I was a good little vector. I went and got my flu shot early and am now sick as a dog regardless. Despite the best efforts of wonderful people to bring me soup and otherwise look after me, I’m trying to spare folks the intense germification and accompanying crankiness which I spew out in equal measure. So I’m hiding out at home with the dog, a bag of lemons and a jumbo box of echinacia tea. And I’ve become aware of a canine virtue we often overlook:
The Dog as Nurse
My dog knows I don’t feel well. While he might normally spend a day at home leaping about and gnawing on me or the furniture, today he just gently follows me around looking for all the world as though he’s about to ask how to turn on the kettle so he can make me a toddy. I wonder if this is a trick you can teach a dog… bartending is so useful. The dog also functions excellently as hot water bottle. He curls up beneath the quilt but above the sheets and keeps my feet toasty. At first I was concerned. How can he breathe under there? But he seems to like it, so I’m chalking it up to yet another example of how talented a member of the family he is.
This is all really just an excuse to tell you about some dog books.
I Didn\’t Do It, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest is probably my favorite picture book this year. I was kind of behind the ball and didn’t know they’d come out with a follow-up to their previous & delightful Once I Ate a Pie until I saw a copy of this new one at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show. Who says it’s not worth it for publishers to attend these things? I made a real traffic hazard of myself accosting other booksellers outside the Harper Collins booth to show them the book and gush. I can’t help myself, I get excited.
Katy Schneider’s illustrations are wonderful as always, full of the personality of each doggy character. The astonishing thing about this book and Once I Ate a Pie is that in the kid-lit world of disneyfied animals (who are cute and fun, but not particularly real) they are so doggish. Each poem and illustration brings us a little closer to the playfulness, the devotion and the humor of dogs. I’d give you an excerpt here, but like all the very best picture books, the words are wonderful – but the pictures are what make them whole.
Oogy: The Dog Only a Family could Love
I’ve been telling people about this warmhearted memoir by Larry Levin for weeks now. It’s the story of a former bait dog, and before you stop reading I want to let you know that there are no scenes of violence in the book. We meet Oogy after his life has been saved by a wonderful vet clinic and the Levins have decided to adopt him and give him a cozy home. For all you folks who just cannot read another sad dog story, this is just what you will like. The perfect antidote to the evening news, this is about people being their best – people saying, “I want to take that dog home, the one with no ear and all the scars.” Make no mistake, for all our horrors and failings as a species, some of us say that every day at shelters and vets’ and pounds around the country: I’ll take the one with three legs, the broken one, the one who can’t see. I’ll take the old one who can’t find a home. I’ll take the lost one, running in traffic, about to get hit. I’ll take the one who needs shots every day, the one with no tail and all the burns, the one with mange, or fleas, or heartworm. I’ll take the one who needs me.
This is the kind of story that lets us know what we’re here for. We can help – in a big way, or a seemingly small one. Like many of us, I know people who have taken in animals from truly horrifying circumstances. The funny thing is, those people are nearly always rewarded with the same kind of love and education that Oogy offers his family of people. Animals are great teachers of love and courage and trying again – giving things another chance and a new start. Their bravery is extraordinary and comes with the kind of open heart that takes humans a lifetime of practice. Read Oogy and feel good about dogs and people – and know there are some wonderful things in this world.