Wearing two hats as a psychoanalyst and cultural critic, Brottman (Humanistic Studies/Maryland Institute College of Art; Hyena, 2012, etc.) examines the nature of our relationship to our pet dogs.
The author trolls historical sources and literature and examines her relationship with Grisby, an 8-year-old French bulldog. “Rich insights can be gained from observing how people name their dogs, create personalities for them, address them...[and even treat them as] an alter ego,” she writes. Grisby's name was suggested by an old French film, Touchez pas au Grisbi (Don't Touch the Loot), which seemed like “a tough, macho way of saying ‘treasure.’ ” Brottman is unabashed in describing her affection for her treasure, kissing and petting him and stroking “his soft piebald underbelly.” Donning her scientific hat, though, she entertains the possibility that he does not reciprocate, citing the assertion of author John Bradshaw (In Defense of Dogs) that dog face-licks are not an expression of love but a way of sniffing out information about the recipient’s last meal. She even questions the behavior of Hachiko, celebrated in the film Hachi: A Dog's Tale, who was famous for his loyalty. For years after his master's death, Hachi continued waiting at the train station for him to return from work. It turns out, however, that after the story was featured in the Japanese press, commuters got into the habit of saving tasty scraps from their lunches to feed him during his nightly vigil. Brottman also reviews the roster of first dogs, beginning with George Washington's coonhounds, “Drunkard, Taster, Tipler and Tipsy." Famous literary lap dogs and their mistresses are also subject to her scrutiny—e.g., Dora in Dickens' David Copperfield, whose pampering of her dog, Jip, expresses her own “exasperating childishness”—as well as the cremation of Billie Holiday’s poodle, who was wrapped in “her best mink coat.”
An entertaining literary and historical romp through the world of dogs.