What is it about pets that inspires both readers and writers alike? No matter the writing style or premise, it seems if one is writing about a dog or cat, that story will be published. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one that I have not fully examined before. In some cases, I am appalled by the sort of non-serious fluff that is often published solely because it involves a dog. In other cases, writers have provided us with heartfelt stories that somehow get at the core of why we write.
Some of the more touching classics—Charlotte’s Web, Old Yeller—describe the connection between a pet and his owner. At the same time, these novels remind us that animal life is more fragile than our own, as we often outlive our pets.
One of the first novels I ever attempted (when I was about ten years old) was about a talking dog. I hoped then to voice some of the emotions that most believe pets must feel. Of course, the literary community discouraged this topic—until The Art of Racing in the Rain was written.
In some cases, it seems writing about a pet means exploiting them. I often cringe at books that show dogs dressed in tutus or cats with larger than life, bugged eyes. But, I also find myself wondering why I, like others, are drawn to books about animals. One of the most disturbing stories I ever read, “Ball” by Tara Ison, published in Bestial Noise, explored an obsessive, unhealthy relationship between a woman and her dog.
Still, when I think of the unspoken bond I’ve had with some of my dogs and my current cat, I know there is something compelling that connects me to them. I find myself moved when I try to put into words how and why these animals have been important in my life. Perhaps, the old adage, a dog (or cat) is a “man’s best friend” is correct. Our pets are there for us when our human relationships fail. When I am upset or disturbed, my cat is one of the first to know. At the same time, pets’ lives are short, and so perhaps we write in order to immortalize them. We give words to an unclear connection. Through our stories about cats and dogs, we also reach out to other readers who somehow know and already understand this connection.