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Bark if You Love Me: A Woman-Meets-Dog Story

Bark if You Love Me: A Woman-Meets-Dog Story

4.0 3
by Louise Bernikow

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Relatively indifferent to the natural world and happily independent, writer Louise Bernikow knew nothing about caring for pets. But one day while running along Manhattan's Hudson River, she came across an abandoned boxer and did what her mother always warned her against -- she brought the strange male home.

In this offbeat and comical story of their first year


Relatively indifferent to the natural world and happily independent, writer Louise Bernikow knew nothing about caring for pets. But one day while running along Manhattan's Hudson River, she came across an abandoned boxer and did what her mother always warned her against -- she brought the strange male home.

In this offbeat and comical story of their first year together he introduces her to the world of dog runs and to a local dive where the bartender pulls pints from the tap and dog biscuits from the drawer. She introduces him to the eccentric neighbors and to life as a media hound. When they meet a handsome man and his equally handsome dachshund, life takes an unexpected turn for both of them. A remarkable tale about companionship, wonderfully written and captivating to the last.

Editorial Reviews

Our Review
It's a classic girl-meets-boy tale. Girl -- urban, successful, independent -- doesn't want or need anyone else in her life. Then she meets boy and something in his deep brown eyes inexplicably compels her to bring him back to her place. Soon, they fall madly in love and the rest, as they say, is history.

But this girl-meets-boy story has an unconventional twist, for "boy" is not exactly a tall, dark, and handsome Prince Charming. Well, on second thought, he may be dark and handsome, but he's actually rather short. And four-legged. You see, "boy" is a dog. A brown boxer, in fact, who is about a year old when "girl," a writer and women's history scholar named Louise Bernikow, happens upon him one sunny afternoon in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Like most relationships, their first year together was alternately blissful and rocky, as they struggled to trust each other and adapt to different lifestyles. Bernikow has recounted that first year in the charming little book Bark if You Love Me.

Even before the "little brown dog" (who is soon named Libro, the Spanish word for "book") panted his way into her life, Bernikow always saw people as belonging to one of two groups: dog people or antidog people. The division between the two camps is especially notable in New York, her home city, where people live on top of one another and fight daily for precious inches of sidewalk space. So, petless until Libro, Bernikow was decidedly antidog, irritated by unleashed mongrels who nearly tripped her and by the unpleasant traces they left on the sidewalk. Libro's arrival changed her attitude completely.

Bark if You Love Me is wonderfully entertaining as Bernikow details her defection to the ranks of the dog people. Suddenly, strange new parameters define her life: early morning dog-walking gatherings in the park, dog food brand comparison, vet talk. As the book progresses, Bernikow embarks on a journey to uncover Libro's past, before their fateful park encounter, and, in the process, she begins to gain some new perspective on her own life. The resulting tale is amusing as she recounts parental anxiety when she first leaves Libro for an extended period of time; thoughtful as she analyzes her place in the world as a modern woman and reexamines her notions about family; delightful as she and Libro develop friendships with people in the neighborhood, especially fellow dogs and their owners. (Including a human Prince Charming? Perhaps.)

Ultimately, Bark if You Love Me is a fun, quick, lighthearted read -- perfect as you sit in the waiting room at the vet's office. And, as in any classic love story, Bernikow and Libro live happily ever after.

