Tag Archives: Animals

Book Buzz: Jonathan Unleashed

I have a soft spot in my heart for books about dogs, so I eagerly dove into Jonathan Unleashed, best-selling author Meg Rosoff’s quirky new novel about a young man at odds with the world and the two dogs that help him find his way to happiness.

Jonathan Unleashed is also Jonathan Unhinged

Recent college graduate Jonathan Trefoil is ensconced in an advertising job that he hates and stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with his girlfriend of four years. He yearns for a more meaningful existence but has no idea how he can get there.

Book Buzz: Jonathan Unleashed

In the midst of this millennial angst, he agrees to take care of his brother’s two dogs, Dante the Border collie and Sissy the cocker spaniel, while his brother is in Dubai on business for six months.

Being a sensitive and, I’ll be honest here, neurotic kind of guy (or more kindly, charmingly flawed), he frets that the dogs are plotting against him because they are unhappy being cooped up in his New York City apartment while he is at work. Although the veterinarian he consults gently tells him that the dogs are fine, he continues to obsess. But, good news, his company allows him to bring the dogs to the office, and all is well.

But then, not.

It turns out that four is a crowd when his girlfriend moves in with him and can barely contain her disdain for the dogs. A conniving sort, she convinces him to marry her because the wedding magazine she works for, Bridal-360, will foot the bill if they agree to let it be live streamed on the internet. Confused and unsure, but anxious to mollify her, he agrees.

As the wedding date approaches, his life continues to unravel. His job and his boss irritate him to the point of collapse. Mysteriously, he loses his ability to speak coherently (the ensuing malapropisms are very entertaining).

Who, or what, will save the day? As all dog lovers know, canine intuition is second to none, and Dante and Sissy take matters into their own hands paws. With a clever twist in the story, Rosoff shows how man’s (and women’s) best friend has an uncanny way of making everything right.

As Rosoff said in an interview,

“It’s much easier to have a relationship with a dog than with a person. Dogs tend to be happy, affectionate, emotionally consistent companions. They don’t sulk or insist on seeing Spiderman when you’d rather see a foreign film.  They don’t come with in-laws and don’t mind eating toast you’ve dropped on the floor. It’s why every eight-year-old boy fantasizes about having a dog not a wife. Dogs are relatively simple, people are relatively complicated. Plus, dogs look better naked than most people do.”

A woof and a tail wag to that.


One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Jonathan Unleashed by leaving a comment below. USA addresses only, please.


I received a copy of Jonathan Unleashed from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Missing Duncan: Remembering the World’s Best Dog

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

We lost our sweet dog Duncan last week. Our hearts are broken.

How long will it take walk into the house and not expect him to come bounding in to greet us, tail wagging? When will I be able to look at a photo of him without tearing up?

Life with Duncan was joyful, and now my husband and I are trying to reconfigure life without him. We have to get used to the screaming stillness. It is eerily, disturbingly quiet.

My dog never left my side.

When we adopted Duncan 10 years ago, his foster mother laughingly told me that he followed her everywhere, even the bathroom. We soon discovered what she meant. If we moved from one room to another, there he was with us.

Even the bathroom.

He was uncommonly acquiescent. Undemanding. He came to us with no baggage, despite the neglect he had suffered as a puppy. The first night, my husband closed our bedroom door with Duncan on the outside, and in the morning there he was, waiting patiently, overjoyed to see us.

He rarely barked and never complained.

All he wanted was to be with us – my husband, my three children and me. He loved his grandparents and was attached to them, too.

He was more of a people dog than a dog dog. He would jump up on a dining room chair to sit with us for holiday meals, figuring he was expected to be at the table.

Dunkie chair Reading

He slept in our bed unless one of the kids were home. When he heard them come in late at night with their friends, he excused himself to join their party.

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

Duncan and I had a deep appreciation for each other.  We shared jokes. We enjoyed the same things, the walks, the weekends at the beach, cuddling. When I looked at him he wagged his tail. When he looked at me I smiled.

When he took naps, I swear he kept one eye open watching me all the time.

He loved sitting on the deck at the beach. We never had to worry about him running away. He had no interest in being anywhere we weren’t.

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

One of the very best things about working from home was being able to take him on long walks. The funny thing was, he always chose the route. He was adamant about that. When we got to a corner he would stop, look each way, and then choose the direction. If we tried to dissuade him, he would politely disagree and stand his ground.

We always said that he walked us. Four walks a day, four different routes. That was how he rolled.

Long walks, up hills and down, across busy streets, on back roads. We covered lots of territory, and I loved observing the changes in nature each season from the road. When I just had to take a photo of a perfect flower or crimson leaves or the sun filtering through the trees, I asked him to wait a minute. He would stop in his tracks to let me take the photo.

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

As he grew sicker over the past weeks, his walks grew shorter and shorter.  Two days before he died, though, he insisted on taking one of the long routes despite his pain. Really? I asked him. Don’t you want to go back?  He glanced at me and then looked straight ahead, his way of saying, I’m OK. When we had gone too far to turn around, he looked up at me, panting, his eyes conveying, You were right.

