Books and Dogs

A good dog is like a good book. Well-loved (hence dog-eared). Always there when you need them. Minor indiscretions can be forgiven because they’ve captured your heart. As a veterinarian and an author, I’m well placed to judge. I have a lot of friends who are bookish, and many friends who are doggy, and some who are both (and not just with regards to dog books).

Dog trainer Eileen Fletcher could not imagine life without books and dogs.  She compares her failed foster dog Joe to ‘James Joyce: no punctuation, hard work, and not sure he’s worth the effort. But, ultimately rewarding just to say you’ve been there and done it.’ Buddy, a Shar Pei cross, is ‘a romp, a Shakespearian farce, he’d be Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Blue, her aging blue heeler, she compares to For Whom The Bell Tolls: serious and worthy but ultimately a little turgid. ‘Or,’ she adds, ‘he could be Sylvia Path: neurotic.’

As a dog trainer, Eileen knows that good dogs, like good books, take a lot of work to create. First timers and even old hands often need professional help (though sadly, some just are congenitally flawed and die young). It’s often easier to adopt and enjoy a fully-fledged finished product that someone else has put the hard yards into. Either way, both need homes. And owners who love them.

We all know that puppies, like shiny new just-released books, are instinctively irresistible. Submitting to your urge to gather them all up into your arms, bury your nose in them and take them home will result in a chronically sad bank account and a home full of neglected best intentions. Fostering a second-hand book(s), or a second-hand dog(s), can manage the addiction for some.

I think both should, if they can possibly help it, be stylish, stand out and attractive. You want to be able to spot yours in a crowd. Though you can’t judge a book by its cover. Thug-looking dogs are often sweeties, and think of how many different covers a book may have over its lifetime.

But why do we have this need for either in our lives, be they good or bad, ugly or attractive? Well, sure, both are good to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night. In central Australia we talk of a three dog night, or a five dog night. And maybe there’s never been a night so cold you needed three books to get through it, but there are definitely books that are all-nighters.

A Gold Coast medical intern and author who currently describes herself as ‘brain dead and dog-tired’, Yin Lin believes ‘good books and good dogs make you forget how shit a day you’ve had. It’s a powerful feeling, to have a good book enthral and capture you, and to know that you do the exact same to your dog.’  I like that idea that dogs read us like a fascinating story—whether they be morbidly fascinated or adoringly so.  In that respect I think it goes both ways: we see ourselves in them, just as we recognise different common aspects of humanity in the books we read.  As William Nicholson had C.S. Lewis say in Shadowlands: “we read to know we are not alone.”

Indeed, both make you laugh, surprise you. Make you cry when they finish up. And at the same time: be glad that you shared your life with them. Because they make you a better person, don’t they? And that’s why they are both man’s best friend, for who could ask for a better friend, than one that helps makes you the best you can be?

Trust me, I’m a vet you know.

 

First published on CAPITAL LETTERS, ACT Writers Centre’s blog.

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