Rona Maynard is a friend of my friend Ruth Pennebaker. We got connected via email so that I could read and review Rona's new book / memoir — Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This World. We joke that I'm the first "dog expert" to weigh in. Let's get going with my Starter Dog book review. TL/DR Loved it. Perfect read for a long holiday weekend. Also, don't miss the reason my copy of the book got chewed up.
I'll explain the chewed up book later. Keep scrolling.
Starter Dog Recap
So essentially, Starter Dog is about getting a dog after leaving a high-profile, VIP-type job in lifestyle magazine publishing. Rona's family did have a dog in her childhood, but for many reasons, you learn why that kind of didn't count.
Rona and her husband looked for a dog to adopt for a LONG time before choosing Casey. Through life with him at home and via walks in her main neighborhood as well as vacation home areas and snowbird living situations, Rona gains many perspectives on her life now, her life in the past, and just life in general.
Starter Dog Book Review
Now that I'm officially a 'senior citizen' myself (turned 55 in February), I relate a lot to Rona's ponderings and discoveries via life with a dog as well as to some of her past experiences, with things like alcoholism in the family as well as wayward family members always needing money and help, among others.
Many phrasings hit home:
- "Sober, he had a gift for joy."
- "I longed to be part of some other family. My ingratitude for the family I had was a scab I picked bloody."
- "Adrian was like a floundering child of 60-something who could keep on courting trouble for some years yet."
- "If not that day, then not long after. My first reaction was relief, my next a startling burst of gratitude. While I hadn't wanted Adrian in my life, I could be glad he'd been part of Casey's, making my dog happy and receiving in return what might have been the happiest moment of his own day."
Don't worry. These painful flashes feel brief and contextual when presented along with the many lovely discoveries of going through life with a dog at your side. I loved the countless happy moments too, including this central realization in the book: "To run a magazine, I had looked out on the world and shaped a vision of it for readers. To take Casey out on patrol, I ventured into the world and let it surprise me, time after time. I wasn't just passing through. Not anymore."
— Rona Maynard
It's beautifully written + such a good story!
Other Fun Commonalities
I laughed, laughed, laughed when Rona takes a particular kind of road trip with Casey, including the prison where he received some training. Rona writes of her yoga class friends who take big adventures world wide, "These women had indulged me through story after story about Casey, but I'd just crossed the line between love and losing it. A classmate said, stifling laughter, 'You're going to your dog's hometown?'"
My friends have done this too, so it gave me a good giggle.
Rona's also well versed in art and literature, so the many references and quotations added even more fun. As an old English major with a minor in the Theory and Practice of Art, I didn't *get all of them, but I felt pretty smart for the ones I did understand. So, thanks, Rona, for that at a time when I'm doubting all kinds of things.
She even gets into a word origin debate with someone on the streets about Casey's breed make-up. Those who aim for precision in language will enjoy a good laugh.
*That Dog Lady Weighs In
Rona knows I'm going to mention a couple of things because I emailed to ask her about them.
How Dog People Talk About Breeds & Behaviors
Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Casey's DNA test results do NOT match what the rescue / foster mom (Liz) guessed. Like NOT AT ALL. Casey's trainer (Laurie) pretty much nails at least the breed group with her guess, saying he is "all hound." I took that to mean likely breed make-up as well as his behavior around squirrels. So when Rona jokes later that, "Liz had been blowing hot air, and Laurie knew less than she thought," my reaction was confusion?
So, you know, being me, I had to clarify (after I double-checked myself) that Casey's main breed is indeed a hound. Rona knows that, of course, so I'm probably being *that Dog Lady and being too literal in how I interpreted those things.
Since our youngest, Mr. Stix, is 45% American Foxhound, I recognized Casey as a member of the fam. See Mr. Stix's full DNA results.
Training and Handling for Squirrel Obsessions
Basically, Casey's trainer told Rona to clap her hands and yell, "Hey!" when he went bananas about squirrels and such. If he got really wild, Rona tells me, then she did pull on the leash.
Our fans likely know that I don't review any books that include dominance theory or punishment/force training. So, when I asked for details, I called this strategy "punishment-ish."
Let's be real, while I try not to use NO! or other exclamations with my own dogs and fosters, I just this morning screamed "Stop moving!" at one point on a walk. I do sometimes holler, "Enough!" when the barking hits my last nerve. I even once spun around in my desk chair and called our late Ginko "a lip-smacking MFer!" On deadline and stressed, those slurping noises did me in.
So that's not to say that I don't sometimes holler, but I don't use old-fashioned leash corrections. I encourage you not to as well.
As perhaps the first serious dog person to review the book, I accidentally made Rona worry when I asked about the squirrel method. I'm absolutely NOT shaming her. I replied, "Honestly, I’m mostly surprised that the squirrel strategy worked. (ha ha). Thankfully, we do NOT have tree squirrels where we live and very few ground squirrels (chipmunks). We do have suicidal bunnies, though, who jump out in front of my dogs at times."
Sometimes, you do need to interrupt certain dog behaviors. In my experience, using your voice and noise typically doesn't work. It makes me think of how some of us used to toss empty pop cans full of pennies as an interrupter. My temperamentally solid Dalmatian did NOT care about the noise, but something like that now would absolutely ruin / scare our current dogs. So, let's all try not to scare our dogs!
About the Chewed Book
Meet Ace. He's our latest foster puppy. He's about 8 months old. I joke that he's busy with a capital B and endless izzy. He is off-the-charts intense. This is how he looks waiting for me to throw the ball in a game of fetch.
He originally came to stay for the long Independence Day weekend because the shelter was more than full heading into a high-demand holiday. Himz got some issues along with being VERY high-drive, so we added a behavior med that the shelter's DVM prescribed. We're working on some things with him. It's absolutely exhausting because you can see that he thinks *everything is a toy. Hence the damaged book. Still ... I mean ... LOOK at him!
It's extra hilarious because at one point Rona uses a big coffee-table book to "protect" an heirloom chair. (giggle-snort)