Monday, August 23, 2010

'Dogged Pursuit' book review by Mrs. Crankypants

I can't remember the last time I sat down for a day with a book.  I had plans for a hike in the high country with Strummer on Saturday but it soon became obvious that the race had taken more of a toll than I'd realized and I couldn't bear the thought of more driving.  Combine that with predictions of temps in the upper 90's in town and I decided to head to the library for some good summer reading prospects.  I was hoping for something other than a dog book but somehow the 'Dogged Pursuit' book by Robert Rodi ended up in my pile.  I don't know how because ever since Jon Katz I've become gun shy of books about people adopting a 'crazy rescue dog' and turning it around.  Aside from being a bad cliche there's also that icky feeling of exploitation.  Did the person adopt a troubled, fearful dog just so they'd have some good writing material?  I'm also annoyed by people who undertake year long 'experiments' in things and then write about them.  Don't even get me going about 'No Impact Man'.    I think it took me a full week to get over the irritation brought on by that that film.  The full title of the book is 'Dogged Pursuit:  My Year of Competing Dusty, the World's Least Likely Agility Dog', so that should have been a huge red flag right there that maybe I'm going to be wishing 'please can I have my day back' after spending it on this book.

I'll admit there are some funny bits and the guy is a decent writer.  On the cover there's a quote from Augusten Burroughs, author of 'Running with Scissors', that this book is 'Hilarious and heartwarming...'  I didn't like the movie 'Running with Scissors' and now I'm pretty sure that I won't like the book either if Mr. Burroughs is so utterly oblivious to the world that he finds anything the least bit 'heartwarming' about this unfortunate tale of woe.  The dog starts out the book fearful and hating agility, especially the competitions.  The dog ends the book the same way.  Robert adopts the dog with the notion that he's going to take this no-hope rescue dog and turn it into an agility champion.  He has a disturbing and almost childish obsession with Q's and titles and winning and 'glory' as he puts it.  He notices that the dog is miserable but he doesn't care, he decides the dog will have to learn to 'man up' and go for the glory.  Unfortunately he doesn't do a lick of behavioral work with this poor traumatized animal, he just keeps flooding it weekend after weekend by taking it to trials, abandoning it shaking and drooling in a crate in an overcrowded venue, then dragging it out a couple times a day so it can wander around the agility ring.  The man is so self-absorbed and set on his own personal goals that, knowing that the dog is scared of the teeter and likely to refuse it, he calls out 'dogwalk' during a run so the dog won't know it's the teeter and maybe he'll have a hope of finally Q'ing.  Yeah, it ends about as well as you'd think it would with the dog sailing off the end.  What sort of person does that to their dog?  By the end of the book the dog does manage to eek out a Novice Jumpers title in AKC but never gets a single Open Jumpers leg or Novice Standard leg (he doesn't compete in any venue other than AKC).  This is because he never manages to get out of a trot and often ends up wandering around because he's so scared and shut down and the best Robert can do for this poor dog is to take him to an Animal Communicator.  He flat out admits he's looking for a quick fix, he doesn't understand why everything with this dog has to involve 'work'.  Plus it gives him something funny and wacky to write about.  Seriously, this is 'heartwarming'?  Can I pretty please have my day back?

The only good news here is that Robert has moved on to another book writing project that's taking up all his time so he doesn't take Dusty to trials anymore.  I suppose maybe sometimes there is a good side to those 1 year 'experiment' writing projects.

My massage therapist brought me her copy of 'Merle's Door' today to lend to me but I think I'll have to wait for the 'ick' of this last book to wear off before I'm ready to attempt another dog book written by a guy who may or may not actually care about the dog.

19 comments:

  1. Yikes. How sad.

    I will say I enjoyed Merle's Door, though the guy living out in the boonies clearly had a different idea of ownership than we do (and really, the dog did too as he started out on his own). I seem to recall crying my way through the end...

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  2. Oh wow -- I heard it's very funny, but haven't read it. Your review makes me think of America's Home Videos or whatever where it's all just people falling off cliffs or getting knocked out one way or another which I don't find funny or amusing in any way, shape, or form. Sounds like this book is a bit like that. Bleh.

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  3. Hmm, thought I had written my comments about this book somewhere but can't find them. I didn't like it. I thought he seemed amazingly dense for someone who (indeed) seemed to write well, a bit too i'm-too-good-for-everything, whether it's training or eating food at trials or hanging out with other people or what have you. I thought that he came up with some totally weird examples of the sorts of things that one typically sees at agility trials--sure, weird things can happen, but not all the time and not usually the same weird things over and over. A friend who liked it said that he was just exaggerating for humor, but I didn't find most of it funny at all that I can remember. Glad I'm not the only one who had that reaction. In his benefit, he did seem to slowly start getting it as the book went on. And it is true that there's no one who knows so thoroughly what's the right way to approach things as the confident novice who hasn't been around the block a few times, and even good trainers can't tell 'em a thing that they'll believe.

    So, what I'm saying is, yeah, I agree with you. I wouldn't ever hand that book to anyone and suggest that they read it. Sorry I apparently didn't warn everyone!

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  4. Well, poo, I found my "written comments" about the book--in a note from last october that says "Blog post: Dogged Pursuit review". Bleah. Oh, well. It's been too long now since I've read it to really do a fair review, I think.

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  5. Oh well, chances are good that even if I'd read your review that if it was long enough ago I would have forgotten about it and still checked the book out because my memory is not so fabulous. I stood in the library drawing a blank about all the books people have recommended to me that I've been wanting to read as it was.

