The Dog I've Always Wanted

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Bark If You Love Me by Louise Bernikow

February 1st, 2009 · · Book Reviews

A woman-meets-dog story

Bark if you love me (book cover)

A brown dog curled up on the backseat of a police car after being found tied to a tree in a Manhattan park is taken home by a woman passing by; she claimed the dog and he claimed her. The woman, Louise Bernikow, being a journalist  named him Libro meaning “book” in Spanish. He was a male boxer, brindle and white. That is how a most remarkable relationship began.

The author is quite clear on the fact that she knew nothing about dogs and  in fact actually didn’t much like dogs but something prompted her to connect herself to this abandoned dog. Once she had made the committment  to Libro she proved to be an extremely dedicated dog owner. She massaged his bad leg which it turned out had a surgical pin in it. She quizzed other dog owners on the habits of their dogs. She took him traveling with her. Inevitably, she wrote about him.They shared a brush with fame.

Because of the manner in which he had come into her life there were a lot of unknowns about this dog. He seemed to understand Spanish better than English. He also had a great fondness for big African American men. Perhaps they reminded him of his previous owner. Whoever that person was he had taken good care of Libro even to the extent of paying for expensive surgery. How did it happen then  that Libro ended up tied to a tree, simply abandoned? Bernikow was never able to answer any of these questions and so the mystery surrounding him became part of his allure.

They became a couple. She took him to the country. She describes a train journey with Libro. She took him onto the train and asked him to take a seat. He hopped up and sat up very straight, gazing out of the window as though he’d been riding trains all his life. When the conductor came by checking passenger’s tickets he simply asked, “Is that a dog?” and moved on. Libro was a true gentleman. The author and her dog lived through several relationships with men and in one case a man and his dog. The had an easy camaraderie based on mutual respect and fondness. They went visiting and Libro’s manners were impeccable. It seemed that they were well suited to each other. They were both independent types who liked companionship but needed to maintain their own space. Dog and woman were just comfortable together, an ideal canine human relationship.

Loise Bernikow wrote a sequel entitled “Dreaming in Libro: how a good dog tamed a bad woman” and in it tells the story of their parallel health crises and the mutual support they afforded each other.Libro moves from being a young gentleman to being an elderly one. There is genuine empathy between them.This book is really a kind of denouement to the previous one. Both volumes are moving but not sentimental; Bernikow is a thinking, reflective, writerly woman. A pleasure to read. The account she gives of her shared existence with Libro documents that singular relationship that is possible only in the presence of mutual respect. Louise Bernikow is a natural dog owner.


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