Monday, May 6, 2019

Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People & Dogs, by Caroline Knapp (author), Hilary Swank (narrator)

Audible Inc., October 2012 (original publication 1998

Caroline Knapp was a writer and columnist who wrote a best-selling memoir about her struggle with alcoholism--Drinking: A Love Story. This is a different but related story. After losing her father to cancer, her mother to cancer, and quitting drinking in the space of eighteen months, Knapp had some large holes in her life, and needed something to refocus her life.

She got a dog, a ten-week-old mixed breed shelter dog she named Lucille.

Knapp had grown up with dogs in the home, but had never been the responsible dog owner. She and Lucille both had a lot to learn, and a lot to teach each other.

Knapp lived in the Greater Boston area, and her story covers familiar geographic area along with the experience of becoming a dog person, learning what our dogs can give us and what they can't, and what we need to give our dogs so they can be happy, healthy, and a positive part of our lives. Dogs don't speak English, and they're not equipped to fully understand the complexities of human society. We have to supply that for them, and give them rules and structure they can understand, so that they can do for us what they do best. Knapp recounts how she unintentionally taught Lucille separation anxiety, and then had to help her recover from it. A friend of hers who wanted a big, strong dog to keep her safe, unintentionally allowed her dog to take charge of deciding who the threats were--and had to fix that dangerous error.

But part of the point here is that yes, you can train your dog, and if you make mistakes, usually you can fix those mistakes, if you take responsibility and take the necessary steps. Breed traits matter, but so does human responsibility.

Another recurring theme in the book is the weird and judgmental way people who don't have pets react to people who recognize their pets as genuine sentient beings, not humans, but real beings with their own personalities and gifts. Yes, I love my dog, as I have loved previous dogs and cats, and each has made a meaningful contribution to my life--contributions that humans couldn't have made, because humans, dogs, cats, horses, all bring different things to the table in our relationships with them.

So, yes, I have loved them all, and mourned the loss of each and every one, and yes, if you roll your eyes at my grief, or at my joy when a new pet joins my life, or delight at what they do, I am noting and judging your lack of empathy, and the gaping hole in your life from not being able to relate to a non-human who has a fundamentally different view of the world than you do. Or, indeed, a fellow human, with a slightly different view of the world than you.

My current dog is my service dog, and makes it possible for me to leave the house and interact somewhat normally with the world. You not only aren't doing that, but couldn't do that, not in the easy, unpressured way that she does. Nor do humans have the same attentiveness to body language that dogs do; she knows when I need help when, for the humans around me, I'm keeping the lid on.

The "pack of two" isn't like other relationships we have, and it's not a substitute for those other relationships. It's its own thing, valuable in its own right, and plays a vital role for many of us, in being stable, happy, and healthy.

I bought this audiobook.

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