I am not a dog person. Or a cat person. Or, for that matter, a fish, hamster or snake person. It's not that I don't like pets -- though I don't. It's that I don't like creatures with short life spans cohabiting with us. Maybe you've noticed: They have a bad history of not living long. And dealing with grief generated by dead animals -- that's optional, isn't it?
I taught Julie Klam at NYU's Tisch School. She was smart, ironic, destined for some kind of media career. I would not have said that, eight years after graduation, she'd be working at a dead-end job in the insurance business, living alone and taking anti-depressants. Nor would I have said that the way out of loneliness and tedium would, for her, start with a dog.
But as You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness attests, you let in a dog into your life, he makes his way into your heart. (If you give a mouse a cookie....) And then you become a dog person. A serious dog person. Though, if you're Julie Klam, "serious" gets bent into irony, self-deprecation and outright humor along the way. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Blame it on Otto, her first Boston Terrier. Julie had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to adopt him. When she got him home, he went straight for her bed: "He sat in it like he'd been there all his life. And as with everything else he did, I took it as a sign of genius."
Love? Literally: "I thought about him every minute we were apart, brought him everywhere the law allowed, fed him everything I ate, carried him up to my sleeping loft every night and tucked him under the covers, his head on the pillows next to mine. All my energy was put toward making him happy. It was the best relationship I've ever been in."
And an instructive one: "I took care of him and he took care of me. Within six months of adopting him, I grew up." Through Otto, she learned "the give-and-take that is needed to succeed in a relationship." Soon she was married. And writing. (As readers of her first book -- Please Excuse My Daughter -- know well, Julie Klam is very funny, in a young voice/old soul way.)
Otto led her to animal rescue -- taking in dogs destined to be put down and helping them find new homes. This is not without its nightmares. Some dogs have rotten personalities. One gets killed in traffic. Some are abused or untrained. And it's not as if Julie Klam is magic with animals -- she thinks of herself as "the dog mutterer."
So what's her gift? Her very appealing personality, which shows up in every line. And dominates her unusual book video:
[cross-posted from HeadButler.com]