Did you know there’s a genre called “Dog Memoirs”?
I didn’t know that either until I was halfway through writing one and realized my book was part of a fast-growing set of specialized memoirs!
A dog memoir is, as its title suggests, a story about a dog’s life. But, written by humans, a dog memoir inevitably captures the relationship between a dog and its human(s). Many memoir writers find huge joy not only in having a dog but in capturing this human-canine bond in words. Recently I’ve discovered a treasure trove of these books, and because I love dogs so much, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. Here are a few of my favorites:
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote (Harcourt, 2007) is at the top of my list of dog memoirs that capture a dog’s personality. Kerasote has an incredible bond with Merle and professes to read the dog’s thoughts and emotions (with appropriate humility) by observing Merle’s facial expressions and body language. One passage is about Merle’s enjoyment in “singing” along to the theme music for NPR’s “All Things Considered”:
As soon as Merle heard the first strains of the theme music, he’d throw back his head and begin to bay. Soon I only had to reach toward the radio at 5:00 PM, and he’d stand in the back of the car, wag his tail in anticipation, and burst into song as the first notes sounded. Not long afterward, I noticed that he would get to his feet a couple of minutes before five and eagerly look from me to the dashboard. If I neglected to turn on the radio, he’d step forward and stare directly into my eyes. Up went one brow, down went the other, his head tilting significantly in a way I had now been trained to interpret as “Excuse me, haven’t you forgotten something?” I’d turn on the radio. Eyes bright with anticipation, he’d listen to the announcer recite the Wyoming Public Radio call letters… He had set another part of his internal clock to NPR” (P. 134).
The tale of the Kerasote and Merle sharing life in Kelly, Wyoming, is wonderful.
Another dog memoir is A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life (Random House, 2007). Author Jon Katz writes:
A life with dogs – since they are animals, not human – is always an encounter with nature, no matter where it occurs, one that quite frequently connects us to our past” (P. 150).
And a few paragraphs later Katz writes:
Sunbeams streaked through the trees. Orson lay in front of me, keeping me company. “What a great creature you are,” I told him. Orson came over to me, gave me his paw, licked my face; he always gives the impression, true or not, that he gets it… I was standing outside myself and felt a curious sensation, as if I were suddenly immune from pain, impervious to loss. My leg did not ache. I was neither old nor young, only there, at this place, in this moment, alone in the woods but not lonely. I was surrounded by life itself. And accompanied by this dog” (P. 152)
One more favorite is Quinn: The Dog That Really Isn’t (KDP, 2022). Author Jon Stein named the book to capture the way that his beagle Quinn has an almost human personality and agenda! Stein is self-deprecating in describing the humorous ways that Quinn gradually becomes master of the household. Here’s one passage:
Quinn brings me so much joy, each and every day. She regularly makes me smile. She often makes me laugh. She makes me take life just a little less seriously. With all the craziness and challenges of what has gone on in our world over the last couple of years, I’m realizing how important it is to laugh in order to keep life in perspective. I think we all need and deserve a lot more of that these days (P. 6).
Here’s a challenge for you: Is there a dog or other pet that has meant a lot to you? This could be one that you still have or one that you had in the past. Try writing about this pet and some of the experiences you had together. What was this pet’s personality? Can you describe his/her appearance, perhaps in an amusing way? Can you capture several poignant moments or feelings connected to this pet? Were there humorous situations? Did others share your feelings for this pet? Were there situations that challenged you? What was your takeaway of the role this pet played in your life? We look forward to hearing from you!
Challenge: Think of a memory you would like to share. Talk about it with a trusted friend or relative. Then write about it. We would love to hear about your experience! Please use the link below.