WHAT'S IN A NAME? WHAT'S IN A DOG?
In this instance, both name and dog are Just Bill, the title of my fable for adults about a rescued Lab. If you read the first blog entry, you’ve already heard from Bill. Because he’s a dog, it would not occur to him to speak ill of anyone, or to hold a grudge.
True, it would not occur to him or any other dog to speak, period. But if it did, and he could, Bill wouldn’t bring up certain painful facts. That’s left to me, to describe how a dog devoted to his master is given up. How this happens and where it leads serves to dramatize the book’s theme—that lives are better, sometimes even saved through the relationship between a person and a dog. My own life is certainly better because I live with a dog, and I hope Just Bill makes the case for my point of view.
What’s in a dog?
When I published Just Bill, I asked Dr. Stanley Coren for permission to quote a story from his landmark book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Here’s the letter I wrote to him:
Dear Dr. Coren:
This is two things: a fan letter, and a request for a favor.
First, as one who admires dogs, let me thank you for having done so much for them. Obviously, you have done a great deal for humans as well, by raising people’s awareness of canine consciousness. But in so doing, you have improved—I’m sure of this-- the lives of countless pets, and many abandoned animals and shelter dogs who gained good homes in the climate of improved awareness and understanding that THE INTELLIGENCE OF DOGS and your other writings have helped to foster.
Here’s the second shoe. Until recently, I served as a tenured faculty member in the department of humanities at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. I am also a fiction writer.
In this regard, I have written a fable for adults called JUST BILL. In this story, I trace the career of a dog through his rescue at a year old by a retiree living on a Michigan lake, followed by various trials and tribulations. Human and dog characters alternate in the narrative. The story concludes with an ending full of hope and renewal. It is unapologetically a story of sentiment, but is not sentimental. Throughout the project, I did my best to remain faithful to the reality experienced by dogs, to their mental world.
No passage from The Intelligence of Dogs has served me better in my work than the story of your “Cavalier King Charles spaniel Wiz standing in the circle of light” on your kitchen floor. For me, this anecdote makes the case perfectly for speaking of dog consciousness. It captures the essence of what my story hopes to dramatize without recourse to the sort of cartoon anthropomorphism that so often figures in dog stories.
For this reason, I am convinced that the meaning and intent of JUST BILL can’t be better introduced than by the story about Wiz. Appearing at the beginning before the story proper, it will prepare readers for what is to follow. The length of the quoted passage—291 words—far exceeds the “fair use” clause for copyrighted work, so I am hoping you will grant me permission to use the passage.
Again, thank you for your work, for raising consciousness about dogs and improving our understanding. I look forward to hearing from y
Dr. Coren granted me permission, but instead of using his story at the beginning, my publisher and I decided to use it on the back cover. From a publishing perspective, this turned out to be a big mistake. Intrigued by the jacket photo, people wanted to read a description on the back, not a story from a different book. That's part of the reason for this new edition.
In the next blog posting, I’ll provide his story. It doesn’t have anything directly to do with Just Bill, but now as then, I think it captures the point of view at the heart of my short novel.