Guaranteed reading with intelligence

Guaranteed reading with intelligence
Guaranteed reading with intelligence

Friday, 30 August 2013

Sleeping With The Beast by Dale Ryan - Mini Book Review

by Raymond Mathiesen

 4 out of 5 stars

Our Pets And Who We Are...

When Dale Ryan was a child people had the idea the life should be very ordered and hierarchical.  Everything had its place and a dogs place was certainly in the yard, or perhaps in the kitchen. (p.109)  As the title Sleeping With The Beast suggests, this book certainly doesn’t take that position, though it does not propose that life with dogs must be chaotic, dirty and ugly.   Dale Ryan has been a dog lover since childhood when her family owned Charcoal, an adored but ill-fated canine. (p. 14-15)  Dale has owned15 dogs over the years, and this book reveals the personality of a kind soul who takes the time to care, to think about life from a perspective different from her own, and to be flexible enough to adapt to those differences however possible.  Dale is qualified in art and design (Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education) and this book is filled with beautiful, colour photographs that add to the text and demonstrate that a less ordered life is not necessarily an unpleasant, disordered life.  These photos illustrate practical solutions to the problems of having dogs as companions, a less seemly dog-fight, and most of all dogs just being dogs.

The idea of the “beast” is central to this book and Dale plays with the meaning, sometimes referring to the obvious dogs, sometimes referring to man, and sometimes meaning ‘beastly,’ as in ‘not nice.’  We see ourselves as separate from nature and the animals, but of course we are always in nature even in our ordered homes, and, as scientists remind us, we are animals ourselves.  This is a very Taoist idea (Alan Watts. The Tao Of Philosophy: Tuttle Publishing, 2002, p. 17-34) and the book is indeed lightly philosophic, in a common sense kind of way.  Following from the idea that dogs and man are similar, it is no surprise to find that much of the advice about living with dogs is at the same time applied to people.  The book is very nitty-gritty and practical and the suggestions are indeed useful to all of us (dogs and people).  Of course much in Sleeping With The Beast could apply to any animal, especially domesticated animals such as cats and birds.

A second important idea in Dale’s book is ‘family.’  As she points out in her Introduction (p.13-17) we once had a very limited idea of the nuclear family (mother and father and two children), but since the 1960s our notions have broadened.  We have single parent families, second marriage families, defacto families, LGBTI families, etc.  It is Dale’s idea that our pets can very much be seen as part of our family and that they are are perhaps as something like children.  As a result this is a very family oriented book and the reader will find much information in it that will benefit their whole family and not just their dogs.  For example Chapter 2 Decorative Dogs contains very practical information on decorating a house with both children and dogs in mind: what applies to one generally applies to the other.

Dale is an artist and much of this book shows a touch of her skills in that field.  She displays an artist’s observation when she notes that dogs have a heightened sense of smell and therefore enjoy being in the kitchen when you cook (p. 49) and also playing in herb gardens. (p. 68)  Similarly, she shows an artist’s contemplative thought when she wonders if dogs really like having their heads patted. (p. 85)  Most of all she demonstrates drafting skills when she observes that living with dogs requires planning. (p. 30)  My point is that, as I have said, this book is very practical.  To take this argument further I note Dale observes that, like us, dogs are pack animals and need the company of other dogs.  You therefore should not really have just one dog (p. 86).  Dana Kramer-Rolls, in The Way Of The Cat (Conari Press, 2004, p.85-105) makes a similar point about cats.  With a little thought this idea is very obvious, but in our “Take One Home For The Kiddies” (Philip Larkin. The Whitsun Weddings, 1960) attitude we purchase just one and then go out to work leaving them alone all day, locked in the yard, or even worse in the flat.  The books practicality is very much enhanced by the inclusion of a “Tips” list at the end of each chapter.  These tips are summaries of the useful ideas in the chapter and are very good for easy reference, saving the reader from having to leaf through pages.

Balancing its practicality the book also contains a little philosophy.  Dale considers, for example why we like dogs (p.17-18).  Similarly she considers the nature of dogs (p. 48) and the nature of man (p. 79).

Of course no situation is perfect and it would not ring true if Dale insisted that dogs are faultless pets.  She has indeed included some criticisms of dogs, such as their eating habits and the possibility of aggression/fighting. (p. 54)

To my mind there are one or two minor faults in the book.  First, the recipe “Clementine’s Classic Chicken Soup” (p.55) involves a total of one hour and twenty minutes cooking time and seems very ‘overdone,’ leaving not much nutritional value.  Second, Dale’s suggestion of a white cover sheet for the bed seems very much the wrong colour as it will immediately show every speck of dirt.  These are, as I say, minor quibbles.

Dale has a very friendly writing voice and her book is entertaining and easy to read.  The many illustrative stories she includes from her family life very much help us to feel ‘at home’ with the book.

In brief the book covers:

A general comparison between man and dog and their inner nature as social animals

The challenges and bonuses of living with dogs

Decorating and remodelling your house so that it’s dog friendly

Cooking for your dog, with special consideration to health

Designing your bedroom with dogs in mind, and the psychology of sleeping with dogs

Making your garden a safe and friendly environment for dogs

Problems that can arise from living with dogs, including human problems such as cruelty

Raising dogs from puppies

How to cope when dogs die, and what to do in case the owner dies

Dale Ryan has written a more unusual book about the relationship between dogs and man.  Sleeping With The Beast is full of down-to-earth practical tips about living with dogs.  It also contains some observations and philosophy about what the man/dog relationship reveals and indeed some thoughts about society in general.  This is a very friendly book and a for any dog owner joy to read.  It is beautifully illustrated with full colour photographs and would make an excellent coffee table book.

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