The Literate Kerry (Vol. 3)

(The following is an excerpt from a personal essay entitled, “The Color of Joy,” written by Caroline Knapp. Ms. Knapp was a columnist and a memoirist who started her career as a reporter for the Phoenix newspapers. Her second book, Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs (Dial, 1998), deals with love and relationships. Ms. Knapp died June 3, 2004, at the age of 42.)

In my view, dogs can be shamanistic, can be heroic and gentle and wise and enormously healing, but for the most part are dogs, governed by their own biological imperatives and codes of conduct, and we do both them and our relationships with them a disservice when we romanticize them . . .

That said, I also believe that dogs can – and often do – lead us into a world that is qualitatively different from the world of people, a place that can transform us. Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.

Everything shifts in this new orbit, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Walks are slower: You find yourself ambling up a city street instead of racing to a destination, the dog stopping to sniff every third leaf, every other twig, every bit of debris or detritus in your path. The clothes are different: Predog, I used to be very finicky and self-conscious about how I looked; now I schlep around in the worst clothing – big heavy boots, baggy old sweaters, a hooded down parka from L.L. Bean that makes me look like an astronaut. The language is different, based on tone and nuance instead of vocabulary. Even the equipment is new and strange: You find yourself ordering unthinkable products from the Foster & Smith catalog (smoked pigs’ ears, chicken-flavored toothpaste), and you find your living-room floor littered with sterilized beef bones and rawhide chips and plastic chew toys and topes and balls, and you find your cupboards stocked with the oddest things—freeze-dried liver cubes, tick shampoo, poop bags.

Last Updated: 06/16/2004, 7:19 am