--Stephanie Bowe

Imagine Lassie wandering into Sex and the City.
Robert Lipsyte
Imagine Lassie wandering into Sex and the City.
Dee Ann Grand
Bark if you'll love this book? This reviewer says, 'Woof! Woof!
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Most people find that there are defining moments in life: a child's birth, getting married, even chance encounters can all divide an individual's experiences into "before" and "after." For Bernikow, a journalist and lecturer on women's history, life is divided neatly into "before fate dropped a dog into my world" and "after my first pet store visit." While running in Central Park one afternoon, this dedicated pet-hater came upon a crowd gathered around a police car. She wandered over, saw an abused pooch in the back seat and didn't exactly fall in love, although she soon found herself with leash in hand and an admiring ring of spectators. After a few days with the brown boxer she named Libro (Spanish for "book"), she discovered that they were mismatched but splendid pals, so she set off to chat with fellow dog lovers in the park's fenced-in dog-run area. In its lesser moments, the book can be schmaltzy and forced, as when Bernikow speaks of fate and epiphanies, attributing supernatural powers and uncanny intuition to her dog friend. Fortunately, these passages are tempered by Bernikow's description of trotting Libro around New York, meeting people who normally wouldn't bother to talk with her. In these vignettes, she allows her sense of absurdity to shine through, and the work takes on a cosmopolitan tone: "Many people said they'd grown up with boxers or their grandmothers had boxers, which made me feel rather retro, the kid still in stretch pants on the ski slope while everyone else wore microfiber." Her delightful riff on her dog's life will be snapped up like a delicious treat. Agent, Lisa Bankoff, ICM. Author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is a warm and engaging story, without being too gushy, about a big-city woman and an abused year-old brown boxer thrown together by fate for the benefit and betterment of both. For New Yorker Bernikow, a routine run in Riverside Park turned into a lifelong commitment and a loving relationship when she stopped to investigate a cluster of people surrounding a police car. The police were rescuing a small brown dog that had been beaten, starved, and tied to a tree. Although not an "animal" person, Bernikow took the dog home, changing both their lives as a result. In the pages that follow, we meet a kaleidoscope of people as the author and Libro develop friendships in the neighborhood. Bark If You Love Me will be appreciated by anyone who has ever enjoyed the companionship and perspective that only being owned by a dog can provide. Recommended for larger pet collections.--Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
Wheeler Romance Series
Product dimensions:
6.29(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Rescue

On the sunny brink of Memorial Day weekend, I was out for an afternoon run in Riverside Park with nothing much on my calendar for the days ahead and a lot of clutter in my mind. I'd stretched my cramping legs and darted across the Drive, crammed bumper-to-bumper with cars full of people escaping the city. My idea of a holiday was staying home, sleeping, sorting the clutter. I needed a breather.

The stone steps going down into the park reeked of canine and human piss. I exhaled at the bottom and started along the pavement, past an iron-fenced dog run with noisy nattering animals racing around, kicking up dust. On the flattened dirt path that common use had made a jogging trail, a woman of Olympian speed and musculature passed me going in the other direction, then a man and woman moving at a shuffle, hooked together to a Walkman.

The gears meshed and I finally got a stride, until a big shaggy dog chasing a yelping smaller one raced across the path, right at my feet, and almost tripped me.

"Get those dogs on a leash," I shouted irritably over my shoulder in the general direction of two people standing and talking nearby, leashes dangling from their hands instead of attached to their canines.

I recovered my balance and picked up speed, dodging a Frisbee. Sweat broke through under my arms and across my breastbone. No more than half a mile along, a police car was stopped along the roadway. People gathered around it. This generally meant a body had been found in the park or, more rarely, a jogger hurt. Since I can't pass a hubbub without wanting to see what it's about, I stopped,took a few deep breaths, and walked over.

The cops had their windows rolled down. On the driver's side, a woman jiggled a baby in a three-wheeled canvas contraption she had been running with. Around her were several people in business clothes, a man holding two cocker spaniels on leashes, a young Asian woman with a huge long-haired dog lying like a rug at her feet, and another young woman in shorts and a Barnard College T-shirt.

I asked what was going on.

The police had a dog, the Barnard student said, who'd been found beaten, starving, tied to a tree. He needed a home. Oh, please, I thought, with all the trouble in this city, the police are out saving dogs? "We can't have pets in the dorms," the young woman was saying, "or I'd take it." She looked tragic. It's only a dog, I thought. Get a grip. I looked over her shoulder, into the car.

He was curled like a cat, a dark brown ball with large amber eyes, huddled on the back seat. The man with the cocker spaniels was telling the cops he wanted the dog, but didn't think his girlfriend would tolerate another one. Oh, don't be such a wuss, I thought, but the man's voice was fading away, like background noise in a movie scene. The woman, baby, and contraption jogged off.

