“The life of a good dog is like the life of a good person, only shorter and more compressed,” writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen about her beloved black Labrador retriever, Beau. With her trademark wisdom and humor, Quindlen reflects on how her life has unfolded in tandem with Beau’s, and on the lessons she’s learned by watching him: to roll with the punches, to take things as they come, to measure herself not in terms of the past or the future but of the present, to raise her nose in the air from time to time and, at least metaphorically, holler, “I smell bacon!” Heartening and bittersweet, Good Dog. Stay. honors the life of a cherished and loyal friend and offers us a valuable lesson on our four-legged family members: Sometimes an old dog can teach us new tricks.
I've heard people mention Quindlen's books for years now but this is the first I've gotten around to reading myself. I may have had some bias in starting with this one, as it's Quindlen reminiscing about her years with her Black Labrador, Beau, now deceased. I have a Black Lab myself, so I'm always curious to read of others' experiences.
This is a quick little read at under 100 pages, and half of that being pictures of dogs... a little strangely, not just of Beau but mostly of random dogs of various other breeds. So quick a read, in fact, that I was able to read the entire book during commercial breaks of two tv movies I was interested in watching. Opening with Beau's final days when he is mostly deaf and blind, it initially reads almost like a eulogy to a beloved dog, working backwards to his early puppy years.
The life of a dog is not much of a mystery, really. With few exceptions, he will be who he has always been. His routine will be unvarying and his pleasures will be predictable -- a pond, a squirrel, a bone, a nap in the sun. It sounds so boring, and yet it is one of the things that makes dogs so important to people. In a world that seems so uncertain, in lives that seem sometimes to ricochet from challenge to upheaval and back again, a dog can be counted on in a way that's true of little else.
It was an enjoyable read for me in that I liked seeing the similarities in her Lab and mine -- the constant tail wagging, the eternal puppy spirit that doesn't seem to waver even in later years (my Lab will be turning 11 this Fall), a dislike of stairs, the fear of thunder or fireworks (mine also has a fear of the sound of hot frying oil) and the funny, strong dislike of water... though black Labs are considered "water dogs". Quindlen talks about discovering these traits and joking how she got a defective Lab, which is something we sometimes say too, about how we rescued ours from the clearance, "irregular" bin lol.
So, it was cute to read experiences of someone who has the same kind of dog breed as me, but it was also a little heavier in tone than I wanted it to be. Quindlen does talk about Beau's early puppy years and she does share thoughts on being a longtime dog owner in general, but much of the focus seemed to be on Beau's last days and the family trying to find the strength to say goodbye to him. Mortality of any kind is generally not fun for the mind to dwell on, but it seems even more difficult when it comes to thinking about the inevitable end of a beloved pet. So while this little book did pull some smiles from me, I don't know that it's something I could comfortably read more than once. Also, I wish there had been more pictures of Beau himself. I think it would have made Quindlen's words more impactful. The pictures of random dogs were sweet and cute but felt a little odd to me, since this was mainly the story of Beau.