Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

I just got back from spending 13 days in the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area with my family. There will most likely be a series of blogs about this epic travel journey (and epic it was) once I go through all my pictures and videos, which may take days. I take a lot of pictures.

While you’re waiting breathlessly for my next post, read this book: Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote. It’s quite good. Excellent, really. I picked it up at a Goodwill somewhere, liking the picture on the cover (Merle the dog on a mountain top) and I’m glad I did. I’d even consider paying full price for this one, which is saying a lot since I buy most of my books from Goodwill for $1 or less.

Bogie is particularly enthralled with the book.

However, I would not recommend reading the ending on a plane, especially not while sitting between a middle-aged man and a just-barely-post-adolescent man, both strangers. I cried. Twice. Well, I did manage to keep in the body-heaving sobs, but my eyes definitely teared up. If this book doesn’t at least give your heart a wrench, you probably don’t have a soul. I don’t normally cry when I read– in fact, I can’t really think of any other time reading when I was tempted to (not even when J.K. Rowling offed Dumbledore- but I think I was in shock)– so that says something about the poignancy of the subject and the writing.

The book is set out West, primarily in Kelly, Wyoming (in the shadows of the Tetons, where we were on vacation). Basically, the book is about Ted and his dog, Merle, and their lives together, starting when Ted finds Merle in the Utah desert and ending with Merle’s death (hence the plane sobbing). The book not only follows the relationship of Ted and Merle, but also delves into the relationships between people and dogs, where they originated, and how those relationships have evolved since then. Excellent writing, excellent subject, excellent book.

Our pets have it rough in the Smith household.

From the prologue:
“This is the story of one dog, my dog, Merle. It’s also the story of every dog who must live in an increasingly urbanized world, and how these dogs might lead happier lives if we changed some of our behavior rather than always trying to change theirs.
…[W]hat he taught me about living with a dog can be applied anywhere. His lessons weren’t so much about giving dogs physical doors to the outside world, although that’s important, but about providing ones that open onto the mental and emotional terrain that will develop a dog’s potential. His lessons weren’t about training, but about partnership. They were never about method; they were about attitude.And at the heart of this attitude is a person’s willingness to loosen a dog’s leash– in all aspects of its life– and, whenever practical, to take off its leash completely, allowing the dog to learn on its own, following its nose and running free.”

Ted Kerasote’s website, with information about this book and his others, including newer books about his dog after Merle:

Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote.
c. 2007 by Harcourt, Inc.