The dog looked back at me. A boxer's face, I thought, from meager experience. Flat, dark nose. Those eyes. He didn't move, just looked me over, wearily, with some curiosity. He was panting and a long pink tongue spilled from his dark, parted lips.


I was not a person well acquainted with dogs or animals of any kind. No childhood memories of bounding with a tail-wagging pup over hill and dale or in the froth of the ocean's spray, no grandma's house where Lassie barked with glee at the sight of me, no beloved National Velvet colt hidden away in my heart. Politically, it made sense to save the whales, hug trees, and create humane conditions in which mare's urine could be collected for transformation into hormones for menopausal women, but I never went to the barricades over animal rights issues. Let's worry about people first, I always said. And did.

On the Bronx sidewalks of my youth and in the large apartment houses, we were not canine-friendly. We were not, in fact, nature-friendly. "Nature" was laced with dangers, like spiders, wasps, and bees. Cats gave us the willies. Dogs were more scary and dirty to boot. They jumped up on you out of nowhere. They bit. They carried disease and that dreaded stuff called allergens. My mother, whose ostensible job was to guard her pups against the world's dangers, always said I was allergic to trees, grass, and animals. Who was I, who had suffered asthmatic terrors far too often in my young years, to disagree

In this, as in most matters, my fearful mother generalized from a small truth. Life so far had proven her only partially right. Most of the perils described to me in my childhood had never materialized. I hadn't picked up diseases from toilet seats in public bathrooms nor been found dead in the street after a car accident, wearing dirty underwear. Christians hadn't betrayed me. Men hadn't used me. I'd actually outgrown childhood problems like asthma and poor eyesight and had come to believe, like most Americans, that I'd left all limitations behind.

But I hadn't. In Los Angeles once, hobnobbing with movie people and jockeying for a deal, I'd stayed near the beach with an old friend and his two cats. The cats hadn't registered until I woke in the night, gasping. I wheezed my way out of the house, walked near the shore, inhaling intensely. Although reason said buy medicine, stay elsewhere, make the deal, I went, instead, to the airport. The ticket change was costly, but the plane was mercifully free of cat. The deal fell through.

Yet for a week or two, some summers, while my friends Alyosha and Lisa left the Berkeley hills to travel, I watched over their house and dog. Ariel, a female black and white Portuguese water spaniel, didn't make me sneeze, gasp, itch, or flee. I drove around with her sticking her nose out the car's back window. We climbed the Indian rocks and stared out at San Francisco Bay. I ran the track off The Alameda with her on a leash, perplexed about going in circles. One night, she woke me, making a racket, thumping her tail on the floor. I, who had never been able to give orders to anyone, told her firmly to stop. In the California morning, I discovered, listening to the radio, that Ariel's tail thumping had been an alert. A minor earthquake had come in the night.

But Ariel belonged to California and my relationship with her was a Pacific Coast-induced aberration, like eating sprouts or saying freeway. At heart, I was a New Yorker, a clotheshorse, a snob, a feminist intellectual, and a world adventurer, happier on banquettes in cafés in the great capitals of the world than in the aisles of the Home Depot. I rented places to live and had no desire to own real estate because I dreaded being anchored. I felt compelled to be ready, at all times, to leave for Paris on a moment's notice. I was not interested in collaborating or camping, baking bread or raising babies. That's who I was or thought I was.

Then, standing in Riverside Park in Manhattan, sweating beside a police car, I did one of the strangest things I've ever done: I took the little brown dog home.

I can't say why. I looked into his eyes and I took him home, just that. I can't even quite say how. I have no memory of saying yes or of being asked anything about myself or my circumstances by the police. I can't conjure an image of the car door opening, of the dog scampering out or myself lifting him. I don't remember "good-byes" and certainly not "good lucks."

The dog was on his legs, a metal-studded dark leather collar around his neck attached to a chain with a blue cloth handle for a leash. He walked along beside me, looking small, brown, and scared, but agreeable. A posse accompanied us through the park—the Barnard student; the wimpy man with his spaniels; and an opera singer named Lisa who lives in my building and has a small dog named Baxter, both of whom had somehow joined us along the way.

