Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going to the Dogs

Read Kate Tigue's column in the April 17, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Kate is a Children's Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

The library’s current community program, Norwood Reads: Following Atticus, kicked off with a fabulous author event at the end of March and is now in full swing! After reading the book and reflecting on Tom Ryan’s thoughts on dog ownership, I started to reminisce about dogs in my life. When I was a young child, I was deathly afraid of dogs. I blame Honeybun, a yappy dachshund with no love for small kids and overindulgent owner. If a dog was being walked down the street, I had to be on the other side, wailing while clutching the leg of a bewildered parent. My dad often had to carry me into dog owners’ homes. My two dog-loving parents didn’t get it and set out to find a permanent solution to my canine phobia.

The solution was a small, male, black Labrador Retriever puppy that I insisted on naming Blackie. He arrived on the scene when I was seven and immediately transformed me into a dog person. How does owning a dog cure a child with such an intense fear? Well, looking back, I see it so clearly: he was small, he was cute, he didn’t yap, and, most importantly, he adored ME. With my newfound love of dogs, my parents assumed I would be gung-ho to help take care of Blackie by walking and feeding him. I’ll pause for a moment to let all you dog-owning parents out there finish laughing.

Small Lab puppies never stay small and, by the time I was almost nine, Blackie had morphed into a lovable-but-slightly-neurotic eighty-five pound retriever. He was a high-needs dog and my dad thought that a companion would help him expend some of that eternal puppy energy Labs seem to possess. It’s important to note that this was my dad’s opinion. My mom seemed satisfied with one large dog and all the work one large dog entails. But my birthday was coming up and my dad thought another dog would be the perfect present. So the two of us drove over to the local shelter and found a tall, ninety-five pound, half-blind yellow Lab named Sneakers who was scheduled to be put down the following day. There was no time to consult with my mom. We had a dog to rescue! Much to my mom’s surprise, we picked Sneakers up the next day and brought him back to his forever home.

I’m sure my dad had visions of two happy Labs frolicking and playing and wearing each other out. Alas, that was not to be. Poor Blackie never really recovered from the shock of the realization that Sneakers was staying with us forever. His once beautiful, glossy black fur around his snoot and on his ears turned prematurely gray at age three. In contrast, Sneakers couldn’t have been more thrilled with his new home, especially his position on the preferred couch in the TV room. The two of them spent most of their time jockeying for position in the family pack, with Blackie never really accepting his new place at the bottom of the totem pole. Still, they were both wonderful dogs to grow up with and I have 14 years’ worth of happy dog memories with my family.

Dogs change lives, especially the lives of children. They encourage us to be our best selves and yet they still love us at our worst. It’s why that special relationship has been the subject of so many children’s books. If you’re looking for more stories about kids and their dogs, try the classic “Stone Fox”, a Newbery award winning novel by John Reynolds Gardiner that portrays Willy’s struggle to save his grandfather’s farm by entering the National Dogsled Race with Searchlight, his best (canine) friend. Dogs help us to appreciate the small things in life. If you’re looking for a twist on a novel, Sharon Creech’s “Love That Dog” presents a free-verse story of Jack’s under appreciation for poetry and how he finds his own voice writing poems about Sky, his beloved dog. Most classic stories like “Where the Red Fern Grows” or “Old Yeller”, end tragically and Wallace Wallace has had enough! In Gordon Korman’s “No More Dead Dogs”, Wallace’s refusal to rewrite his negative book review of yet another “dead-dog” classic lands him in serious trouble at school. He gets kicked off the football team and is forced into doing the school play based on the book he trashed in his review. Wallace isn’t initially impressed but realizes he has an opportunity to change the end of the plot for the dog and for himself.

Dog book recommendations are just one part of our Norwood Reads: Following Atticus celebration in the Children’s Room. We have stuffed dogs that can be checked out, a scavenger hunt for “Atticus” images around the library, and a raffle for three stuffed mini Schnauzers. All programs will continue until May 10. Contact the Children’s Room staff at 781-769-0200 for more info.