case; and the novel Motel Life, by my former friend Willy Vlautin, a wonderful novel that contains an unforgettable scene where a young desperate man steals a freezing and starving dog off a chain in the dead of a Reno winter night, something Willy didn’t do in real life, and I know this because I asked him in front of my students when I had him talk about the novel, a novel the students loved and I taught many times strictly because it was a dog and human rescue book. Many years ago I had a dream where Rachel Carson wrote a dog book, The Dogs Around Us, and it was her best book, and changed the course of animal welfare in America.
I’ll never forget the moment when I was teaching a writing workshop to a group of men incarcerated in the Oregon State Penitentiary and I presented “A Dog in Your Life” as one of the prompts. The men just sat there, staring at me, and I felt instantly I had made an extraordinary miscalculation. They continued to sit in silence for what seemed like forever and then most began to cry. Then they started writing and five or so minutes later shared stories of their dogs. None of the stories had a happy ending. The only time I ever cried in front of my students is when I read a piece at the launch of our literary reviews where I described taking my dog Ray down to the beach one last time before I had him euthanized. I barely finished the piece and when I sat down in the audience next to a student, she said to me, in a whisper, “You’ve just taught me that family is more than just blood.” I’ll never forget that.
There are no dogs in Dog Day Afternoon or Reservoir Dogs. If only Butch and Sundance had had a dog with them. They would have made it. Jesus should have had a dog trailing him on his messianic wanderings. He probably did but the gospel fiction writers left the dog out because they thought a dog’s presence trivial. Big mistake. They would have sold more copies of the Bible had they rolled in the dog and had him help out with the loaves and fishes distribution. The New Testament would have been the ultimate Tortured Man and Dog book and the dog’s owner would have died (rather painfully) in front of the dog, an almost unheard plot development in dog books. Just imagine that scene with the dog looking up at his crucified master!
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