When pitching a memoir, authors are advised to name competitive titles. Easy enough to do with a dog memoir; there are so many. I thought Smiley Bird was unique because it’s a love letter to an aggressive dog.
Until recently, the most similar memoir I had read was Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs, but that was about a wolf-dog, so not entirely the same situation.
In my last post, I spoiled the ending of A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life.
Like Isis, Orson had behavior problems that author Jon Katz spent years trying to rehabilitate. Fairly early on in this memoir, he writes:
Sometimes — when is a fine and debatable point — you just have to accept and love the dog you have, even if he’s not necessarily the dog you want him to be.
Essentially, that’s the takeaway from my memoir. We should have accepted that Isis was not a dog you could take anywhere. If I had known we’d only have her for four and a half years, I would have spent more time snuggling and less time trying to desensitize her to bicycles.
But of course, I didn’t know that, and I relate to Katz’s desperation:
I was nearly weeping with frustration, torn by my growing love for this dog and my growing realization that communicating with, understanding, training, and controlling him was, so far, beyond me, and was leading both of us toward trouble.
Fortunately, in my story, I finally do get help communicating with and understanding Isis. But not before (spoiler alert) she bites someone. Had I missed the warning signs? Like Katz, I struggled to interpret her earliest transgressions:
There is a big difference between nipping and biting, but it’s a distinction that’s often (understandably) meaningless to the recipient.
Yes! As the owner/trainer, we try so hard to understand why our precious pets would do such a thing. They aren’t vicious dogs; they’re loving and sweet, to us anyway. If I could just understand why she did these things, I could make sure she doesn’t do them again.
I’ve said before if there’s one thing to be grateful about regarding Isis’s untimely death, it’s that Rob and I didn’t have to make any difficult decisions. I know Katz didn’t take his decision to euthanize Orson lightly, and it’s a shame there’s been some internet blowback from people who think he didn’t try hard enough to find another solution. I myself thought, “He lived on a farm, surely he could have found a way to keep Orson.” But in reading the book, I understand Katz’s choice.
Interestingly, The Story of Orson doesn’t end there. We’re introduced to a Labrador named Pearl who helps Katz move on, much like Mia did for us.
My other dogs could not replace Orson, nor fill the void he left, yet in a curious way his departure had given me the life with dogs I’d always dreamed of. Be careful what you wish for.
I know exactly what he means. Mia is a completely reliable dog I can take anywhere, and now I have two dogs who are besties, like I always wanted. I just thought one of them would be Isis.