I have a fantasy that after my memoir about Isis is published and hugely successful — or even just a modest success — that I will write Rescuing Mia. Maybe Leo will get his own book. I will write memoirs about every dog I ever have for the rest of my life. I also will publish fiction, starting with the novel I started in 2009 about mixed martial arts, which somehow has evolved to be as much about rescued fighting pit bulls as it is about MMA.
Turns out, another journalist turned author has made a career of writing about dogs. Jon Katz‘s breeds of choice appear to be border collies and Labradors. He has drawn the ire of some breeders/owners/experts for various opinions espoused in his books, but I don’t want to get too deep into that controversy. I just want to talk about two of his books in relation to my own experiences.
I was drawn to Going Home: Finding Peace when Pets Die for obvious reasons. Like Pack of Two, the books shares a variety of stories from a variety of animal lovers, this time about the experience of losing a pet. I had a similar response to both books: These are all very interesting, insightful and relatable stories, but after immersing myself in dog stories for several years now, I’ve heard most of this stuff before.
Going Home has another role, though. It reminds us that we are not alone. More than a year after Isis’s death, I found myself soothed by Katz’s words, even when I didn’t completely agree with him.
One of the criticisms of Katz is that he purports to be an animal expert. One claim from Going Home that I don’t necessarily agree with is:
Philosophers note that humans and animals differ in lots of ways. One of the most elemental differences is that we can make moral choices. We have consciences. We can discern right and wrong. We know we will die. We are afraid of pain and loss.
Animals do none of these things.
They are instinctive creatures who live in the moment. They experience emotions and pain but are not aware of them as concepts to think about and ponder. They die but don’t know they will die.
How does he know?
Guilt is ours alone. It is one of the many things that plagues the complicated human psyche but does not infect the life of an animal. Dogs do not feel guilty for eating the last piece of food or for hogging the bed. They do not reproach themselves for making mistakes. They do not blame themselves when we suffer, struggle, or die.
Again, how would anyone know? Katz himself turns to a pet psychic to communicate with his dogs. Doesn’t that imply that he believes animals have a more complex thought process?
As much as I humanize my dogs, I don’t believe in animal communicators. Or, I should say, I have not been convinced pet psychics are real. I don’t believe dogs think in complete English-language sentences, so when a communicator told me that Isis was thinking, “I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like there’s a weight on my chest,” that she actually had those thoughts. Then again, she died of a heart aneurysm a few months later, so maybe there was something to that.
I’m going to hear an animal communicator speak tonight, though, so maybe I’ll come around.
The most compelling part of Going Home was Katz’ description of Orson, his “lifetime dog.” The book opens with Orson’s burial. References are made to Orson’s aggression, and Katz doing all he could for him. From that point, I didn’t want to read short anecdotes from other people, I wanted to read Orson’s complete life story. And lucky for me, Katz also has written a book (a couple of books, actually) about Orson.
I will discuss A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed my Life in an upcoming blog, but I will spoil the ending here, because Katz reveals it in Going Home. Katz had Orson euthanized after the dog bit three people.
I was astonished when I read that, because we never in a million years would have put Isis down. We would have arranged her life and ours so that she was safe and to keep her from being a threat to anyone else. But I didn’t know Orson’s whole story, and I knew I had to read it. Not just because I wanted to know exactly what led up to Katz’s decision, but also because A Good Dog sounded like my memoir about Isis.
The story of “lifetime dog” with behavior problems whose lifetime ended too soon.