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A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
Hyperion, 288 pp., 2009; $24.99

I've just discovered a person I’d really like to hang with at the local dog park: Dean Koontz. Yes, that Dean Koontz, writer of creepy, scary suspense novels. But that’s not why I want to hang with him.No, I refer to the man who—along with his wife of 32 years,Gerda—adoptedTrixie, a CCI (Canine Companions for Independence) service dog “retired” at three because of an injury.Koontz’s keen ability to observe, interpret and humorously convey the joy and love that Trixie brought to their lives in A Big Little Life convinces me he would be a boon dog park companion, commenting on the fascinating behaviors of dogs and people.He even riffs on something we all do: learn a dog’s name while rarely bothering to remember (or even ask) the guardian’s name.

The Koontzes long wanted a dog, but held back. “For many years, as we gave ourselves to work, we talked about getting a dog.…A dog can be a living work of art, a constant reminder of the exquisite design and breathtaking detail of nature, beauty on four paws. In addition, year by year, we became more aware that this world is a deeply mysterious place, and nothing confirmed the wonder of existence more than what we saw happening between dogs and people with disabilities at CCI. Being guardians and companions of a dog would be one way to explore more fully the mystery of this world.” Enter Trixie.

Koontz writes hilariously of Trixie’s idiosyncrasies, such as her “toilet Tao” which required that she do her business anywhere but her own yard, a result of her CCI training. He describes Trixie’s sense of humor, compassion, frivolity and intelligence. He writes movingly of the emotional bonds we build with dogs throughout their too-short lives.

Koontz also takes on behaviorists who claim we over-sentimentalize this deep connection. “Loyalty, unfailing love, instant forgiveness, a humble sense of his place in the scheme of things, a sense of wonder—these and other virtues of a dog arise from his innocence. The first step toward greater joy is to stop fleeing from innocence … and embrace once more the truth that life is mysterious and that it daily offers meaningful wonders for our consideration. Dogs know.”

Dogs were featured characters in Koontz’s novels before Trixie; now, even more so. Read this book to be entertained, uplifted and deeply moved. Proceeds benefit CCI.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009
Rebecca Wallick is an attorney and a Bark contributing editor; she and her dogs live in Washington.
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