“Lessons from Tara,” by David Rosenfelt. St. Martin’s Press. $25.99.
While the psyche of countless animal adoptions stretch far from home for the author and his wife, Debbie Myers, stretch far from home, it’s the angst and admiration these creatures have brought upon the couple’s lives that is front and center here.
Call their previous Southern California and present Maine homes what you want, you wouldn’t be far off with labels such as Doghouse, Madhouse or even Animal House, the latter referencing the 1978 film classic. Keep in mind the resident canine population ranged from 20 to 42 under those roofs, with only two less than 50 pounds.
Crazy, challenging and even comedic at times, Rosenfelt captures the persona of many of these senior citizens whisked out of Death Row in a wide mix of Southern California shelters to eventual adoptions or resident status at home.
The genesis here is the golden retriever title namesake, Tara, who helped bring the couple together and admittedly changed the author’s life and “taught me more than I thought possible. Some of it was through her actions, but most of it was through her legacy, and the descendants she left behind. They literally number in the thousands.”
While Tara never met any of the couple’s canine adoptees, “she saved every one of their lives,” writes Rosenfelt.
Tara’s impact was so meaningful that Rosenfelt says he can divide his emotional life into the period before Tara and that after. “She taught me sensitivity, and compassion, and gave me emotional depth,” he says.
Anyone who has ever been owned by a golden will relate to this passage:
“Goldens never complain, nor do they reveal when they’re not feeling well.”
Rosenfelt’s prose boasts an engaging texture throughout, whether he and Myers are extracting a senior citizen from an overloaded shelter or trying to establish a sleeping position on the bed at home with Myers and four former canine castoffs.
Much of the volume reads like a lovefest, as Rosenfelt smoothly demystifies the word rescue into family member. In the process, the author pokes fun at himself and pokes fire at those unwilling to make a lifetime commitment to their pooch.
Characterizing Maine’s weather as “canine climate gold” compared to Southern California, Rosenfelt describes Animal House: “Our dogs form a well-oiled machine, displaying the kind of teamwork that CEOs and football coaches only dream of instilling in their teams.
“These dogs don’t do it for the glory. Or the biscuits. Or the petting.
“No, they do it to annoy me.”
Capturing the built-in demeanor in dogs, Rosenfelt writes:
“But finding enjoyment was certainly not unique to Tara; it’s a dog thing. I would say that it takes so little to make them happy, but that’s not the best way to describe it. They come ‘pre-happy’; it’s their default mood. Humans can accentuate their own happiness, or diminish it, or even ruin it, but in dogs it’s baked in.”