Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Travels with Casey (dog, dog rescue, RV, dog-human bond)

A modern Travels with Charley!

Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country by Benoit Denizet-Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 2014, 341 pages, $26)

Our National Love Affair with Dogs

If you think 341 pages is a long book for a best seller, think again: Travels with Casey was too short!

The cover grabbed me first: a tall yellow lab-type dog holding an old-fashioned type postcard with the book’s title and CASEY in large cut-out letters (each with a partial photo of Casey inside) against a backdrop of a city by the sea (or river). . .

Why have I not read anything by Benoit Denizet-Lewis before? Is it because he writes for the New York Times Magazine and I live in the Washington area? Regardless, I will be looking for Lewis in the future. He is one funny writer – and sensitive to boot! A real canine academic and a true dog-person.

In a Nutshell

Lewis and his yellow lab-type dog set out from Massachusetts in a rented RV to see the country from a dog’s eye view and to explore the bond between man (Lewis) and dog (Casey).

Starting rather weakly with a long prologue comparing Lewis’ relationship with his mother to that of his dog and wanting to mend (strengthen) the latter, Travels  takes us down the East Coast, across the South, up the Pacific Coast and across the Great Plains back again in four months.

Travels is also a commentary on the importance of dogs in contemporary life, reminiscent of One Nation Under Dog (Michael Schaffer, 2010), Citizen Canine (David Grimm, 2014) and perhaps even Travels with Charley (Steinbeck, 1968). Lewis is informative and entertaining – and not to be missed. I am so glad I bought this book at my local bookstore and I will keep it (I usually pass on books I review to dog shelters or rescues). It is a book easy to take with you and read when you have ‘just a minute.’ You will want to return to it often.

How Did He Do It?

Lewis keeps mentioning his aversion to organized neat living, giving example after example, so how he managed to fill four months with interviews of almost all the dog people (daily) in the country you would ever want to know borders on miraculous – from the Westminster Dog Show in New York City, Ingrid Newkirk who founded PETA, the ‘dog poop lady’ in Virginia who was sued for not picking up her dog’s poop, dog rescuer Randy Grim, ‘rez’ dogs, K9 cops, Best Friends in Utah, and on and on. If he did not visit anyone, he at least read the books they wrote and quoted from (Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor among others).

Lewis and Casey blog about their travels and foreshadow to keep you reading (not necessary at all) about a new member of the family, and about heartache, for example.

Bonus Number One: Roadtripping Through Dog Nation

I, of course, tried to figure out which 18 states they did not travel through. Inside the front and back covers is a two-page map of their trip but with drawings of the RV and dogs met along the way and of other adventures, I wasn’t sure if they cut across a corner of some states (and some of the illustrations covered their path, as well, making my challenge even more challenging). I think I got all but four.

Bonus Number Two: Dogs in America Today

The 21 photos of Casey in the RV, Casey dock-diving, Casey with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background! Some by Amanda Jones, even! My favorite is of the Dog Bark Park Inn in Idaho (‘Sleep inside the World’s Biggest Beagle!’).

What Would I Change?

Although Lewis is well-read on dogs (from Dunbar to Pryor to McConnell to Derr) he obviously wanted to appeal to mainstream America by also visiting the popular Cesar Millan, not always respected by those dog-people in the know.

I might perhaps cut the chapters into shorter versions but that might lose the charming titles, all of which start with “In Which. . . .” 

Or I might recommend Lewis take another trip with Casey!

PS – If you have read this far and are still not convinced, check out the videos on the book's web page

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