Review: You Tell Your Dog First by Alison Pace
Throughout her career, Alison Pace's stories have been graced with the moniker of “dog lit”. But for Alison, many of the years spent writing novels about dogs, and essays about dogs, and book reviews about books about dogs were years spent without a dog of her own. Growing up in a house with no less than four dogs at a time, Alison is a lifelong lover of the animal with a wealth of memories for all the dogs she’s known. Living in New York City, though, has its dog-related difficulties, and pursuing the presence of dogs in her adult life found a way of becoming a lingering dream. In her new memoir, You Tell Your Dog First, Alison recounts, among other things, her decision to finally get a dog of her own: including the hunt for the perfect dog-friendly apartment, the extensive search for the appropriate breed, and the many adventures that come with dog-ownership. The dog at the center of the book, and at the center of Alison’s delight, is Carlie, a West Highland white terrier.
There are so many things to love about You Tell Your Dog First, most especially from the perspective of a dog person. Whether you own a dog or fawn over the ones your friends and family have, there comes a time when your love of the animal borders a bit on eccentricity (or so people tell you) and reading Alison’s essays evokes the feeling of camaraderie that alights between dog people: the sense that we understand each other, that we “get it”. In that way, You Tell Your Dog First is like sitting down with another ardent dog lover to talk about our shared passions; our dogs. Alison’s charming and witty narrative conjures a cozy environment that allows the reader to spend some time in a happy place, hearing her stories about Carlie and the adventures (or misadventures) they find together in the city and the country. As much as the stories in the book are about Carlie, or dogs in general, the stories are also about Alison. Her genuinely personal approach to writing about the special self-discovery that comes with dog ownership lends yet more warmth to the narrative. She examines Carlie’s ability to root out bad boyfriends, strike up friendships with like-minded people, and ultimately guide her smartly through life. You Tell Your Dog First feels very much like a tribute to the way dogs lead their owners.
I’ve been a fan of Alison’s books for years, and this might be my favorite of her works to date. While her writing has always been wonderful, the reader sees her prose blossom under the subject of Carlie, and the wit and wisdom the Westie has brought into her life. As a result, the book shows the opening up of a person’s heart in the way that only a dog can achieve. The solidarity I felt with Alison and the adoration I felt for Carlie made the experience of reading You Tell Your Dog First a wonderfully personal examination of the joys dogs bring into the lives of the people who love them. This is a book impossible to overlook for dog fanciers, and one readers will likely want to visit again and again for the beautiful way it captures the dog-and-person relationship.
Dusty approves. Happy reading!