People really love their pets. They also love other people’s pets and they love to read about unique, heroic and heartwarming pets. Pet memoirs are not a new genre, but they have definitely moved into the mainstream.
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World was published in 2008 and so touched the world that he has a website and an upcoming movie that will star Meryl Streep. Dewey is now rolling around in that big catnip field in the sky, but his legacy lives on and a sequel, Dewey’s Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions, is due out this year on October 12th.
It would be easy to be cynical about the number of pet memoirs, and even the quality of some of them, so of course Canada’s National Post did just that with So, your pet merits a book… Their books department received a number of pet books which prompted them to come up with guidelines for writing a pet memoir that include:
1. The title should be the pet’s name â€” Dewey, Oogy, Katie, Huck, with an endearing photo.
2. There should be a lengthy subtitle explaining the remarkable effect the pet had on the street, the town or, in Dewey’s case, the entire world.
3. It’s a good idea if the pet is initially in dire straits â€” lost, orphaned, sickly, even deformed (see Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love).
They agree over in the U.K. where the Guardian wrote:
It is said you should let sleeping dogs lie. This is quite wrong. In terms of future financial security, the best thing to do is wake the dog up, sit it in front of a typewriter and wait for it to write a heartwarming life story.
They have a point. Marley & Me by John Grogan was popular enough to be made into a movie.
But before we get carried away with cynicism, it would be good to remember that many of these memoirs really are compelling stories. Some are narratives within a larger story, such as Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills by Carol Bradley. Gracie was rescued from a puppy mill and eventually found a happy home, and the book follows that story while exposing the horrors of puppy mills and the trials and tribulations of rescue workers.
Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog by Susannah Charleston is a fascinating look at the life of a search and rescue dog.
And then there’s the classic trio of books by Cleveland Amory, the founder of The Fund for Animals and the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. His life with a rescued cat turned into The Cat Who Came for Christmas, The Cat and the Curmudgeon and The Best Cat Ever. It doesn’t hurt the stories that Cleveland and Polar Bear (the cat) meet celebrities and carry on interesting philosophical discussions.
Cleveland Amory may have called himself a curmudgeon, but his memoirs fall in the heartwarming category. As does Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family by Glenn Plaskin. The title is self-explanatory, as are most titles of pet memoirs.
And lest you think that people only write about cats and dogs, there’s Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined To Kill Me by Jenny Gardiner; Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards; Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien; and The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery. All are worth your time to read, particularly if you need a pick-me-up, laugh a little, weep a little, feel good about the world kind of read.
Barnes and Noble has a category with pages and pages of Pet Memoirs if you need more ideas, and if you need further proof that pet memoirs are very big, very popular, and very mainstream.