Two more books have arrived in my mailbox, one about cats and one about dogs. The cat book arrived unannounced, but the publisher sent an email about the dog book, asking if I'd like a copy to review. I hesitated before I said yes, because the book is "Beautiful Old Dogs: A Loving Tribute to Our Senior Best Friends." (St. Martin's Press. $17.99). My hesitation was because I was afraid that every single story would require several tissues and that all the dogs would die at the end of the story.
I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there are some accounts that will bring a sniffle or two, but many more will just bring a smile and a knowing nod as those who have had an old dog recognize the truth of the observations being made.
The book features 44 portraits of old dogs taken by photographer Garry Gross and short written tributes by a variety of authors, edited by David Tabatsky. I love the variety of written pieces. One of my favorites is "The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog," by Eugene O'Neill which O'Neill wrote as a tribute to the family's Dalmatian. There are also pieces by Loudon Wainwright, Dean Koontz, David Frei and Marlo Thomas.
One essay I particularly liked was "Be Gentle: I Know My Dog is Old: A Call for Improving Etiquette with Older Dogs," by Susan Seligson. Here's the general feel of the article: " to what person would you ever be so crude as to say, 'Is that your mother? Wow, she looks awful. She can hardly move!' Yet this is the unsolicited blubbering my friend endures from strangers, all day long, about her old dog." About her own dog, Seligson writes, "'How old is he?' People would ask unrelentingly about my now-departed Irish Setter, Amos. I didn't mind telling them that he was 12 or 13. 'Wow. They don't live much longer than that, do they?' How tacky is this?"
There's humor in the piece, but also some good advice, reminding the reader that the dog's owner already knows his dog is old and won't be with him much longer; he doesn't need reminding. "So when you see a person patiently coaxing an old dog on his increasingly shrinking route you are witnessing someone who could benefit from a little compassionate restraint. Consider a simple hello for the owner or a tender pat on the head for the doggie emeritus. Like most of our mothers told us at some point: if you don't have something nice to say ..."
As much as I enjoyed the written sections, the dog portraits just blew me away. These are not just pictures of old dogs. These truly are portraits of individuals, and they are wonderful. In many, you can tell that, gray muzzle and all, the dog is still ready and able to chase and catch vermin, or, if necessary, a rubber ball. Some are mellower; the dog just wants a warm fire and a scratch behind the ears, but all of the photos catch the individual personality of the dog. Super book. Go buy it.
The second book is about cats. Four of them, to be exact. The book is "Paw Prints at Owl Cottage" by Denis O'Connor (St. Martin's Press, $19.99). O'Connor is enchanted by Maine Coon cats, and this little book recounts his adventures with Pablo, Carlos, Luis, and Max, with the occasional flash back to an earlier cat, Toby Jug. O'Connor wants his cats to enjoy all kinds of experiences, so, as each cat comes along, he attaches harness and lead and heads off to the seashore, or to the woods, to wander on the beach or through the beeches, letting the cat enjoy, and chase, whatever they find. He enjoys night walks, as well, when the cats alert him to things he can't see, or would miss on his own.
As the cats mature, they stay closer to home, but still enjoy life in a large cat enclosure that O'Connor builds after a car kills one cat. Each cat has his own personality and that comes across in the writing. I also enjoyed the illustrations. Too bad there weren't more. If they were larger, I'd be tempted to tear them out and frame them.
You're not going to learn much about cats in general, but you will learn about four cats in particular, each with a very different personality. I enjoyed it and think you will, too.