Mon 24 Mar 2014
After my former wife Cathy Mitchell and I went our separate ways in 1981, she began teaching at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and became the school’s first full-time professor of Mass Communications. She earned a doctorate at the University of Tennessee and with an Economics professor, Pamela Nickless, founded UNC’s Women’s Studies program.
In 1995, she wrote a book about the pioneering newswoman Margaret Fuller, who had worked for Horace Greeley at The New York Herald Tribune beginning in 1844. I’ve read the book, Margaret Fuller’s New York Journalism, which is first rate. Five years ago, Cathy published another book that I only just now had a chance to read.
(After my book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light, was published at the end of last year, she and I traded books cross country.)
Kafka’s dog spends its time contemplating the nature of existence but pays no attention to the role of man.
In his world, humans don’t feed dogs. Rather dogs through incantation, dance, and song “call down” food “from above.”
Unlike Kafka’s dog, the Boykin spaniel named Star, who narrates Cathy’s book, is fixated on how to get along with humans.
She is terrified when she angers humans, whom she calls “leaders,” rejoices when one calls her a “good dog,” and is ecstatic when one gives her a treat of yummy food.
Now retired, Cathy volunteers with Boykin Spaniel Rescue and has a spaniel of her own named Lily (seen below with Cathy in a Verve Magazine photo). Lily inspired her story, Cathy notes, “but this book is a work of fiction.”
Rather than train her, first one family and then another puts her up for adoption.
The first time it happens, an animal shelter comes close to having her euthanized.
Finally, a woman with more patience adopts Star, takes her to obedience school, and eventually trains her how to stay out of trouble.
Although she likes to chase rabbits, Star ultimately saves a pet rabbit she finds injured in the woods, and this cements her reputation as a “good dog.”
“No one dog could have as many adventures as little Star does,” Cathy writes in the book’s acknowledgements. “However, my Lily really did save a pet rabbit’s life.”
Although she doesn’t mention it, I’m fairly certain one of Star’s other adventures is based on another dog in Cathy’s life.
When Cathy and I lived in Sonora, she teaching at Columbia Junior College and me reporting for The Daily Union Democrat, we got a cockapoo from the Berkeley pound.
A cross between a spaniel and a poodle, she looked like a small sheep dog. We named her Andromache after the wife of Hector in the Trojan War, but we called her Andy for everyday purposes.
One day Andy and the neighbor’s dog spotted a rattlesnake in our carport. When the neighbor’s dog started to inspect the snake, I quickly pulled the dog away only to have Andy get close enough to be bit.
Cathy and I rushed Andy to a veterinarian who didn’t sound particularly concerned. He didn’t administer any serum but did give her a shot of antibiotics. You never know what the last thing was that snake bit, he said.
With some uncertainty, we took Andy home. A goiter the size of an orange had formed on her neck, and she appeared to be drugged. It took a couple of days for her to recover, but she did.
In the book, Star is similarly bit by a rattlesnake and is taken to a vet who says almost word for word what the vet in Sonora had told us. Star too recovers. Cathy notes she discussed snake-bitten dogs with veterinarians at All Pets Animal Hospital, but Andy must have provided the inspiration.
The dominant theme of Save a Spaniel is the problem dogs and humans have understanding each other, but the problem can be solved. By the end of the book, Star has evolved into a therapy dog that regularly visits an old folks home where everybody wants to spend time with her, and she wants to spend time with everybody.
Save a Spaniel is an excellent book, and I’m hardly the first reviewer to say so. It’s available from Amazon for $13.46.