On Dogs: An Anthology

It’s blindingly obvious from my Ramblings that I’m a huge fan of Notting Hill Editions; their beautifully presented and always engrossing editions are starting to find a regular place on my shelves…. ;D What you may not have realised is that I’m also a huge fan of dogs! When it comes to our four-legged friends I definitely come down on the side of the canines (sorry, cat-lovers – although I love them a bit too…) I guess the fact that I grew up in a family which always had a dog in the house has got something to do with it. The first resident was Buster, a Collie/Cocker Spaniel cross my mum and dad had when they got married. He was a lovely, even tempered dog and my mum was heartbroken when we lost him. She kind of swore she would never have another dog, until we stumbled across West Highland Terriers. Some friends visited from Scotland with their Westie called Hamish. My brother and I were entranced, and when a Westie puppy appeared in a local pet shop we plagued my mother until she brought it home with us. He was Hamish too and he lived until he was 17; he was followed by Duncan, Angus and Jamie until my dad passed away and my mum decided a dog was too much for her. Which is a roundabout way of saying I am a Dog Person; so the latest release from Notting Hill Editions, a wonderful anthology entitled “On Dogs” is most definitely my kind of book! 😀

“On Dogs” is edited by Rosie Heys, and comes with an entertaining introduction by Tracey Ullman. It’s illustrated by photographs by Gruffpawtraits, and the contents range far and wide through a marvellous array of authors writing about dogs in all shapes and forms. There really are some excellent selections, and not only fictional dogs, but extracts from people like Barbara Woodhouse and her thoughts on how to train dogs; academic discussions on the gradual development of the dog species and the morals of breeding, and indeed having a pet at all; and thoughts about the differences between dogs and wolves.

There’s poetry, including verse from Lord Byron and the Empress of China; Virginia Woolf introduces Flush to Elizabeth Barrett; Jack London shows us dogs in the wild; and we even get to encounter Bulgakov’s mongrel Sharik, who takes centre stage in his very wonderful “Heart of a Dog”. Elsewhere, A.A. Gill and Will Self tussle with the fact that they have been seduced into becoming dog owners by a pair of pleading canine eyes; we learn about the role of dogs in expeditions to the North Pole; Mrs. Gaskell shows us a surprising harshness from the Brontes towards their dogs; and John Steinbeck travels through the southern states of America with his dog Charley.

And that’s just some of the riches “On Dogs” contains; it really is a superb collection, full of funny, profound, moving and entertaining pieces about dogs (and of course their owners). I never like to pick favourites, because I enjoyed all of these pieces, but I must mention two authors in particular. Brigitte Bardot, known for her love of animals and running sanctuaries for them in France, provides a powerful ‘Open Letter’ where she condemns the wanton breeding of dogs which has led to such an overpopulation of the animals that her sanctuaries are full of unwanted canines. I couldn’t agree more, and if I ever get round to having a dog of my own it will be a rescue one. *

Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedaile bit. The list finally contained forty or more names. Nobody could understand why we didn’t get rid of the dog. I didn’t understand it very well myself, but we didn’t get rid of him.

Then there’s James Thurber… He contributes a piece entitled “The Dog That Bit People”, which is taken from his “My Life and Hard Times”. It tells the story of an Airedale called Muggs who does indeed seem to bite everyone, including the family – so much so, that you actually do really wonder why they kept it! It’s a screamingly funny piece of writing which had me laughing so much I almost couldn’t breathe! I’ve read and reviewed Thurber before, and this reminded me how much I loved his writing – priceless!

So “On Dogs” is another winner from NHE as far as I’m concerned. It’s as beautifully produced as all of their hardback essay collections, and will entertain you from start to finish. Plus if you’re Christmas shopping for a dog lover it may well solve all your problems… (there, I said the C-word – sorry!) Me? I’m still laughing about Muggs…. ;D

*In case anyone’s wondering, I crave a Wire Hair Fox Terrier….