There are many things I know. I can recite the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English, build bookcases with my own hands, change the motor oil in a car, and tell you why the ERA failed. I also do not lack for daring. But the little brown thing trotting beside me, occasionally stealing a look up, was daunting and a little scary. Was he a killer? A lunatic? Rabid? About to expire?

I had no idea how he worked. What did he eat and how often? Where would he sleep and how much? While Ariel had a yard in Berkeley to dash out to, this character's yard would be four flights down and three blocks away. How was that supposed to work?

The posse, to whom I communicated concern mostly through looks of alarm, accompanied me and the mysterious stranger to the pet store on Broadway. It was a large, bright shop, with parrots in the window, more birds in more cages inside, leashes, toys, vitamins, fish in tanks, and a funny smell. I felt squeamish.

The posse understood, perhaps better than I, the provisional nature of my new alliance. The Barnard student chose two white plastic bowls; I liked the stainless steel. From an array of foods in bags and cans as overwhelming in variety as breakfast cereals in the supermarket or underwear at Bloomingdale's, Lisa picked out a sack of dog food allegedly made of lamb and rice. It felt suspiciously desiccated as I carried it down the aisle, along with a plastic sack of oatmeal-colored biscuits. The man with the spaniels contributed a red rubber pull toy and went home to feed his dogs. I lingered at the cosmetics, eventually choosing a citrus shampoo I wouldn't have minded using myself. The little brown dog toddled up and down the aisles compliantly. It was the last time he would behave that way in the store.

The student left us after chipping in for what she called my "starter kit" and I tried not to think of as a layette. Lisa, Baxter, the little dog, and I walked home in the evening light, two women and two dogs. Lisa was treating me like I'd joined her cult or converted to her religion.

"I'll see how it goes," I said.


Lisa let Baxter into their first-floor apartment. She, I, and the little brown dog climbed four flights of stairs. He seemed eager and curious. Up he went and up again, not complaining. He waited while I unlocked the door and then he led me into my own apartment. Lisa set the bowls down in a corner of the kitchen and began running water in the sink.

No, I said, I'll do it.

She had something like a smirk on her face.


We were alone. Ignoring me, the dog dipped his head and guzzled the water. I filled the second bowl to the brim with brown nuggets of alleged lamb and rice from the food sack and stepped away. He sucked up the food, chomped, spilled dry bits on the floor, guzzled some more. I watched him. His coat was not just dark brown, but striped with black ripples—brindled, I would learn—the color of maple ice cream and fudge ripple or of pumpernickel bagels. There were splashes of white around his toenails and a white triangle on his chest, like a Superman insignia. His ears were long and floppy, his tail stumpy, with a bare spot at the end. He had a comic face —beautiful wide eyes set close together, a flat black nose, and blubbery, clownish lips.

His body was pitifully sunken in at the chest and the sides, ribs showing, as though someone had let the air out of him. And he was a boy. I may have asked or noticed when I first encountered him in the police car, but it only registered now—registered in a way that made me nervous—that there was a penis in my house. Again.

Meet the Author

Louise Bernikow is the author of six books, including Among Women and The Shoulders We Stand On: The American Woman's Almanac. She has written articles for such publications as the New York Times, Playboy, Ms., Cosmopolitan, and Esquire. A frequent guest lecturer on women's issues at colleges throughout the country, Louise Bernikow lives in New York City with her dog, Libro.

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Bark If You Love Me 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book for dog lovers, and potential dog lovers, that is heartwarming and fun to read. Louise Bernikow did an excellent job of depicting her new life with her new roomate/friend. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am vey glad that I ordered it. It is a worthwhile read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had read a raving review of this book so when I read it, I was hoping for a great read. However, I found it to be very disappointing. It seemed more like a book about a woman on a man-hunt than about the relationship she developed with her rescued dog. Also, at one point she even kicked the dog and wrote about in the book! I truly cannot recommend this book as highly as others have.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having heard the author speak of her book at school, i was excited to purchase it and read it. I found that it was a wonderful story of companionship and new experiences.