Alison Pace is the author of four novels, including, Pug Hill and City Dog.
October 1 2012
In this heartfelt tribute to the Pit Bull, best-selling author and animal activist Ken Foster takes a thorough and deeply affectionate look at an oft-misunderstood breed.
Accompanied by heartwarming photographs and individual stories of Pit Bulls and their people, Foster writes with warmth, humor (in one particularly charming passage, the looks of a Pit are compared to “the overly pancaked face of Judy Garland in decline”) and vast knowledge. Yet beyond the wealth of information and wisdom about dogs it imparts, at its heart, this book wonderfully captures the remarkable ways in which human beings can bond with dogs.
When it comes to the experience of loving an animal, Foster–who early on in I’m a Good Dog reveals his belief that the Corinne Bailey Rae song “Like a Star” was written for him and his beloved Pit Bull, Sula — fully gets it.
News: Guest Posts
July 19 2012
Summer means all sorts of cool things: the beach, more time outside, summer reading, barbeques, vacations. But it also means hot dogs. Dogs of any variety can and will be affected by the rising temperatures and for all the joy and happiness that summer brings to dogs and their humans alike, it can also pose a dangerous health risk to our four-legged friends.
My own dog, Carlie, just naturally slows down in the summer months, a kind of self-regulating that’s very characteristic of her and many dogs, but I’m still cautious to ensure that she stays cool enough. I’ve soaked a bandana in ice-water and tied it around her neck before we venture out. I’ve rerouted our morning walk to one that is more shaded and I’ve invested in something called a Kool Kollar that’s sort of like a gel ice-pack in the shape of a collar to cool the neck and chest. But to be sure I’m doing everything I can and also to check that I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t be, I checked in with three dog people in my neighborhood to see what they had to say about dogs in summer.
Mia Ziering, a veterinarian and founder of NYC House Vet (and Carlie’s vet) advises her patients to be as cautious as their pets in the heat as they would of their children. Good rules of thumb: never leave pets in sun exposed areas, always make sure they have access to shade and water, and NEVER leave a pet in a closed car in the summer. Also: limit physical exercise on hot days.
Anne McCormick, the proprietor of my neighborhood pet supply store, Calling All Pets, advised that dogs should be inside as much as possible during the heat. Early morning walks and late evening once the sun is down only, and if at all possible, AC should be left on for dogs at home. In lieu of that, there are cooling mats, similar to the cooling collar I had that dogs can rest on to bring their body temps down. Anne also offered similar common sense advice to Dr. Ziering’s: do for your pet what you would do for you.
Armed with all this good advice, I took to the street once more to check in with the dog person who might spend the most time with the most dogs out of anyone: the friendly neighborhood dog walker. It was a particularly hot late June day and I inquired of a dog walker gingerly leading a pack of ten down the shady side of my street. He spoke to me on the condition on anonymity. The verdict: these doggies gotta stay inside.
Granted, the advice I gathered is from my neighborhood in New York City where the climate (to say nothing of the cement) can be particularly challenging for canines. But wherever you are, please be practical, be safe, be mindful of your dog’s energy level and disposition this summer. And it doesn’t hurt to plan a trip to a wooded place, or keep your eye out for a wading pool or shallow pond.
News: Guest Posts
If Westminster inspires you, here’s some advice
February 11 2012
Early next week, the dogs of the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show charge into Madison Square Garden and onto a television screen near you. Because so many things about dogs are fun, entertaining and joyful, watching the dog show is something I do every year. I even went once, though I will say it’s one of the few events that I found to be better televised, perhaps for the on-air commentary alone.
By all means, watch and cheer for your favorite dogs. But as you do, keep in mind that these dogs are the pampered supermodels of the dog world and not everyone needs to be a supermodel. Some of the very best things about dogs, like their vast capacity for unconditional love, have nothing to do with how closely they conform to the standards of a particular breed.
So, if you’re looking to add a dog to your family this year, and I hope you are, here are five reasons to adopt from an animal shelter or rescue.
News: Guest Posts
A list in progress
February 10 2012
When Julie Klam was 30 years old, single and living in a tiny New York City studio apartment, she rescued a Boston Terrier and named him Otto. Initially described to her as a dog who just needed a little love—evoking images of “the dog version of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”—Otto helped Klam grow up, figure herself out and embrace responsibility.
