Howl - Excerpt

Howl Introduction
“A dog walks into a bar …”
Cats are enigmatic. Horses have a noble air. Pigs gregarious. But dogs are by nature funny—they make us laugh. As any comedian will tell you, timing is everything, and have there ever been creatures with better timing than dogs? They always seem to be there at just the right moment, or just the wrong moment, depending upon whom the joke is on. A pot roast left unguarded. An open bedroom door. An ill-timed squat. How quickly tragedy turns into comedy with a dog. A comedy of manners, fish out of water, parody, slapstick—all genres of humor are fair game with a dog.

If indeed timing is everything, then the time seems right to bring out this collection of canine-inspired humor. Heaven knows we could use a little laughter. And, a book of wit and humor seemed like an excellent follow-up to our first book, Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship, an anthology of essays that explored the bonds between human and canine. As founders and editors of Bark magazine, we take our role of reporting on canine culture seriously, but not so seriously that we can’t poke fun at the dog world we’ve chronicled and helped create over the last decade. Admit it, even the most devoted dog lover will occasionally pause and think, This is crazy! Or, at least, uncommonly funny.

“A Democrat, a Republican and a dog are waiting in line to vote …”
Do animals smile? Do they laugh? Both science and literature have taken on these age-old questions, and evidence shows that, indeed, animals do have a sense of humor. In a paper titled “Do Dogs Laugh? A Cross-Cultural Approach to Body Symbolism,” noted anthropologist Mary Douglas sets out to prove that we can divide human from animal along the fault line of laughter. She cites Konrad Lorenz’s Man Meets Dog and Thomas Mann’s A Man and His Dog to show how the panting, slightly opened jaws of man’s best friend “look like a human smile” and can give “a stronger impression of laughing.” (We have daily evidence of this as we sort through the many submissions to our ongoing “Smiling Dog” contest, a Bark reader favorite.) Scientists, such as Dr. Jaak Panksepp, have also shown that rats respond with laughterlike sounds when tickled, and cite studies performed by Patricia Simonet, which note that the breathy exhalations of dogs at play are evidence of a level of joy biologically similar to laughter. It seems that dogs do have a sense of humor, or at the very least, playfulness. This may explain why your dog can make you look like a fool several times a day.

“Two dogs are sitting in a vet’s office. One says to the other …”
When we began planning this anthology, we thought we’d include a few older pieces, but were surprised to discover how much our sense of humor has changed with regard to dogs. In many of the venerable examples of dog-related humor—over the past century—the dog was the butt of the joke; even worse, humor was found in cruel treatment inflicted upon dogs. Is this any way to treat a trusted friend? It’s an indication of how far we have come that we no longer find amusement in their suffering or laugh at inhumane acts perpetrated upon them. As with all cherished friends, we prefer to laugh with our dogs, rather than at them.

Thus, we were inspired to start fresh, to look for what is funny in today’s dog world. We also made it a point to gather work from a variety of sources—acclaimed humorists (Merle Markoe, Roy Blount Jr., Kinky Friedman), popular performing comedians (Al Franken, Margaret Cho, Marga Gomez), noted literary authors (Haven Kimmel, Pam Houston, Alice Elliot Dark), and accomplished “behind the scenes” comedy writers whose work has provided the backbone for the likes of The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Saturday Night Live. We’ve also made a it point to include a number of younger authors who have a certain generational edge to their work, as well as writers who have often appeared in Bark magazine (Lee Harrington, Alysia Gray Painter, Greg Edmont). We also tapped into noted “fidospher” Michael J. Rosen’s wellspring of humor. In the end, we assembled nearly 70 pieces ranging from personal essays and parodies to satires and aphorisms. Like the dogs we love, no two are alike. We’re very pleased with the mix.

Despite the mirth-provoking stories included in this book, we realize that far too many dogs face an uncertain—and definitely not amusing—future. In the fall of 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, we ran a special section in the magazine covering the storm and its aftermath, not only for dogs and their families but also for Gulf Coast humane and animal rescue organizations. The magnitude of the disaster was almost too much to take in, and it inspired us to look for a long-term way to help with the rebuilding efforts, which are ongoing as we write this, nearly two years later. With the support of our publisher and contributors, we have made a commitment to donate all royalties from the sale of this book to these organizations. Your purchase of this book assists with this effort.

We hope the pieces herein bring a smile or chuckle, or even a guffaw. In sharing a laugh, you’re also helping some hounds find a way home.

—Cameron Woo and Claudia Kawczynska

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