Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BANDIT by Vicki Hearne

BANDIT

Dossier of a Dangerous Dog

By Vicki Hearne

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-019005-1
Publisher: HarperCollins

 An astonishingly resonant meditation by animal-trainer Hearne (Adam's Task, 1986; The White German Shepherd, 1988) on the implications of her ongoing--and well-publicized--fight to keep the state of Connecticut from killing ``Bandit,'' a biting ``pit bull.'' ``Pit bull'' is in quotation marks because, as Hearne emphasizes, Bandit, despite media claims, is not really a pit bull- -that is, he's not an American Pit Bull Terrier. And that is no picayune point but one central to Hearne's argument that ``we have traded awareness for language.'' Caught up in the pit bull ``hysteria,'' Bandit, she argues, has been judged by the kangaroo court of language as being ``what he is not'': a pit bull and ``vicious.'' And so it is that Hearne's loose account--of how Bandit responded to provocation by biting a passer-by, then his owner; of how a judge permitted Bandit to live on condition that Hearne take him from his owner to train and to keep; of how the state continues to harass both her and Bandit--expands into a profound exploration of the power of words like ``justice,'' ``law,'' and ``dog bite,'' and of the relations of humans and dogs to awareness and language: ``dogs honor grammar, the surface, the syntactical implications of an exchange more readily than people do, which is their form of honesty.'' Hearne's own form of honesty is in trying ``to return to awareness through language,'' by rooting her study of language to her direct experience, which is on rich display here as she writes, passionately, of her training of Bandit and other dogs (and a wolf); respectively and knowingly, of animals' qualities; and, often sarcastically and even bitterly, of the humans, especially in Canine Control and humane societies, with whom she has fought for Bandit's life. Digressive, almost epistolary; soul-baring and politically volatile; and simply one of the most perceptive works about the social contracts between humans and animals ever written.