This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. (And yes, I was allowed to dislike the book. But I didn’t.)
One of the nice things about a vacation is the opportunity to read again. So, as I headed toward Hawaiian paradise this past week, I picked up my BlogHer Book Club copy of “Love at First Bark: How Saving A Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself” by Julie Klam and began to read.
Love at First Bark is Klam’s second canine book (to my knowledge). Broken into three sections, her humor and wit comes through as she details the stories of various rescue dogs. I definitely laughed out loud (my own barking, annoying my fellow airplane sardines I’m sure) at some of the anecdotes. Notably the ones involving others’ perceptions of her beloved pups.
I jumped at the chance to review this book. While I’m not quite as dedicated as Klam in my doggie rescue efforts/participation, I am also the proud mommy of three rescue dogs. And I am exceedingly certain of their ability to rescue me in return.
Here’s the wag and growl of it. I really liked this book. I understand the crazy thoughts that dog lovers experience as they welcome new members to their family or struggle to see a furry friend in peril. But the book felt a bit like a preview tease.
Each of the three chapters is its own encompassing story. And in each story, I could see a bit of myself. (I’ll tell you all about that shortly.) But I wanted more. I wanted to see how the stories intertwined. I wanted to hear about the nitty gritty details. As my thesis advisor always admonished me in scrawling red pen: EXPAND.
But maybe, just maybe, Klam’s goal was to surface the reader’s own memories – reminding them that saving a dog really can help you save yourself. And if that was her goal, Good Girl!
Chapter 1: Morris the Pit Bull, Couples Therapist
Klam discovered Morris, a goobery pitbull, abandoned along a sun-scorched sidewalk. This section focuses on her frantic search for a temporary home that would spare Morris a short walk down the long corridor of doggie death row. In the process, she reconnects with her husband. Way to go Morris!
My husband has long understood my obsession with dogs. “They make me happy” is a simple and succinct refrain I have oft recited. When we moved into our house (complete with big backyard and doggie door built in) we decided to adopt a brother for our yellow lab, Cooper. Through Golden Gate Lab Rescue, we found a yellow female named Bella. So I drove out to meet her. Once I arrived, I was introduced to a calm pudgy Bella. Apparently she would be going home with the couple ahead of us on the list.
But wait! They also wanted me to meet Scout, a black lab who had been transported from Idaho. He’d been abandoned there – in a place where large black dogs appeared frightening and unadoptable. There were no no-kill shelters.
A skeletally scrawny large black dog emerged from the back of the truck. With a frenzied wagging tail and head that seemed three times too big for his body, the wiggling hyper black mass was off running. When he returned, barely out of energy, he began jumping to meet Cooper and me – leaping off the ground vertically to wag his tail mid-air, eye-to-eye with me.
He was a circus. Cooper looked at me as if to say, “Really Mom? Just LOOK at that mess of a dog.” I smiled back at him in agreement. And we both knew it was time for our newly expanded family to go home. Jon often reminds me, “YOU brought this dog home.”
Yes. Yes I did.
Chapter 2: My Darling Clementine
Clementine was a sick, incontinent dog – so ugly she was beautiful – who Klam adopted. What was supposed to be a brief foster home became a beautiful friendship, with both cherishing every precious moment until the end came far too soon.
The moment the papers on my condo closed I announced, “I’m getting a dog.” My parents and Jon suggested that perhaps I should wait, get myself a bit more settled. This was met with a blank stare. Dogs make me happy. I was going to rescue a dog.
Bailey was 7-years-old, a neurotic chocolate lab with a large number of fatty tissue tumors covering his body. What he’d always thought was his forever family had put him up for adoption because he’d snapped at their young son. (Disclaimer: If you hit me on the nose with a wooden spoon, I will snap at you too.) Bailey had a soft spot for French bread and a body-numbing phobia of packing material. (I am not making this up. Move a cardboard box or pop a packing peanut and my little guy would inevitably pee on the carpet.) If you left him alone more than he cared to be, he’d eat the garbage. You’d find him sitting in the midst of his mess when you returned – greeted by a knowing look, “Now, if you hadn’t left me here, this wouldn’t have happened…”
I loved that dog. He was my first son. (Yes, I was one of *those* people who treated her dog like a child – except without the stroller or outfits.)
