GOOD READS | Merles Door a touching portrait of remarkable canine
October 3, 2008
On the last Sunday in April, while I was returning from a business trip in Charleston, our wonderful Golden Retriever, Jaime, whom many of you knew, passed away at age 14 (in human years) in the wee hours of the morning. My husband and daughter were there. My not being there for him at the end will always be a regret I will bear. Yet I also recognize it as another gift he gave to me, for he knew the pain I would carry without him in my every day life, my Jaime Good Dog. And he was right; his death left a void that will always remain. But during those 14 years, he taught me more about friendship, emotions, acceptance, myself and dogs than any dog I have ever lived with, and I have loved and lived with one or more dogs almost continuously since the age of 2. Jaime was unique, and had many dog friends. I will never forget that special bond he seemed to have with his human friends. Everyone loved him, enjoyed being around him, respected him, sought him out and remembered him. Children even wrote him letters months after they returned home from visiting with him. Perhaps that special-ness explains what caught my eye when I noticed Merles Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote and checked it out of the library.What an outstanding choice. Ted Kerasote is an outdoor writer by specialty. He has written for more than four dozen well-known periodicals such as Field andamp; Stream, Outside, Audubon, National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times. He has also written several books including Out There: In the Wild in the Wired Age, which earned him the National Outdoor Book Award. While on a camping trip in the Utah desert, Ted Kerasote met a dog a Labrador mix who was living on his own in the wild. They became attached to each other, and Kerasote decided to name the dog Merle and take him home. There, he realized Merles native intelligence would be diminished by living exclusively in the human world. He put a dog door in his house so Merle could live both outside and in.In an essay Kerasote wrote about his book, he explains his (Merles) morphing between the habits of a wild dog and those of a domestic one took us on a journey in which he, the dog, became a bit more civilized and I, the man, became a tad more wild. Along the way, my raft of dog-training notions capsized, not once, but many times. Some of its baggage I salvaged because it was, and is, useful, and some was swept away forever.The first of my notions to go was that humans, as dogs caretakers, need to provide them with toys. After Merle and I returned to Wyoming, I, thinking that he needed some entertainment in his new home, bought him rubber bones, balls, and rawhide chews. He displayed zero interest in them. What he wanted to do was exactly what hed been doing when wed met in the desert explore the world with his nose.A deeply touching portrait of a remarkable dog and his relationship with the author, Merles Door explores the issues that all animals and their human companions face as their lives intertwine, bringing to bear the latest research into animal consciousness and behavior as well as insights into the origins and evolution of the human-dog partnership. In addition to providing the reader with a wonderful masterfully written story, this book presents an impressive amount of science and technical information on a range of subjects. The list of sources runs 15 pages. Yet none of this seems out of place. Whether it is a quote from a biologist, or an explanation of cognitive maps, it is all good and it all fits. The wolf research is especially interesting. Merle showed Kerasote how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of their own decisions, and Kerasote suggests how these lessons can be applied universally.This non-fiction book is a must read for anyone who loves the outdoors, who loves dogs, or who loves a heartwarming, intelligent and well documented story of substance. I recommend it a required reading for anyone who supports and appreciates human-animal interaction or considering adopting a dog.
Literary Birthdays This WeekOct. 3: James Herriot (1916), Gore Vidal (1925)Oct. 4: Anne Rice (1941)Oct. 6: Thor Heyerdahl (1914)Oct. 7: Thomas Keneally (1935)Oct. 8: Frank Herbert (1920), R. L. Stine (1943)Oct. 9: Belva Plain (1919) Good Reads ListAdults (fiction): My Fathers Paradise: A Sons Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Arial SabarYoung Adult (ages 13-17): The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith Juvenile (4th-6th grade): Robinson Crusoe: A Young Readers Edition of the Classic Adventure by Daniel Defoe, illustrated by N. C. WyethBooks for Book Groups: The Gathering by Anne Enright