Monday, February 10, 2014

Staff Picks - Bad Dog (A Love Story) by Martin Kihn

The vintage post was first posted on June 5th, 2012

A 95 lb dog is a lot of dog. A 95 lb untrained dog living with an undisciplined alcoholic is a disaster. In Bad Dog (A Love Story) (M) by Martin Kihn, we meet Hola a over-sized rambunctious Bernese Mountain Dog whose chaotic and uncontrolled life had the potential to lead her to the fate of shelters and worse. Martin is a management consultant / television writer, married to Gloria, a musician. Martin is also an alcoholic, albeit a high functioning one. Living with an alcoholic can be a lonely life and Gloria fills this absence with Hola, an adorable, fluffy time bomb. As Hola grows to her full size she is twice expelled from puppy training, greets people with full body slams, chases cars, destroys property and her greatest sin of all - she frightens and bites her mom. So Gloria leaves. Hola was not the sole reason, but she was certainly the catalyst. Martin is left alone with his badly behaved dog and his alcoholism and a desperate need to prove to Gloria, to Hola and to himself that he can turn their lives around.

Martin and Hola enter the world of discipline and control. Martin walks away from alcohol and begins a twelve step program with meetings and a sponsor to lend support. Together, Martin and Hola begin preparations to complete the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen test. While Martin has twelve steps, Hola has ten. She must learn to sit, greet people appropriately, walk properly on a leash and her most challenging test - supervised separation. Martin learns that it was he who was the problem. He has been anxious and unsettled and this has been the cause of Hola's insecurity and bad behavior. While Gloria takes refuge alone in their cabin, Martin and Hola take the slow painful steps towards changing both their behaviors to show Gloria that they can be a family once again.

I would describe this memoir as bittersweet, but its candid delivery saves it from sentimentality. The story is poignant and moving especially in the description of some of Martin's most desperate alcoholic moments (drinking mouthwash in phone booths), yet also laugh-out-loud funny with the Martin-Hola conversations and Hola's observations about the human world - just maybe there will be cheesecake. Oh and let's not forget Ruby. Ruby, an imperious and suspicious cat, joins their family and regards her them with disdain "The mise en scene of this place is more tidy and congenial than my last human's. He was not very good with details. Nor was he obedient. This person has some potential. If only I could find some way to get rid of the monster [Hola]. I think it's time I introduced him to the new boss." I would have liked to have seen more of Ruby.

Bad Dog is all about redemption and humility. Martin concludes that "Humility is not thinking less of myself...its thinking of myself less." Interspersed as well is sensible information about raising a well-mannered dog and nice photos of Hola herself. And she's also a Youtube star. If you have read and enjoyed both Marley and Me (M) by John Grogan and Drinking: a love story (M) by Caroline Knapp, this engaging, fast paced read might be a good next choice for you.

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