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  6. That is why I stick with Science Fiction ;-)

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  7. Funny you should review this. I read it quite a while back and was going to review it too. I had a lot of the same impressions but the references to Schopenhauer and other philosophers made me laugh. There were parts in there that I found stupid and irritating, but overall I sympathized with someone who was very much an outsider trying to fit in.

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  8. Sobaka2:38 PM

    Hi there, I discovered your blog recently and I really enjoy it. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Merle's Door a few days ago. Merle seems to have been amazingly intelligent, full of personality, and a real character. I didn't agree with some of the author's decisions, but it was clear he really loved the dog and tried to provide what he considered to be the best life. However, it has temporarily put me off more dog books because the parts about Merle's last days and death were so harrowing. I don't feel like putting myself through that again anytime soon!

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  9. I hated the book and threw it in the trash on the way out of a doctors office. Ive never thrown a book in the trash but this one deserved it. I dont think I even got 1/2 way through the book. The guy was just plain dumb. Its not like he didnt know what he was getting into. He did agility with another dog. I didnt even get to the part about calling the teeter the dogwalk. Idiot! Diana

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  10. Oh, dear ... you know, we hope to do a book someday. Maybe everyone will hate us (and the book too).

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  11. We hope to do a book someday, too--that's actually why I started my blog. Heh. Some people will hate us and our book but hopefully more won't.

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  12. Yeah, I'm going to give it a rest before I start on 'Merle's Door'. I'm totally off dog books in general, I think 'writers + dogs' (or any animal for that matter) is a bad/exploitative situation unless it's someone like Patricia McConnell but I'll get to it eventually. The woman who lent it to me didn't want it back so I have some time.

    Diana, if you hated that book you should stay away from Jon Katz. Hard to believe but he's an even bigger idiot.

    Wow, I had no idea so many of you had 'dog blog turned into book' intentions. I don't think people will hate you if you're not bad to your dog. But I also don't know how much of a market there is for books that talk about how hard actual training is, especially the behavioral stuff. Gets tedious for the average person pretty fast which is why the Jon Katzes and Cesar Milans of the world are so popular.

    Kathy, I did think the non-dog stuff was funny. I think there are plenty of people who feel a bit alienated at agility trials, especially AKC trials, because it is such a weird atmosphere.

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  13. Well, not so much as turn my blog into a book, but it's like taking careful notes while doing research. :-) I haven't written my blog carefully or consistently enough to make a whole book full of it interesting.

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  14. I haven't read either, so I have nothing helpful to offer on the books :)

    I'm one of those annoying people with a year long project... and it's about rescue animals! It's all good, I take absolutely no offense to your comment- I like the idea of committing to something for a year (or however long) & I know, for me at least, documenting it on my blog has helped me to stick to my guns and keep going with it.

    I enjoyed your post :)

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  15. Nothing wrong with setting up timelines/goals for projects. What I object to is when it becomes a marketing gimmick to sell a book or movie as in the book I reviewed and 'No Impact Man' is also a great example. I would have preferred to see a movie about someone who had changed their over-consumptive lifestyle to one that was less consumptive but sustainable and reasonable over a lifetime, something regular people could aspire to, rather than going to an extreme level of deprivation (he made his family give up toilet paper) for just a year as a goofy experiment so he could get a lot of media attention and have something to write about (and make a bunch of money). But sensationalism sells so I'm guessing we're going to be seeing more of this sort of thing.

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  16. All I had to do was read the blurb about "Dogged Pursuit" to know I would hate it. I almost never read "dog" books because I hate that they always end with the dog dieing (movies, too).
    However, I recently read "Scent of the Missing" which is non-fiction about a woman who goes through SAR with her dog. Very interesting and read like a novel although it wasn't the least bit overdramatic.
    I'm also reading "Pack of Two" by Caroline Knapp which is also non-fiction. So far, so good but I'll let you know once I've finished it.

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  17. I heard the author of 'Scent of the Missing' on NPR and it does sound good. In fact that's what I was looking for when I found 'Dogged' ('Scent' was checked out).

    I didn't care for 'Pack of Two' but I don't exactly remember why, read it so many years ago. Must have purged it from my memory but I do remember I didn't like it but see what you think. Lots of people rave about it. It think it's one of those you either like it or you don't. I think I found the author too narcissistic but again it was so long ago I don't exactly remember.

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  18. I just finished reading the book. Please can I have my day AND my $13 back? About half-way through the book I wanted to cry for poor Dusty and take that poor dog away from that egotistical idiot. I was so sure that eventually Rodi would understand that that dog should be given other pursuits and what the "lesson" (as touted on the cover)would be was that you can't force others to enjoy your search for "glory."
    However, what amazes me is that not one of his colleagues (especially Dee) ever advised him that "Look, the dog just doesn't like agility.Stop forcing him to do it."
    So, I hope that maybe Dusty wasn't really that miserable, and perhaps, just perhaps, Rodi was exaggerating a bit.
    Really, what idiot takes a dog to trials, when the dog clearly has no drive and totally flubs more than 90% of the obstacles. What a dolt-head!

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  19. I also wondered about the instructor. The author certainly wasn't a good advertisement for her training program. But it's hard to say what she really did say to him vs. what he chose to put in the book. And some people flat out ignore what instructors tell them and hear only what they want to hear. I imagine he wasn't the easiest student for her to deal with. Still, I agree, if I lived in that area I sure wouldn't be rushing to that training center.

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