Writers who choose dogs as their subjects are often doomed not to be taken seriously. Despite the fact that literary legends like Jack London and Virginia Woolf tackled the canine/human bond, writing focused on man’s best friend is generally regarded as soft art, the kind of book that gets relegated to the secret shame pile or saved for poolside reading on vacation. For those of us smitten with canine companions this disrespect is troubling. Why should one of our most important, constant, and cherished relationships be so consistently denigrated as literature?
Richard Teleky tackles this very question in The Dog on the Bed, a comprehensive, alphabetical catalogue of dogs and our complex, often fraught, and occasionally co-dependent relationships with them. The title is borrowed from a French proverb: “There are two kinds of masters. Those who admit that the dog sleeps on the bed, and those who don’t admit it.” Teleky believes that, regardless of our own cultural admissions, canines deserve a much closer look, not only in terms of what they are and what they do, but what they mean to humans on a personal level and in a wider historical context.
In a series of short, well-researched essays, Teleky establishes dogs’ relevance to history, literature, and pop culture in an accessible and entertaining way. The alphabetic structure not only allows Teleky to examine a wide range of subjects, but also permits easy yet informative reading. The author’s background in humanities and fiction lends the book a friendly and far-reaching (if somewhat light) aspect, breaking down broad subjects into bite-sized, browsable entries, with headings like Anthropomorphism, Breeds, Cruelty, Death, Humour, Loyalty, and War. (The author’s beloved Zoli, a pug that died of cancer in 2004, gets both the dedication and the final entry.)
Teleky has succeeded in his ambitious project to thoughtfully catalogue Canis lupus familiari, and ensure that those of us with a dog on the bed – and perhaps those without – are able to understand the species’ vital place in the literary and cultural canon.