Reviewed by Bob Williams
by Ted Kerasote
2007, ISBN 978-0-15-101270-1, $25.00, 398 pages
Ted Kerasote has written for many publications and has written five books previous to Merle’s Door, all of them concerned with the outdoors or conservation.
Merle was Kerasote’s dog. He was a stray dog of mixed breed who chose Kerasote. This began an intense relationship that lasted all of Merle’s life. As Kerasote details his life with Merle, he also provides relevant amounts of information about dogs and what various scientists and animal psychologists have had to say about them and other animals. The book is rich in this kind of information as well as in the details of Merle’s fascinating life.
In the small Wyoming town where much of this story takes place, there were no great concerns about dogs and they roamed free, able to associate with each other and with the people of the town. This worked in a community in which automobile traffic was slight and everyone knew everyone else although Kerasote describes a similar and much larger community in the French Alps where much the same canine freedom obtained.
Such dogs had none of the neuroses of the dog who suffers confinement for his or her own protection – and for that of others since confinement has disastrous effects.
The consequent ability of Merle to be his own person had an important part in the shaping of his character. Kerasote describes the growth of that character lovingly and has a carefully founded dislike of animal behaviorists and of trainers who believe that a dog is an automaton, a being without a soul. Much of his book is taken up with his conversations with Merle and although this smacks of egregious anthropomorphism, anyone that has been around dogs will accept it without question.
The door of the title is the dog door that Kerasote installed for the convenience of his companion – and, as it proved, for his companion’s canine friends, a consistently well-mannered and civilized group.
Readers who have been fortunate and had a dog like Merle will find the closing chapters a stab through the heart, not be read without tears. For me it brought back the grandest dog of my experience, Tasha the Thief.
This is a book of great importance to anyone who loves dogs.
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places