This is a non-pug post. I’ve been reading My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley, first published in 1965, and wanted to share my thoughts. First, it’s a wonderful book, a homage to Tulip, an Alsatian (German Shepherd) and the love between a man and his dog. Ackerley, an English journalist and novelist who lived in London most of his life, is a superb writer. Here’s his description of Tulip’s ears:
“Her ears are tall and pointed, like the ears of Anubis. How she manages to hold them constantly erect, as though starched, I do not know, for with their fine covering of mouse-gray fur they are soft and flimsy; when she stands with her back to the sun it shines through the delicate tissue, so that they glow shell-pink as though incandescent.”
And that’s just her ears! What I found especially fascinating about the book is how owning a dog has changed in the past fifty years or so. Ackerley’s attempts to find a vet or obtain simple information about dogs is met with almost constant frustration. The vets he visits are nothing like the animal doctors of today. With one striking exception, Ackerley portrays them as being at best indifferent and at worst cruel to their charges. Here’s an example from early in the book. Ackerley takes Tulip to get a routine shot. A highly-strung dog, Tulip does her best to resist. The vet without a word roughly muzzles her a with a noose-like contraption and manhandles her to the ground. A vet who acted this way today wouldn’t have a practice for long. Much later in the book, Ackerley mentions that vets had only recently begun seeing dogs and cats as patients. Before that they cared for horses, cows, and other farm animals. This explains a lot.
Another difference is the attitude many people had about spaying or neutering their dogs. They seemed to believe it was cruel and unusual to take away an animal’s sex life. Indeed, many thought a bitch had to whelp at least once in order to stay in good health. Ackerley certainly held this view and much of the book describes his attempts to mate Tulip. Even after Tulip has her litter, Ackerley remains obsessed on the subject. Spaying is only mentioned once and is dismissed as being out of the question. Instead twice a year he devotes weeks of his life to keeping the dogs that roam free (of which they are a goodly number) from mounting Tulip.
The book was an eye-opener and definitely well worth reading. It’s also worth seeing, as the book was recently made into an animated film by Paul and Sandra Flerlinger. It has a limited release, so if it doesn’t come to your town, save it to your Netflix queue as I did. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer.