Tuesday, February 21, 2017

To Forgive, Canine: review of ALWAYS BY MY SIDE, by Edward Grinnan

Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I’ve Loved
Edward Grinnan
Hardcover, $24.99

The author of this beautifully written memoir is the editor-in-chief of Guideposts Publications, and thus his perspective of life is colored by his Christian faith. Not sharing that faith did not at all diminish my admiration and enjoyment of this book, because first and foremost, this is a book about dogs. Whether or not dogs are sent from a higher power, or are simply nature’s gift to us, their importance in our family dynamic is clear, and their ability to see beyond what we humans can see, smell, or hear, does seem miraculous given our comparably limited senses.

Edward Grinnan’s dog Millie is the central focus of his story, but he glides back to childhood and the dog who comforted him during his violent asthma attacks; later to the dog who brought his wife Julee to him; and to Sally, who forced him to see the crumpled old wino as a human being, needing comfort and acceptance. Other dogs prance in and out of his life, and he relives their stories for us with grace, wit and awe.

He writes,
If Sally had helped teach me to be a more compassionate human being, someone who was not so quick to judge and rationalize the sufferings of others, then what I was to learn from Millie was an amplification, on a level that touched the spiritual.

Millie, a white golden retriever, first came to the couple via Florida, flying into New York City in a small crate, and bounding into Edward and Julee’s life with that crazy loving energy only goldens seem to possess. (My only complaint is that Grinnan bought Millie from a breeder. Whether or not that breeder was part of a puppy mill is unknown, but I’m an advocate of adopting rather than buying dogs.) Millie’s entry into city life was difficult. She refused to walk on the pavement, preferring to take care of her bodily needs on newspaper in the apartment. She was terrified of horses, and came unglued at the sight of a one (there are quite a few around Manhattan). When Julee had a bad fall down their stairs and broke her collar bone, Millie lay on top of her, keeping her from going into shock. She was a clutter of conflicting impulses, but she was also insightful, compassionate, and intuitive.

Grinnan’s own life was likewise a bit of a clutter. He had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years, and was only recently sober when he met Julee and her dog Rudy. Dogs became ever more crucial in his growth as a human being. They trained him in deeper, more profound ways, than he trained them. His career at Guideposts likewise offered him the inspiration of other dog lovers and their stories, a few of which he retells here. He leaves the reader with the comforting assurance that our relationships with our dogs are important and not trivial. Dogs are a vital part of our pursuit of happiness. And, he assures us, they do go to heaven.