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She'd follow him anywhere
on 14 September 2009
My Dog Tulip is an extraordinary book about the love between man and dog in general (by extension) and between Mr Ackerley and his Alsatian bitch in particular. Rescued from a working class family (and Mr Ackerley finds the working classes shockingly remiss when it comes to the care of their dogs) at an early age, Tulip immediately gave her new owner unconditional love. As well she might because Mr Ackerley is a man with love to give in return.
It is not a remarkable story in any way - simply that of their life together and Mr Ackerley's thoughts on the nature of their loving relationship - but it is deeply affecting in its gentleness and the quality of thought that he brings to their relationship. Early on, Ackerley comes to understand that Tulip thinks it is her job to protect him. She cannot therefore let him out of her sight without worrying about him. He has no need to train her on a lead since she would follow him anywhere. Theirs does seem an ideal, if unequal, relationship - one based, nonetheless, on mutual trust and a desire to be close.
Of course, Mr Ackerley has a job and a life outside of this relationship, (the rest of his life - job, family, etc., is never mentioned) but in this book (and, I feel, in his life itself), he gives priority to the time he spends with Tulip. As an aside, he reports on other dogs and their relationships with their owners and very few come up to the exacting standard of his own.
Tulip is allowed one experience of motherhood, at which she excels. However, the problems Mr Ackerley has in finding her pups suitable owners brings him to decide not to go through it again. It is only when he relaxes about the problem of Tulip coming on `heat', however, that he learns that Tulip herself can quite happily cope with the solution of dog `followers'. At the end of the book there is a kind of extended meditation on the nature of dogs' sex-lives which is instructive and profound. Dog owners are mostly found wanting, when not outright cruel.
This was a delight to read from start to finish. How could it be so riveting? It is nothing but a story of one man and his dog, devoid, I might add, of any trace of sentimentality. Nevertheless one comes to understand and appreciate both man and dog so well that a warm glow of admiration pervades one's being. Of course, it is no good reading this book if you have never had a dog yourself, because you simply won't understand.