Monica Collins/ Joanna Rose
|Tails of Devotion: A Look at the Bond Between People and Their Pets
By Emily Scott Pottruck
Published by tailsofdevotion.com ($29.95)
By Monica Collins
What if you wrote a love letter to your pet? How would it go? Funny or elegiac? Or would you merely scribble a few lines to a quotidian companion whose presence you take for granted through the years – until the years take their toll.
If I could compose an ode to Shorty, my West Highland terrier, I’d probably begin with the song I made up one morning when I went to take him out for a walk. At the time, I knew nothing about puppies and wasn’t even sure I wanted this puppy under my roof. Shorty was 12 weeks old and he slept in a crate in a room apart from my bedroom. I wanted my space and, dammit, this puppy wasn’t going to take away mine – until one morning at 5 a.m. when something bubbled up from deep inside and compelled me to burst into song to the tune of “Mister Sandman.” “Oh, Mr. Short Man, I love you so. There isn’t nothin’ in this world you don’t know. . .” Double negatives saved the day. Soon after, I moved Shorty’s crate into the bedroom.
Emily Scott Pottruck fills her high-gloss, well-designed book with personal magic moments, handwritten by pet owners. The doggerel, catterel, birderel, lizarderel that people write in tribute to their pets form meditations on animals that lend heart and soul to human lives. The writings are accompanied by engaging black and white portraits of the pets and owners taken by Lacy Atkins and Jocelyn Knight.
Some of the expressions are simply put: “Ally (a Papillon), you are an energetic, fun pup that we love so much. Since the first time we saw you poking your head through your crate, you’ve brightened up our lives. We are your slaves, you spoiled little girl!”
Other expressions are more complex, but not really because pet love is so basic: “Being with you Satchmo (a Tibetan terrier), is a constant joy. We can never thank you enough for reminding us of what’s really important in this life: staying in the now; appreciating simple things like a snack and a nap; and unconditional love. We named you after our favorite musician, Louis Armstrong (his nickname was Satchmo) and on a daily basis you make our hearts sing.”
The San Francisco creative glitterati are represented: Michael Tilson-Thomas composes a “Pre-Walk Song” to poodles Shayna and Banda on music paper. Novelist Amy Tan draws her Yorkies with pen and ink. Robin Williams, Jerry Brown, Peter Coyote (a cat fancier) and various sports stars weigh in with their tales of devotion.
Yet, the celebrities do not outshine the common folk. A homeless woman, Elizabeth, poses with her incredible hulk of a German shepherd. Both faces are filled with a joy only known to them: “You are my heart beat, my blessing,” Elizabeth writes to Hero. “You keep hope alive within me while all about me rust & crumble.”
Yes, there’s hope in “Tails of Devotion” and Pottruck’s quest strikes a chord we all understand. The relationship between people and pets is the great leveler. We know many of these stories already by heart.
A philanthropist in San Francisco, Pottruck was spurred to explore this fertile territory when her five-pound Yorkie, Andy, made a near-miraculous recovery after a being attacked by a much larger dog. “At first, doctors thought his neck and back were broken,” she writes in the introduction, “They wanted to put him down, but they soon realized they would have to put me down at the same time.”
Indeed, the book began with gratitude for Andy’s recovery. Pottruck published it herself (buy it online at www.tailsofdevotion.com ) and has been donating all proceeds to various pet charities. It’s the sort of tome you want to keep and refer to, if only to remind yourself of your own tail of devotion.
“Oh, Mr. Shortman, how can it be that someone as sweet as you could love silly old me . Oh, Mr. Short Man, can’t you see all those ch-ch-changes in me? . . .”
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down
by Joanna Rose
Swentzle arrives in Dawn Tarnauer’s life wearing nothing but his red dog collar and name tag, just as her first marriage is ending. She sweet-talks a Greyhound driver into letting the Newfie-Lab mix on the bus with her and they both high-tail it out of Fresno and back to LA, Malibu to be specific, where she crashes in the fold-down dining nook of her sister Halley’s Winnebago. It’s not just any Winnebago either; formerly the make-up trailer for the original cast of Baywatch, it sits on a fabulous lot overlooking the ocean. Halley is the caretaker. The owner is the Dr Richter, the vet for whom Halley works as a receptionist, and who eventually hires Dawn for his doggie daycare business. You might say things are looking up for Dawn
Swentzle notwithstanding, you would be wrong.
Another bad marriage comes and goes and Dawn has ends up homeless once again, but now her pet-sitting business starts landing her in some pretty cushy digs, such a the mansion of a has-been, might-be-again TV star with a Bouvier named Johnny Depp.
Then along comes Paxton, one of the sleaziest boyfriends to show up on the page in a long time.
You might say things are looking up for Dawn, but again, you would be wrong. This time it’s Swentzle.
This is a wacky, hilarious story, but the moment when Dawn loses Swentlze is one of those moments of truth amid the hilarity, and Merrill Markoe comes out as the dog person she really is. We’ve all been there.
“There was no comfort for me anywhere. I would panic every time I realized he was gone.” (p. 30)
And, as most of us have learned the hard way, when you lose the canine love of your life, another one turns up. Enter Chuck. Exit sleazy Paxton. And Chuck, who watches Dawn collapse in tears, points that this Paxton guy was a two-timer.
The dog talks. At first Dawn doubts her sanity, but Chuck ends up giving her good solid advice. He goes and gets his ball.
“Here, throw this,” he said. “It’ll make you feel a lot better.” (p. 58)
Now Dawn’s life is looking up. The details of men, home, family are not getting any better, in fact they go steadily downhill, but Chuck, Johnny Depp, Brandi the Golden retriever, Margy the Basset Hound - all of them start including Dawn in their daily conversation. And here’s where you know it for sure: Merrill Markoe spends a great deal of her time talking to dogs.
Walking In Circles before Lying Down is a laugh-out-loud, poke-the-stranger-next-to-you-and- read-it-to- him-too kind of book. If dogs talk to you, you should read it. If you think maybe dogs could talk to you (if only they would), you should read it. If they don’t talk to you, you should read it. And if you don’t think dogs have a lot to say, you should definitely read this book!