Review: My Dog Tulip

My Dog Tulip.

At least in the Western world, the English are somewhat famous for their undying love of dogs. James Herriott is the father of all modern country dog legends. The stereotype of the “stiff upper lip” does not apply to the national English feeling toward canines. Indeed, as J.R. Ackerley himself says in the beginning of this book, My Dog Tulip: “Unable to love each other, the English turn to dogs.”

All that to say, I was excited to read his memoir, which I have often heard about. I love dog memoirs (great ones like Dog Years and Pack of Two come to mind) and this one was about a proper Englishman, J.R. Ackerley, and his love affair with his Alsatian (aka German shepherd), Tulip. (Tulip’s actual name was “Queenie,” but Ackerley’s publishers made him change her name in the book, because they were worried that the dog’s name might become a derogatory, if oblique, reference to Ackerley’s sexual orientation.)

Instead of a charming memoir, though, this little book is really just the record of one Englishman’s positive MANIA to pimp out his dog. The poor girl. Aside from one chapter about the social difficulties of your dog defecating on the sidewalk, the rest of the book is about Tulip’s heat cycles, her vulva, and her long parade of unsuccessful suitors, including the long and tiresome descriptions of her failure to copulate.

As a side note, I am not surprised that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote the introduction to my edition and that she loved the book. (She would.) As you may recall, I have a rather low opinion of Thomas’s methods of dog rearing and it therefore was not surprising to me that she adored this book about one man’s unscrupulous treatment of his dog, her behavior, and her reproductive faculties.

Supposedly, this memoir was made into an animated film, but wow, that is not one film that I would ever want to see.

Unqualified, unconditional regard

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“Another human being will never bring us to the same unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog does. Our full immersion in language brings with it qualification and condition; once we enter the world of signs, we can never again be so single-minded.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

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Happy weekend, everyone! Hope it is restful. I may be arranging a small play-date between Bo and Zoe while their owners are out of town. Should be fun! Let’s just up the Bo-ster isn’t too rambunctious for Zoe, the dignified older woman…

Something is always escaping

Source: Shirley Bittner.

“Try to say what you love about your partner, or what it is about someone that produces in you an intense state of erotic excitement or longing, or even how it feels, precisely, to have a fever–soon it’s obvious that we, too, are only partial citizens of the world of language. Something is always escaping; dogs are a kind of figure, an extreme example of that difficulty, and it makes them all the more cherishable.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone! I will be back at the blog in January. Looking forward to a much-needed vacation with family and friends down south. Hope you all enjoy very peaceful, happy, and dog-friendly holidays!

Warmly,

Abby

Review: Dog Years

Dog Years, by Mark Doty.

My husband is a poet in the process of earning his MFA. I read a lot–mostly literary novels, classics, and dog books, as you know–but I like to keep up with his side of the world, too. He always speaks very highly of the poet Mark Doty. Last year, at his urging, I read Doty’s beautiful collection My Alexandria. I loved it and have been interested in him and his work ever since.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that Doty had written a memoir about dogs. How perfect! The book is about dogs, yes, but it is primarily about grief, love, loss, and the hiddenness of the human soul. Dog Years covers the time during which Doty’s partner, Wally, died of AIDS and during which he had two dogs in his life, Arden and Beau, who shepherded him through this devastating loss.

While Wally is dying, Arden and Beau themselves are steadily aging. A large part of the book also deals with Doty processing Beau’s somewhat premature death from kidney failure. He adopted Beau from the local shelter when Beau was a young adult, perhaps one or two years old. Beau, a golden retriever, was so severely underweight at the time that the shelter had called him a “saluki mix” due to his sunken chest and visible ribs. Over time, however, Beau becomes a healthy, vibrant, funny dog who brings the standard amount of light and joy into Doty’s life.

These real stories from Doty’s life with his loves–Wally and his dogs–are so breathlessly beautiful and sad. They are never sappy. They are never excessively overwrought with emotion. Rather, this memoir of grief is so palpable and authentic that it is difficult to read without one’s eyes welling up.

I’ve already posted this passage from Dog Years before, but I want to quote it again, because to me, it captures why I care about dogs so much:

Being human is most likely a much lonelier endeavor than being a dog. Of course, many dogs spend a great deal of their time in solitude, waiting for someone to come home, for the world to begin again–but they live in a state of connectedness, it seems, that we have lost, if indeed we ever possessed it. Is that why we turn to them, they who are always ready to receive, to join in wholeheartedly, as we so often cannot? To be human is to be a watcher; sometimes even at our moments of great joy or great grief there is a part of us conscious of our being, observing that being. I do not think dogs have such a part; they are all right here, involved in whatever it is, and therefore they are a sort of cure for our great, abiding loneliness. A temporary cure, but a real one.

Doty recognizes this beautiful quality of the canine soul, the dog’s ability to enter into that “state of connectedness” that so often eludes us humans. And yet he is consistently a watcher himself. He dutifully records his emotions, his doubts, his rages. But he trusts Beau and Arden to guide him through the deeper, more difficult moments.

Quite simply, Dog Years is one of the most beautiful memoirs I’ve ever read, and I think I’ve read quite a few excellent ones. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone, especially with those who have loved and lost.

A state of connectedness

Click for source.

“Being human is most likely a much lonelier endeavor than being a dog. Of course, many dogs spend a great deal of their time in solitude, waiting for someone to come home, for the world to begin again–but they live in a state of connectedness, it seems, that we have lost, if indeed we ever possessed it. Is that why we turn to them, they who are always ready to receive, to join in wholeheartedly, as we so often cannot? To be human is to be a watcher; sometimes even at our moments of great joy or great grief there is a part of us conscious of our being, observing that being. I do not think dogs have such a part; they are all right here, involved in whatever it is, and therefore they are a sort of cure for our great, abiding loneliness. A temporary cure, but a real one.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

(One of my favorite passages from the wonderful memoir.) Happy Friday, everyone!