Thursday, July 8, 2010

Edgar Sawtelle

A discussion with a client revealed that I'd somehow missed one of the Books of the Year a couple of years back. Not just any book, but *the* dog novel. How can that be, don't you know *I* am writing the Great American Dog Novel? my ego raged, even while I smiled and nodded and voiced wonder and interest. So, the client being a generous sort, a copy of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski, arrived in the mail. I read it with a great deal of interest, for not only does it serve up a feast of sumptuous prose, raise intriguing questions about cognition and communication, delve into motive and intent vis-a-vis instinct and consciousness, it is the only book I've ever read that was so obviously written by someone who himself lived the life I lead, or one very near to it.

All of those topics are primary foci of this blog. Certainly the life I've lead is in large measure an experience of total immersion in a world of dogs and various critters both domestic and wild. Without doubt it's my work with non-verbal animals, far more than my human interactions, that forced me to dig deeper into layers of communication than most people require or even want. In that regard I'm reminded of eighth grade Latin class, when I learned far more about grammar and the English language than I had understood from all those previous years of exposure to my native tongue; the contrast helps delineate what's going on, what's really being conveyed.

Animals reveal and reflect truth. Yes, they are capable of subterfuge, particularly among our primate cousins who have been shown to engage in some pretty impressive Machiavellian behavior. But I know of no non-human animals who will enter into a game of pretense with me...just imagine a dog trying to pretend they trust you when they don't. They can't; if you're looking, truly receptive to what they're saying, the message is clear. You have a problem that creates distrust in others; fix it if you want to be trustworthy, or at least be aware that while people may be willing to pretend you're a peach of a person, the dog's not capable of pretense. It may love you anyway, but the effect of distrust and fear will be loud and clear in body language. I am of the opinion that Zen can be taught by dogs, if the pupil is sensitive and receptive.

I didn't check any reviews prior to reading the book, other than a quick perusal of the dust jacket blurbs, but was disgruntled enough over various aspects of the writing that I was motivated to scan through some of the major media opinions. It has received almost universal accolades. Only on Amazon did I find a couple of reviewers who shared some of the feelings of consternation that arose in my own mind. I'll leave the specifics of the critiques, theirs and mine, for other venues because overall I do recommend it as a worthy read and one of the only ways to see inside a wholly doggy life. At least, until the publication of my own! So, I hope to generate a bit more discussion than usual in the next few entries because I'd love to address many of the threads that comprise the fabric of Edgar Sawtelle.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Minor victories

Anyone who has followed these postings back a few months knows that around here the concept of "natural birth" had attained a reputation much like the mythical unicorn; people said it was possible but I hadn't seen one. Well I must have slipped into fairytale country, because, wonder of wonders, Ember delivered her eight puppies the old-fashioned, non-surgical way! Of course, to keep the universe in balance, Godiva had her single puppy by the (now) tradition of Caesarian, but both mom and pup are well. I'm almost afraid to state that publicly for fear of jinxing the next delivery (Elatha's) but on the other hand it's a welcome bit of happy news.

On other happy news fronts, a few days ago I was contacted by officers of the National Rat Terrier Association (NRTA) and asked if I wouldn't like to have Animal Planet tape my dogs to be featured on "Dogs.101" Well....why not? So, Wednesday evening a very nice fellow followed the Rat Terriers around with a camera. Being somewhat clownish anyway and having a captive audience, they put on some particularly good shows for him. The pups pounced and leaped and cavorted and somersaulted for all they were worth, and the adults did stunts and chased frisbees and did their ever-lovin' best to charm the socks off anyone who sees that footage. Unfortunately, three hours of taping gets reduced to about six minutes of actual air time, so the majority of the dog's antics will end up on the cutting room floor. Watch for the rat terrier feature this fall; the cameraman figured sometime in October but couldn't be more specific.

So we head into a holiday weekend, feet tapping to Sousa marches, flags waving, sparklers illuminating kids' faces under starry skies, our sound-sensitive dogs tucked into bedrooms or crates. Have a Happy National Birthday!