I heard on my car radio this morning that today is National Dog Day and that started me thinking about all the dogs I have known and loved. As I reminisce I find myself getting teary-eyed because during times of stress and tragedy in my life, I have always turned to a dog and a book for comfort. The first time I remember doing this was when my mother died – I was ten. I laid on the floor next to our beagle and cried into his fur. Toby never left my side that night, he followed me from room to room and comforted me with his warm body and presence. That was just the first of many times that Toby’s steadfast companionship, and beagle fur, soothed and consoled me.
At ten, I was already a reader. My best friend Amy and I would ride to the library every weekend, throw our bikes down, rush into the building and try to be the first one to the shelf of Nancy Drews. Whoever got there first got first pick! Of course we always shared with each other so it wasn’t a cutthroat competition. It was at one of these library visits shortly after my mother’s death that I picked up A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I immersed myself in my first science fiction novel ever and found temporary relief from my grief. That was it – I was hooked. Reading became my drug of choice for pain. I had a dog for comfort and a book for escape.
During my teenage years we had a Labrador retriever named Jody who slept on the end of my bed and was privy to my deepest darkest secrets. You know, all that stuff that seems like life and death when you are sixteen but in hindsight as an adult, seems pretty silly. Jody comforted me through my first heartbreak and stood by me through a series of family tragedies. She soothed me when I awoke from a nightmare and protected me when I was home all alone. And when I needed to escape, I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama, Robert Heinlen’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess of Mars. The pubescent years are filled with teenage angst for most of us and I found myself turning to my drug of choice a lot – science fiction. I practically inhaled it, lots of it…and lots of doggie dander, too!
Life moves at a fast pace and after college, a husband (who didn’t like dogs) and three children, I found myself dogless during a painful divorce. I was able to numb the pain however, with Sahara by Clive Cussler and the rest of his Dirk Pitt books. I discovered that a novel with an incredible hero worked as well as a science fiction tome to take a break from life’s unpleasant moments. And then I went to the animal shelter and adopted a dog — a sweet little mutt we named Natty Gann, after a character in a movie.
As much as I love dogs though, there is a major drawback to taking one into your family – dogs have short lives. It was very difficult for us when Natty passed away, she was there for us during some tough times, but after Natty came Gabby, Tinkerbell, Jake, Barkley, Big Dog, Zoey, Brownie, and Daisy. Each one of them held a hallowed spot in our family and in our hearts. My children are grown and on their own now and it is probably no surprise to learn that they too, have dogs and bookshelves in their homes.
Tonight when I get home from work, I will be greeted at the door by Maggie, Sasha, and Franklin. They’ll bark, jump and wag their tales and I’ll feel loved and secure. And then, after dinner and dishes, I’ll pile up on the couch with them and escape for a while into a good book because I love to read…even when life is going great!
PR Coordinator Becky Kempf has been telling people about the Library for thirteen years. When she isn’t busy evangelizing about books, reading and the Library’s concert series, she’s out photographing dogs, birds, rusty old cars and her grandchildren.