I squatted down next to him and there we sat for a few minutes. “We’ll go real slow,” I promised him. And we eventually made it home.

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

Some bereaved pet parents find comfort in imagining their pet running over the Rainbow Bridge. Personally, I can’t bear to think of the Rainbow Bridge. I picture Duncan at the top, pausing in confusion, looking back, wondering where we are.

Missing Duncan: Remembering the World's Best Dog

Because that’s where he wants to be.

Rest in peace, sweet Dunkie. You will live on in our hearts forever.

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I Went Bananas When My Daughter Met a Monkey

“Mom,” the voice quavered through the crackle of the international connection, “I’ve got some bad news.”

Surely anyone hearing those words from a loved one would react as I did: a sharp intake of breath, a lump in my throat thudding into the pit of my stomach, palms sweating.

Whatever pronouncement would ensue, a reassuring hug would not be imminent. My 25 year-old daughter, Emily, was in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the month of July, volunteering as a medical assistant at a local clinic. Bolivia. Three long plane flights away.

I had a flash back to last winter when Emily began talking about it. “What a great opportunity,” she had enthused. “I’ll feel like I’m really making a difference. And I can improve my Spanish, too.”

Although I deeply admire my daughter’s altruism, to say that I was less than thrilled is putting it mildly. I pointed out the litany of negatives: poverty, diseases, unsanitary conditions, political unrest. Was there political unrest? I wasn’t sure, but I went with it.

So she launched into a full-court press, peppering my inbox with upbeat articles about up-and-coming Cochabamba. Even the venerable New York Times had touted the area as a “must see” for adventurous travelers.

I still wasn’t convinced. Just scanning the list of recommended vaccinations gave me the willies.

“Em, do you understand the risks?” I argued. “Malaria. Snakes. Big insects. What if you get bitten?’

This is, in fact, what she was calling to tell me. She got bitten. But not by a bug.

By a monkey.

I Went Bananas

Dear reader, do not apologize for suppressing a giggle. I confess to a fleeting notion myself: a teeny tiny thought in a remote recess of my brain that there might be an element of humor in this scenario. But that impulse quickly gave way to panic. My mind was clicking as I began to ask questions and process what needed to happen.

Does it hurt? Not really.

Did you see a doctor? No, there weren’t any doctors.

Did you get any medical attention? I went to a pharmacy and got antibiotics.

When can you leave? As soon as possible.

I told her to start packing while I called the airline.

Cute little monkeys? Not!What I would learn later was that Emily and a few friends were visiting a nature preserve outside of Cochabamba. This Bolivian version of Great Adventure served as recreation and entertainment for the locals. Swarms of people — including tons

All went well at first. But then ... everything went bananas.

of noisy kids — hiked on its trails. Monkeys roamed freely and, accustomed to the sounds and movements of humans, interacted calmly with the visitors. Until my daughter arrived, that is.

Yes We Have No Bananas

What turned this serene simian into a pernicious primate was likely Emily’s decision to crouch down to monkey eye level. With a monkey mama and baby nearby, this was a Bad Idea. SCREECH! SCREECH! The monkey alarm system was activated. As if in a scene from a horror version of The Lion King, an alpha monkey grabbed a tree and started shaking it violently. A hush shrouded the onlookers. The only sound was the ominous rustling of leaves. Monkey minions lurking nearby looked up with interest. One by one, they muttered their displeasure. The chattering intensified. Emily’s monkey friend, just a couple of feet away, bared his teeth in a fearsome grin, lunged toward her and sank his teeth into her calf.

She screamed. He gripped her leg. She tried to pry him off. What seemed like hours was probably less than a minute, but he finally released her. They glared at each other (another Bad Idea, for those of you who might be in monkey company some day). She backed away and slowly headed down the trail. Her attacker followed for a few steps, then thought to leave well enough alone. He probably strutted proudly in front of his bare-assed buddies back at the ranch.

At times like this, you think about what could have been, and you are thankful for escaping with minimal damage. I was able to get my daughter on the next plane home. It was a grueling journey, but she was seen by our local doctors just 48 hours after the incident, and except for the painful rabies shots she endured, with more to come, she is doing fine. Despite everything, she has fond memories of her sojourn in Bolivia.

And now … we can remember the story with a smile.

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Duncan and Me

Duncan’s eyes shifted reproachfully to the suitcase I was hefting into the trunk of my car. His ears drooped. His shoulders slumped. As I retrieved my coat from the closet and returned to the garage, I found that Duncan had trotted silently out to the car and was sitting patiently in the front seat, ready to get this party started. My heart melted, but reality prevailed as I tried to sweet-talk him inside.

“Come in the house,”I pleaded.

No dice, said his body language as he avoided eye contact.

     “How about a treat?” I suggested.

       I can not be bribed, he told me.

I scooped him up with tender kisses.

“I need to go pumpkin,” I said, “but I promise I’ll bring you something.”

Unsatisfied, but with a sigh of quiet resignation, he watched the door close, and I was gone.

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