Saturday, December 11, 2010
YOU HAD ME AT WOOF: HOW DOGS TAUGHT ME THE SECRETS OF HAPPINESS by Julie Klam (2010) Riverhead Books
Carrie Fisher praises Julie Klam's writing by insisting, "if tragedy plus time equals comedy, [she] makes the most of that equation."
I knew I would find Julie Klam's memoir charming, predisposed as I am to champion canine narratives, but I did not expect to do such extensive time-traveling through my own life by her side.
At 30, Klam is single, working part time in a make-ends-meet kind of job, consulting psychics and tarot readers to assuage her fear that she might well end up alone since sitting on her sofa and watching tv seems to be her preferred way to meet eligible men. Enter Otto, stage left. Otto is a Boston terrier that Klam adopts as her first own canine companion who shows her that she just might be able to share her home and her life with another. Enter Paul, stage right. Six years later Klam is married and has a baby daughter, Violet, who completes her family with Paul and Otto. They become involved with a Boston terrier rescue organization and their modest one-bedroom NYC apartment becomes a revolving door for the needy and dispossessed dogs who are difficult to place.
As Klam reminisces about the mastiffs she grew up with and the lasting nicknames that her brother Matt gave each one, I remembered too our first family dog, Nikki, a real pet who at the local dog show earned the ribbon for "the dog that least resembled any known breed" (though she looked most like a little bouvier with a rusty beard) and was affectionately nicknamed "Stinkhead" abbreviated to "Stink" by my brother David because of her horrible breath. Then, Mad Max, another pound rescue who had "Springer's rage" and had to be euthanized because he bit our father's hand one New Year's Eve, damaging the nerves. Most beloved was Winston, raised from an 8-week-old pup, aka Mister/ Mist/ the Uncle/ Mon Oncle, David's constant companion who survived the crash that killed him and managed to get the rest of us through those early days of our keen untenable grief. You see what I mean about time travel?
Like Klam I dreamed the existence of my own dogs, too. Or, perhaps, realized them from a figurine that stood on a secretary in the entrance hall of my grandparents' Toronto apartment: two liver and white Springer Spaniels, their feathery tails uncropped. Along came Bronte and then Doolin, now both gone. And, now Finn, a darling of a chocolate lab with a heart the size of the Chrysler Building, stretches across the queen-sized bed, paws flicking, chasing dream squirrels.
I know exactly what Klam means when she writes: "From Otto, who showed me I could be in a reciprocal nurturing relationship, to Dahlia, who proved that life continues to surprise, each dog in my life has brought me something or taught me a lesson that improved the quality of my life. I am richer in every way because of the dogs I've known." There's even the scientific proof for the doubting Thomases/ Cranky McCranky's who just simply can't see the point of sharing a life in this way: "When a person interacts with a dog, the central nervous system releases several hormones that cause feelings of pleasure--included in that is oxytocin."
YOU HAD ME AT WOOF makes a wonderful stocking stuffer, even for the most curmudgeonly grinch on your list. Follow @JulieKlam on twitter or visit her website to learn more: http://julieklam.com/