In what the author refers to as her “dogoir,” Klam recounts, in charming, heartfelt and often seriously funny detail, her experiences with Otto, her subsequent Boston, Beatrice (adopted when Klam was married and very pregnant) and the many dogs she’s fostered through her work with Boston Terrier rescue. Structuring the book into specific, light-hearted life lessons (How to Listen to that Small, Still Voice; How to Keep the Yin from Strangling the Yang), Klam explores, in a unique and never preachy way, an important truth about the enormous amount of love dogs can bring into people’s lives if they are given a chance. “I began to understand that ‘dog’ was its own category of ‘love,’” Klam writes. “Sometimes you just need to hold and kiss a member of the dog species. Even when humans are available.”
Klam also discovered that sometimes people don’t get the dog they want, but they get the dog they need. For dog lovers, this book is both what they want and what they need. Klam’s writing has such a warm, friendly and engaging quality that it’s as if your best friend is telling you wonderful stories about her dogs. You Had Me at Woof is a book that, upon completion, makes you think about sending the author pictures of all your own dogs and asking her many questions.
Merrill Markoe shares a few funny bones, and then some.
If you’ve watched much television during the past 20 years, chances are that Merrill Markoe has made you laugh. As the original head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, she hatched Stupid Pet Tricks and garnered five Emmys for comedy writing. She was a regular contributor to Sex in the City, Not Necessarily the News and Moonlighting, to name but a few of her television credits. She is also the author of several books, including What the Dogs Have Taught Me, How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me and a children’s book, The Day My Dogs Became Guys. Recently, Bark’s Alison Pace spoke with Markoe about her new novel, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and the dogs who inspire her.
Q One of the things I loved most about Walking in Circles Before Lying Down is that the dogs actually speak to your protagonist, Dawn. You’ve vividly brought to life the thought that so many dog owners have had: If only I knew what my dog was thinking. What sort of literary decisions, hesitations and big leaps went into deciding to make the dogs converse with Dawn?
A One of my favorite things to do is write conversations with my dogs. I get a kick out of imagining a serious backand- forth on topics like “Why did you pull the face off of the brand-new stuffed frog? We’ve only had it less than 10 minutes!” Or, “How can you possibly have to pee so many times in a row? We just went 30 seconds ago!” There are a number of these kinds of conversational pieces in What the Dogs Have Taught Me.
Before W.I.C.B.L.D. was published, when I was trying to figure out what to write my next novel about, I realized that I had never really gone the distance with the complexity of my feeling for dogs as a long-form topic. So I decided I wanted to flesh it out and go on record in a bigger way.
Q In your essay collection What the Dogs Have Taught Me, many of the essays were based on the life you share with your dogs. Are the dogs in Walking in Circles Before Lying Down based on real dogs—specifically, your dogs? If not, who and/or what provided the inspiration for the characters of Swentzle and Chuck?
A Swentzle was based on Lewis, one of my favorite dogs ever. Lewis was kind of a Flatcoated Retriever, or maybe a Golden/Newfie mix, which I read is what a Flatcoated Retriever was to begin with. I dedicated the book to Lewis, and I wrote the piece “Greeting Disorder” [in W.T.D.H.T.M.] about Lewis. He was the greatest guy.He’s one of those dogs I’ll never get over.When you came in the door to my house, he was so happy to see you that he greeted you in a way that was, for some people, occasionally confused with assault. And then, after you had been greeted to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, Lewis was still so glad to see you that he would go downstairs to my living room and have sex with the sofa for the whole rest of the time you were at my house. That is just how welcome he felt you were! In a way, he was a litmus test for friends—those who were utterly grossed out by this display were doomed to the discard pile. (And probably happier there.) I used to think that if Lewis was a songwriter, his hit tune would have been called I’ll Never Stop Saying Hello.
Chuck is based on one of my four current dogs, the incredibly hilarious and very smart Puppyboy. Puppyboy is kind of a Shepherd mix.He is very attentive and obedient and interactive, but he has that doggy fetch-obsession to the point of mania. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, Pupp is bringing you stuff he hopes you will throw.He is dropping them into your lap and staring at you. And he never stops staring at you in this way until you go home. (Sometimes he keeps it up after you leave.)
When I take a nap on the couch, I often wake up to realize that Puppyboy is poised behind me, staring at my back, holding something in his mouth for me to throw —no hurry, he’s just waiting. And when I try to turn over, I realize he has been piling all kinds of other fetch options on the couch behind me… like, say, the squeaking ice cream cone and a torn stuffed animal and a ball.As though he’s thinking, Well, I guess she’s not into the headless froggy right now. But this’ll get her: the latex bone! I wrote about this particular aspect of him in W.T.D.H.T.M. also, in a piece called “Something Extremely Important.”
