Elizabeth Marshall Thomas took a bite out of the bestseller lists with her original examinations of dogs. Fueled by her Husky’s ramblings through civilization, field work with wolves and anthropology training, Thomas described surprising behaviors that in ensuing years have been affirmed in studies. In The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Social Lives of Dogs, Thomas deployed her keen eye and novelist’s sensibility to shed light on the mystery of dogs without erasing their magic.
Donald McCaig would be notable enough as the author of beloved dog books like Nop’s Trials and Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men. We also celebrate him as an early activist against the homogenizing perils of inbreeding, on behalf of his beloved working sheepdogs. That tale, too, is skillfully rendered in his book, The Dog Wars. He writes with an insight and subtle humor that befits his own Virginia breeding.
The first year that Caroline Knapp and I were friends, in 1996, we took the dogs on a beach run at Gay Head, on the southwestern tip of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. My Samoyed, Clementine, was not yet two, strong as an ox and full of fire. Caroline’s Shepherd-mix, Lucille, was smaller in stature and calmer in demeanor. We spent the afternoon watching them charge up and down the beach, until a series of sonic booms from a nearby naval airfield shattered our reverie. Clementine took off down the beach at a full run, as wild-eyed as a spooked horse. I got her back long enough to leash her, but she had the sled-dog ability to pull a small car, and I fell in the sand just trying to hang onto her.
“Let me have her,” said Caroline, and took hold of Clemmie’s leash and started running alongside her the half-mile to the car. Lucille, seeming to understand that I was the one with the bad leg, stayed by my side. The larger world knew Caroline Knapp through her narrative voice: the wry intelligence and emotional honesty she brought to all her books, but most belovedly to Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs—the story of the shelter dog named Lucille who changed Caroline’s life. Armed with 20/20 acuity, Pack of Two delivered a kaleidoscopic view of the place of dogs in contemporary America. But because Caroline brought her whole heart to her story, she gave us, as well, the essence of what it means to love a dog.
For the rest of her life—another six years—she was the one person I trusted utterly with my dog. In the real world, the world of pastoral beach walks and terrifying moments, she was as steadfast as any narrative persona could have hinted. And in my interior vision of heaven—wherever Caroline could possibly be, given that she isn’t here—she is surrounded by every dog who ever loved her, including Clementine and Lucille. All of them are trying to get in her lap.
Poet Mary Oliver has graced the world with her meditative eye and exquisite language for nearly 50 years, bringing the physical world—dogs not least among it—into sharper focus for the rest of us. Using humor to reconcile the intellectual with the natural, she imparts wisdom through such gems as this line, written from her dog’s perspective: Books? says Percy./I ate one once. It was enough./Let’s go.
Inspired by the late, great Earl, MUTTs creator and animal activist Patrick McDonnell is a cartoonist with a message, showing readers the world through the eyes of his animal characters.
Stanley Coren takes the canine IQ seriously, and has covered the topic in numerous articles and books. His work has done much to popularize the subject of dogs’ intelligence as well as our bond with them.