"Wow. What a book." These are the words that I breathed out when I reached the end of Merle's Door.
Ted Kerasote is to writers what Mozart is to composers. His writing is that good. If he were to write about how the grass grew in his yard over summer, I have no doubt it would be a page-turner.
But that's not the story he wrote. This story is so much more. This unforgettable story begins when a big golden dog emerges from the dark to introduce himself to a small group of people camping in the desert. One of those people was Ted Kerasote, and the dog went home with him. As the story unfolds, we are taken on an amazing journey that goes well beyond "a boy and his dog."
Good relationships are built on mutual respect, and this relationship was better than most. This book is the story of that relationship. These two were the best of friends, and this account of their life together shows how each grew and learned from the other. Love, patience, and understanding are evident throughout the book.
At times, this book is humorous, and at other times it's instructive. But always, it's interesting. One of the lessons Merle taught Ted was that great things can happen if humans will change their behavior instead of always trying to change the behavior of their dogs. The prevailing wisdom is that dogs must be trained and molded a certain way, and treated as though they have no independent powers of judgment. Merle proved this isn't so wise.
The problem is that people don't let their dogs grow up. They make the dog into a perpetual child, and then are surprised when anxiety surfaces in the form of behavior problems. But how would you feel if you always had someone telling you what to do, and not letting you make any decisions on your own? This treatment, while often well-intended, disables a person. It disables dogs as well.
Ted suggests loving in a different way, one that provides more personal freedom and is less about controlling the dog. He says, "His (Merle's) lessons weren't about training, but about partnership. They were never about method; they were about attitude."
The partnership between these two took them on a far different path from one they would have taken if, for example, Ted had decided to make a bird dog out of Merle. Rather than make Merle into something to fit a desire of his own, Ted allowed Merle to be himself. And in so doing, Ted would eventually find his own deep needs met in ways that he could not have predicted. This made for a story worth telling and one definitely worth reading.
In addition to providing us with a wonderful story masterfully written, this book presents an impressive amount of science and technical information on a range of subjects. The list of sources runs 15 pages (in small print, at that). Yet, none of this seems out of place. Whether it's a quote from a biologist, an explanation of cognitive maps, or a summary of experiments with dolphins and mirrors, it's all good and it all fits. The wolf research is especially interesting. For anyone wishing to look up those facts after finishing the story, the extensive index will prove helpful.
This book has 18 chapters spanning 364 pages. Not a single one was wasted.