If Oprah can drop and then revive her book club so can I, and in this episode of Jim's New Improved Book Club we discuss "The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love and Family" by Jon Katz (Villard, $19.95).
The book, reviewer Anne Stephenson points out, is strictly for dog lovers:
"If you're the type who fears the worst when an unleashed behemoth runs at you full-throttle, this book is not for you," she writes. "It's for the behemoth's human companion, that person yelling, ‘He won't bite!' from a distance."
The premise of Katz's book:
"Once upon a time, a working dog was one that herded sheep or guarded property, but the new work of dogs is attending to the emotional lives of Americans, many of whom feel increasingly disconnected from one another."
While this premise may seem a shade on the obvious side to the casual reader, it brings an enthusiastic response from some of the Rim country's truly monumental dog lovers. I asked several of them what emotional needs their dogs filled:
- Diane Fitzpatrick, Payson Humane Society manager and owner of five dogs:
"For me, they're a stress-reliever. They accept you no matter what you look like or how you feel. You don't have to comb your hair or brush your teeth."
- Ann Campbell, Payson Humane Society supervisor of dogs (honest) and owner of 16 dogs (honest):
"I think a lot of people feel that four-legged animals are just four-legged animals, but they're not. Each one has a different personality. I see mischief. I see smiles. I see love all the time, irrespective of how mad I can get. It just makes me want to love them more. There's something about a dog that fulfills for me a need that I can't find in people. I get a lot of comfort and companionship out of my dogs. I get a lot of happiness out of being able to help an animal who can't speak for himself. It's what I feel like God wants me to do. I just love the buggers."
- Mike Rokoff, Paws in the Park president and owner of two dogs.
"For me and (my wife) we're at the age where our kids are gone ... and I think our house would be really empty without dogs. I think we all still have the need to nurture, to see something grow, and to have an influence on their lives. And the joy they bring to us makes it a terrific trade-off."
- Lisa Boyle, Payson Humane Society volunteer, professional pet sitter and owner of five dogs:
"Dogs are a guaranteed feel-good for me on a constant basis. They are always so happy to see you and always on your side no matter how big of a jerk you've been. What's not to like about a friend like that."
I know on a personal level that my three dogs plus my horse have been my best buddies through some difficult times the last couple of years. I would, in fact, take Ann's thought about their different personalities a bit further.
My dogs not only have distinct personalities, but each fulfills a different emotional need for me:
T. Rex: Pushing 10, Rex is a giant of a dog who is slowing down at just about the same rate that I am. While we may not be aging especially gracefully, there is solace and companionship in the fact that we're going together.
Shiloh: The lone female among the five of us, Shiloh does what women do best -- she runs the place with an iron paw. Shiloh can be gently persuasive one minute and overtly aggressive the next in getting what she wants, but the outcome is always the same ‹ she gets what she wants.
The Babe: This guy (hey, Babe Ruth was a guy) is a one-year-old whose devil-may-care enthusiasm reminds me that life is to be lived (and chewed) with gusto. Even better, The Babe has adopted my horse, becoming a drinking buddy and confessor to this herd animal who recently lost his herd.
But the very best thing about having dogs has nothing to do with fulfilling emotional needs or providing lessons in life. The best thing is that they serve as outstanding cover for those moments when you get caught talking to yourself.
The bottom line: Everybody needs at least one dog, so get on down to the humane society and pick out the one (or several) that best fulfill(s) your emotional needs. I guarantee you'll find at least one, and I promise you'll experience a new level of fulfillment when you do.
Not to mention that you'll never get caught talking to yourself again.