Q A life lived with dogs has clearly been an inspiration.What else inspires you?
A I am greatly inspired by all things in the natural world—biology, the different species of animals and their sociology. I find physics really inspiring. I don’t understand it too well, but I keep trying. That goes double for string theory. I am inspired by astronomy and marine biology and everything about evolution. And geology. And ancient civilizations.And plants. I love to read about human psychology. I love anything having to do with aberrant behavior and crime. In college, I had a minor in criminology because I like all of that stuff so much. I still get very inspired by anyone who is really going the distance in any of the arts—music, painting, film, theater. I don’t know if you can include comedy in the arts, but I love comedy and am very happy when someone does something that is actually funny on purpose. I am hypercritical and it doesn’t happen much. Currently I am completely inspired by the movie Idiocracy by Mike Judge (just out on DVD).He is my comedy hero right now.
Of course, I like reading. But I also like collecting stuff that is weirdly phrased, like misconceived advertising campaigns. I get stimulus overload in the grocery store. I feel like I’m on an archaeological dig, collecting samples of a weird culture. I am very inspired by the cheap plastic crap that our culture and every other culture on this planet spews out on a daily basis.
Suffice it to say that I find most of the outside world pretty interesting and inspiring, even if it’s only in a negative way. Sometimes the stuff I react to negatively is the most inspiring of all.
Q You were a judge on the excellent Animal Planet show Who Gets the Dog, in which each week you helped a shelter dog on his quest to find the perfect family. Any special stories to share from that experience, and is there any chance of that show making a return?
A I am pretty sure the show is not making a return anytime soon. I’m glad you liked it. I don’t think it got very good ratings. I can share with you the fact that the vet on that show, Dr. Dean Graulich, is my real vet. So I still see him quite a bit, often under less-than-ideal circumstances.
I can also share with you that everyone concerned with that show really meant well and really fretted and worried about giving the dog to the right home. I used to interrogate the members of the crew who had gone out on location to the potential homes— I wanted to find out what they had observed, because sometimes they would see something in person that was not obvious in the footage we watched, some sign of irresponsibility or weirdness. We didn’t want to give a dog to someone who would end up abandoning it.
Tamar and Dean and I were almost always in agreement about who should get the dog, (with a couple of spectacular disagreements where, of course, I am sure I was right). But we usually unanimously agreed to eliminate the people who had a big problem with dogs getting on their furniture. We really liked those dogs and I hope we did well by them. I would have taken half of them home.Hell, I would have taken all of them home. I’m lucky no one let me.
Q There have been a lot of changes in the dog world in recent years.Among other things, I don’t think I recall there being such a vast array of dog commerce a decade ago.What do you think about the state of dogs today, and how it has shifted over the years?
A Certainly, dog food has gotten a lot more nutrition- conscious, if the packaging is any indication. Even the worst dog food has drawings of carrots and apples on the sack now—and boasts of fish oil and glucosamine and every kind of vitamin and mineral. (I always think if dogs were in charge of making their own purchases, there would be drawings of garbage cans and kitty litter boxes and dirty napkins on the package.)
I have also noticed how even airports now have franchises that sell all kinds of dog and cat gift items—figurines, outfits, bowls, treats—and whimsical, overpriced, supposedly funny things,T-shirts, ridiculous crap. So clearly, dogs (and cats) are now a profitable moneymaking arena for big business.
I would wish that this meant that the dogs of today are being catered to in a nice way. Certainly some of them are.You and I both know their owners. But then, what are all those signs I see on bulletin boards and telephone poles, where people are moving and giving their dogs away? The only violent feelings I ever get happen when I read those signs.How dare these morons give their dog away just because they feel like changing apartments? How about getting a new apartment that takes dogs, you creep! And if things are so great now, how did all those abandoned dogs wind up in rescues and in shelters?
And then there’s the horror of what is going on in other countries. For example, China, where they have been killing thousands and thousands of dogs (including people’s beloved pets, even though the dogs have been inoculated) as a response to a relatively small number of people getting rabies.Not offering rabies shots, just killing every dog for miles and miles! The animal- abuse horror stories all over the globe are so widespread that it is difficult to know if any progress has been made, overall. Sometimes I say to myself, I don’t know why I am surprised at the way people treat animals. Look how awful we are to each other.
Q Having spent time on both coasts, do you see a big difference in the dog world between the East Coast and the West?
