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Posted March 10, 2013
Our Pets And Who We Are
When Dale Ryan was a child people had the idea the life should be very ordered and hierarchical. Everything had its place and a dogs place was certainly in the yard, or perhaps in the kitchen. (p.109) As the title suggests, this book certainly doesn’t take that position, though it does not propose that life with dogs must be chaotic, dirty and ugly. Dale Ryan has been a dog lover since childhood when her family owned Charcoal, an adored but ill-fated canine. (p. 14-15) Dale has owned15 dogs over the years, and this book reveals the personality of a kind soul who takes the time to care, to think about life from a perspective different from her own, and to be flexible enough to adapt to those differences however possible. Dale is qualified in art and design (Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education) and this book is filled with beautiful, colour photographs that add to the text and demonstrate that a less ordered life is not necessarily an unpleasant, disordered life.
The idea of the “beast” is central to this book and Dale plays with the meaning, sometimes referring to the obvious dogs, sometimes referring to man, and sometimes meaning ‘beastly,’ as in ‘not nice.’ We see ourselves as separate from nature and the animals, but of course we are always in nature even in our ordered homes, and, as scientists remind us, we are animals ourselves. This is a very Taoist idea (Alan Watts. The Toa Of Philosophy: Tuttle Publishing, 2002, p. 17-34) and the book is indeed lightly philosophic, in a common sense kind of way. Following from the idea that dogs and man are similar, it is no surprise to find that much of the advice about living with dogs is at the same time applied to people. The book is very nitty-gritty and practical and the suggestions are indeed useful to all of us (dogs and people). Of course much in Sleeping With The Beast could apply to any animal, especially domesticated animals such as cats and birds.
Dale is an artist and much of this book shows a touch of her skills in that field. She displays an artist’s observation when she notes that dogs have a heightened sense of smell and therefore enjoy being in the kitchen when you cook (p. 49) and also playing in herb gardens. (p. 68) Similarly, she shows an artist’s contemplative thought when she wonders if dogs really like having their heads patted. (p. 85) Most of all she demonstrates drafting skills when she observes that living with dogs requires planning. (p. 30) My point is that, as I have said, this book is very practical.
Dale has a very friendly writing voice and her book is entertaining and easy to read. The many illustrative stories she includes from her family life very much help us to feel ‘at home’ with the book.
In brief the book covers:
A general comparison between man and dog and their inner nature as social animals
The challenges and bonuses of living with dogs
Decorating and remodelling your house so that it’s dog friendly
Cooking for your dog, with special consideration to health
Designing your bedroom with dogs in mind, and the psychology of sleeping with dogs
Making your garden a safe and friendly environment for dogs
Problems that can arise from living with dogs, including human problems such as cruelty
Raising dogs from puppies
How to cope when dogs die, and what to do in case the owner dies