Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part IV

When you're a dog, bookselling isn't always a walk in the park. Unless you're Phoebe B. Dackel this past November.

Phoebe was busier than usual last month, in the office, at home, in the park she loves so much. It's not my imagination or holiday-season-onset fatigue. It's all there in her daily journal.

Each page lists her five walks, with departure times and weather conditions, where we go and how we get there and approximate mileage, what's said of or to Phoebe in the elevator and the lobby and beyond, our encounters with squirrels and other friends, our discoveries of lost balls. There are notes about her meals, her naps, her official staff dog duties, and her romps and games. Recent highlights from her social calendar include a very happy Thanksgiving and a long, lazy afternoon that our beloved Pomeranian friend Lola spent with us.

Inside the front cover of every half-year-long volume of Phoebe's journal are columns that wait for numbers to be added as each month ends: one for total park visits, another for balls found.

That first column for November 2009 shows a number that frankly astounds me, even though I'm always there at the other end of Phoebe's leash. This is the dog who, when she came to me from Dachshund Rescue and the city shelter, was afraid of the outside world, for whom it took, her journal records, almost three months of approaches to the park before Phoebe would venture inside, and when she did it was with the help of another dog who understood and gave Phoebe a nudge to the shoulder that I witnessed and much I had no ability to see, some guidance, some insights, something more helpful than all the reassurances I had been offering (or trying to), some of what only dogs can comprehend and share among themselves: a release from fear for Phoebe, and a reminder to me that dogs need dog life as much as human companionship. That helpful dog, whom we knew only by sight, gave Phoebe a freedom that has taken her not just into the park but far beyond. It was her last fear, vanquished.

During this past November's 30 days, the dog who was afraid of the park has visited it 62 times. A new personal monthly best for The Phoebster!

If the weather cooperates (not that we let it run our lives), we may be looking at a new annual record for park visits. Sounds like an exciting post for New Year's Eve.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Books and Dogs and Holidays

If there are inanimate gifts better than books, I've never received one. Dogs are the greatest gifts in my life, but none came to me wrapped and beribboned; we met, got acquainted, adopted each other, and became family. It's tempting to say that we meet books, conclude that we'll be happy together and take them into our homes and love them, but books can sit unattended on our shelves far longer than a dog can wait for meals and exercise, tummy rubs and conversation.

A dog shouldn't be given as a gift, especially as a surprise during the holidays. When someone you know wants a dog, give moral and logistical support: encourage adoption from breed rescue groups and shelters, offer to join the dog-seeker on shelter visits or other relevant expeditions (a first-time shopper for pet supplies usually needs backup), remember to ask the questions the dog-enamored may forget when under the spell of a prospective new friend. The list goes on, of course, and you can wrap it all up with a book or two about dogs. Here the surprise factor is appropriate, the opportunities for pleasure and satisfaction almost as limitless as a dog's devotion. Dogs are not good impulse buys; books, however, are among the best.

You can give the gift of dog books to everyone you know (does anyone who wouldn't welcome a book about dogs deserve a gift?). One of the lessons I learned as a bookseller specializing in dog literature was that people want books about dogs even when they don't have dogs, can't have dogs for heartless-landlord-from-hell or nonmalicious reasons, or don't even want dogs. Maybe they long for the dog stories they read as children for their grandkids. Maybe they read behavior and training books the way some people who don't cook read cookbooks. They want every volume that contains a single mention of the breed of their dreams, the dog they'll live with when life goes right. Then there are the people with dogs at the heart of their lives. There's a lot out there for them to read.

The practicalities and hazards of getting a puppy delivered anywhere on the planet in time for the holidays should be enough to send you bookward. Books travel well, if well packed for their journeys. In The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers, I devoted several pages to packing and shipping advice, and in the spirit of holiday book-giving, will share some of these important pointers in a post this coming Thursday.