“Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself”


By Julie Klam. Riverhead Books. $21.95.

It’s funny how dog love can bring a family closer and instill a strong mix of personal values in the process. Witness, Julie Klam, her husband Paul and their daughter Violet who share a New York City apartment with three not-so-well-mannered dogs at the outset and a fourth later. 

But it doesn’t stop there. When it comes to stray dogs, no is not in Klam’s vocabulary. While saving lives and finding new homes for these beleaguered animals, the couple experiences plenty of healing power, too.

The memoir’s three chapters focus on an abandoned pit bull mix (Morris) and a seriously ill Boston terrier in New York City and a run through the streets and backwoods of post-Katrina Louisiana after a frantic puppy named Jarhead. Each account is deliciously dished up with a dollop of breezy, unassuming charm one minute and a full course of rich, insightful detail the next.

Morris is a “gentle-pleading” pit bull mix that is left abandoned and tied to a No Parking street sign, prompting Paul and Julie to spring forward into a full rescue mode that ranges from Twitter to passers-by.  Dog rescues tend to be filled with good intents and plenty of frustration, as the Morris from Manhattan story reflects. But the day-long saga ends positively when a Connecticut friend steps in.

Clementine, a 3-year-old Boston terrier, is the ultimate foster-care challenge and a serious piece of work. Diagnosed with a neurological disorder and “issues of bowel control,” she takes up residence in a heavily lined playpen in Paul and Julie’s apartment while two of their own dogs are sent off to a training boot camp in New Jersey.

One promising adoption fails when the dog is diagnosed with degenerative neurological condition and eventually is returned home to Klam’s Manhattan digs.

“Though I dread the inevitable, I feel lucky for every day that I’m still able to see her sweet face,” adds the author.

A fund-raiser for animals in New Orleans is the trigger for the gritty third portrait, the first trip in years for Paul and Julie. “It was funny (or sad) how much we looked forward to simply have a room without dogs,” she writes. “I walked around with socks on and never once stepped into a surprise puddle.”

After being introduced to a wide array of rescue-group characters, Julie finds herself back in her all-too-familiar rescue mode when a friend takes a phone call about a 4-months-old feral puppy with a jar stuck over its head and eluding capture.  Julie and Paul join in the hunt – big surprise – through bramble and thick underbrush, a far cry from the streets of Manhattan.

While the eventual capture in a dog trap isn’t made until the couple returns home, she says, “Part of me was proud just for having participated in something so far out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t something that I felt I’d need to do again, though. I’m happy to remain an urban rescuer.”

Although Klam’s memoir is an emotional bumpy ride much of the way, it is an inspiring celebration of life punctuated by how one couple’s commitment and passion to a cause can make a difference.