A For me, it is much more pleasant having a dog on the West Coast.When I was in NYC, I found all things involving my dogs to be stressful and difficult. I am thinking right now of that cozy moment in the middle of the night when your beloved dog comes up to you at 4 AM and whines and nuzzles your face, indicating that it would be a good idea if you would get up; put on several layers of outerwear, including sweaters, coats, boots, gloves and a hat; and then leave the apartment, travel down in an elevator, walk through a lobby and stand on a freezing cold street full of potentially dangerous strangers so he can pee. Or maybe he didn’t really have to pee, maybe he just wanted to see what was going on. Or bark at something that he thought was going to be there but is now gone.
Same situation here in LA means that the dog can just jump off the bed and go out the doggy door without so much as a permission slip needing to be signed.
I also love how, on the West Coast, I can drive to Costco and get a nice 75-pound sack of food, then drive home. It made me crazy in NYC to buy a four-pound box of dog kibble, serve it for dinner to the team and then be out of dog food.
Q Which rescue programs and shelters are closest to your heart?
A I like PETA because they seem to actually get things done. I like Best Friends. I love Jane Goodall. My friend, comedian Elayne Boosler, has a rescue foundation, Tails of Joy. My friend Sam Simon, one of the creators of The Simpsons, also has a rescue, the Sam Simon Foundation; they take dogs out of shelters and train them to work with disabled people. My “daughter”Hedda came from a rescue called New Leash on Life.
I pretty much like every rescue until I read an article in the National Enquirer about how they are a secret hell on earth. I have donated to so many dog charities that taking in my mail is a traumatic experience, because every day I get 10 envelopes seeking donations, and every one of them is decorated with a photograph of a poor, sad, miserable-looking animal who appears to be on death’s door. It certainly takes all the fun out of getting mail.
Q What advice might you have for someone whose dog is constantly eating vile things off the street?
A Boundaries, Alison.You must maintain your foundaboundaries. No matter how much she goes on about what a great experience it is, how surprisingly delicious and exciting, do not let her talk you into joining her. Take it from someone who learned her lesson the hard way.
Q What’s next for you?
A I’m writing another book. Once again, it is dog-intensive.Other than that, I have a few freelance assignments. I think I am going to get to make a short film based on “Something Extremely Important”— someone is threatening to finance it. If it works out, I will definitely link to it on my website, as I will be very, very happy to give Puppyboy his first starring role. If it doesn’t work out, I think I will make it anyway.
St. Martin’s Press, 320 pp., 2010; $22.99
Adam March is having a bad time of life. So is an initially nameless Pit Bull mix sentenced to a life of dog-fighting. One Good Dog by Susan Wilson is the touching and wonderfully well-crafted story of how these two characters come together in the midst of their own respective worst of times.
Adam is living a life filled with the trappings of financial success: a high-powered job, expensive homes, a socially prominent wife and an equestrian daughter. That is, until a memory from his troubled past sets off a series of events that result in his carefully planned life crashing around him. At the same time that Adam is coping with living in a seedy one-bedroom apartment and serving court-ordered community service, the Pit Bull who will turn out to be the best part of this destiny is escaping from his own cage-bound existence. Through a realistic and suspenseful turn of events, the two at last meet, and Adam reluctantly becomes enamored of the dog he names, all too fittingly, Chance. At which point, let the healing begin.
The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of Chance and Adam, and the prologue to the novel includes a thoroughly charming bait-and-switch that instantly put a smile on my face and made me feel certain I was in excellent storytelling hands. Skillfully done, the chapters narrated by Chance never give way to cutesy or cloying. While some of the scenes in which the dog describes the squalid conditions of his young life and his training as a fighter are truly heartbreaking, Chance’s strong, clear-eyed way of looking at the world is perfectly conveyed in the way he tells his story. That’s not to say that Chance’s recounting is not above fun or whimsy. For example, Chance does not regard his vocalizations merely as barking. He yarks. When he endeavors to explain extreme intelligence, he does not cite rocket scientists nor brain surgeons but rather, Standard Poodles.
As the novel progresses, Wilson significantly ratchets up both the pace and the stakes with several new developments, including an especially tear-inducing arc involving Chance. Have tissues on hand and don’t say you weren’t warned. Ultimately, what One Good Dog manages to do so well is to create a reading journey that closely mirrors the path of its two resilient narrators: it comes this close to breaking your heart but then, at the last moment, fills it up with not only hope but also love. It’s a finely wrought story of second chances and also of the power of the human/canine bond, the amazing and myriad ways in which dogs can touch and make better people’s lives. As Chance himself so aptly puts it, “What else could I have done? I’m only canine, I had to help.”
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