By Steve Duno. St. Martin’s Press. $24.99.
Ten seconds one way or another and this book would never have been written. And Seattle author Steve Duno would never have had 16 incredible years with at Rottweiler-German Shepherd he came to recognize as a dog of a lifetime.
That quick time split while driving in Northern California was the difference between spotting a female and her litter off Highway 101 near the small Mendocino County town of Willits, and at the urging of his girlfriend, rescues one of the mangy 6-month-old waifs that probably would not have survived the high-speed freeway and nearby thick forests much longer.
Duno writes breezily and pointedly of his life with Lou, a dog that battles coyotes in a Seattle neighborhood one day and entertains war veterans and Alzheimer’s patients the next. Lou is a memorable figure to all who meet him, and as Duno’s self-appointed assistant at the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell, he is savior for hundreds of four-legged misfits who are there for a last-chance, shape-up-or-ship-out course at the behest of their owners.
“Last Dog,” a must-read memoir for every owner, ranks as the best offerings yet by the talented author with 17 previous book credits. It has Hollywood film potential written all over it, but finding a new Lou would be the toughest casting call of all.
It is Lou who eventually helps instill a confidence in Duno, a Los Angeles tutor, that he might have a future as trainer and pet behaviorist. Duno describes their relationship: “We clearly had a crush on each other. He would literally jump through fire for me (and did on one occasion). And I had fallen for a damn dog.
“For most of my career, I derided owners for elevating their dogs to cult status. A dog shouldn’t be the center of attention but rather just another member of the family, with unique rules and responsibilities to attend to. Treat them like rock stars and they’ll trash your world every time.
“For Lou and me, the rapport was different. He knew exactly who he was, very quickly. . . . In Lou’s mind, he wasn’t the center of my attention, I was the center of his, and that made all the difference in the world.”
Lou gives new meaning to the expression, “Mutts Matter,” but much of this spirited pair’s special relationship points to the author’s ability to coax the best out of a dog that longs to please and thrives on challenge. In another’s hands, Lou would likely never recognize his full potential and probably lived a lifetime of boredom.
Duno’s work radiates warmly between sensitivity and swagger and is plunged with energy from remote hiking trails to urban sidewalks and from the academy’s training quarters to school classrooms. Lou’s incredible ability to read others – humans and animals – opens many doors for Duno in the process, prompting the author to claim, “He is my portfolio.”
Using smooth, broad brushstrokes, the author paints this unvarnished portrayal of spiritual soul mates with passionate intensity and celebratory energy. And for Duno, Lou lives on as the touchstone by which everything dog is measured.