In March of 2007, I stayed home sick one day. Bailey and I decided a refreshing Jamba Juice would do us some good. But as we headed back home that afternoon, Bailey collapsed in front of me, suffering a grand-mal seizure. I scooped him up and rushed him down the street to our vet. “It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok,” I repeated over and over, willing it to be true.
It wasn’t ok. Bailey was suffering from end-stage blood cancer. A tumor had ruptured and hemorrhaged in his brain. He could no longer turn right; he was walking in circles, confused. By the next day, he was slipping in and out of consciousness – but he could remember me! Every time he saw me, he’d wiggle his way over, tongue lolling out of his mouth to lick me.
I took my guy home. I carried my 75-pound friend up our flight of stairs; I bought him an entire loaf of French bread and spent the day watching bad talk shows on TV. We reminisced about our three short years together.
And that afternoon, Jon and I took him to the vet to say goodbye. Himself to the very end, he closed his eyes, and left us with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth – dreaming of catching a squirrel no doubt.
I like to think he’s up in heaven playing with those gone before us. As long as they don’t bring any packing supplies of course…
Chapter 3: There is a Dog House in New Orleans
Klam had an opportunity to go on a long-needed vacation to New Orleans. While there, she visited some of the rescue shelters needed after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, and made the attempt to rescue a feral dog with a pickle jar stuck on its head.
I have suffered from/dealt with anxiety and depression for over a decade now. A doctor once smiled at me and said, “Honey, you’re a lifer.” Goodie. Several months into our marriage, I suffered a full-blown panic attack. I was absolutely melting down that we’d never be able to afford a house. Was my desire because we didn’t live in a good area? Because I wanted to have children, expanding our family? No. I needed a house because we’d discussed not getting another dog until we had a yard. (This was a very logical and sound argument. Naturally it didn’t hold a candle to my rebuttal of “BUT DOGS MAKE ME HAPPY.”)
In October 2007, Jon informed me he was going to breakfast with his dad. When he returned that afternoon, I called out, “How was breakfast?”
“Come!” was the sharp response. Shortly thereafter, a blur of yellow fuzz flashed by me. Cooper, a 5-year-old yellow lab was completely uninterested in any new people until he had thoroughly investigated every inch of his new house. At which point he turned toward me expectantly, eyeing me then his tennis ball, “Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the ball.”
Cooper was a “career changer,” he flunked out of guide dog school. And he wasn’t your typical goofy lab. He was born to be a working dog – but his penchant to bolt through the smallest door opening and epilepsy made him less than a perfect match.
Three days after my precious new arrival, I took him for his morning walk, brought him back to the house, unleashed him and leaned in to grab my purse for work. He was off! I spent the next 45 minutes chasing him around the hills where we lived. He would wait just long enough for me to get close before taking off again. All in my work slacks, blouse and boots, I scaled retaining walls, climbed through ivy – and at one point jumped a fence into someone’s back yard to head him off. Finally he disappeared. For what seemed like forever, I stood on the corner yelling his name, tears streaming down my face. I was a horrible mother.
Suddenly, a very nice person in a red car stopped at the intersection and shared that my wily Cooper the Escape Artist had been snared in a yard down the street. A very sympathetic lady (or just terrified of the crazy disheveled women with the broken heel and mud smears complementing a business casual outfit) lent me a leash.
In looking back, each of my dogs has saved me just as much as we did for them. And in turn, the muppets very first word was “DOG.” When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Pound Puppies. Perhaps I never grew out of that phase after all.
If you can see yourself in the drooly, and sometimes slobbery, goofy grin of your dog – I highly recommend this book. And if you’re just not a pet person, check it out too – maybe you’ll see why people like us have more in common with our four-legged companions. (Or we’ll just give you more fodder to laugh at us. It’s okay; I can take it. Dogs make me happy.)