This review contains a spoiler, though I don't think it will be a spoiler to anyone who reads dog books, but - who knows.
I had a very strange reaction to this book. It's a collection of essays about the author, his poodle Pete, and their adventures out on the mandatory daily walk. I think it probably rates as a memoir in that it covers a period of about 10 years and focuses on one aspect of the author's life. Someone once said that going for a walk is the next best thing to doing nothing, and walking the dog would be about a step up from that. But, seeing as how the author mainly walks Pete off-leash it may only be a half step. Walking a dog off leash means you get to pay a lot more attention to your thoughts and surroundings than the dog. As a life long dog owner (read: walker) I know the pleasures of off-leash walks, and the high pleasure of watching a dog run. John Ford had it for horses, I've got it for dogs - pure poetry. So, though Pete figures in every chapter (or essay, as that's what they really are) it's Mr .Zeaman's musings that we're really getting with this book. Yes, about dogs, dogs and men, dog walking, but also about how civilization encroaches on wild areas, how wild areas still manage to exist - in this case the Meadowlands of NJ - how wonderfully eccentric dog-walkers can be, etc., etc.
For the most part Mr Zeaman is an interesting companion. Not particularly profound, but that's ok, and I enjoyed the book in chapter long pieces until I got to - !!!spoiler!!!- Pete's decline and demise. (Is that really a spoiler? Don't all dog books end with a dead dog?)
I recognized the care Mr. Zeaman took with his old dog: the lifting, the slow walks, the trials of incontinence. I was glad when he adopted a new dog before Pete was too far gone. And I knew there'd be an eventual visit to the vet, a sad goodbye, and a chemical cocktail to launch Pete to doggie-heaven. What I didn't expect -!!!spoiler!!!- was for Mr. Z., to wuss out, and not see Pete off - in fact, to get as far as the vet's waiting room, and then have his son accompany Pete into the exam room for the final ritual. I couldn't believe it! I tried over the next few pages to give Mr. Zeaman the benefit of his sorrow, but it kept coming back to, "that s.o.b. He's had this dog for over ten years and he can't even be there to pat its head while it slips away. Unbelievable."
And here's where the strange reaction comes in - I couldn't finish the book. The author let me down as a human being. Whatever bond I may have had with him through the preceding 260-some pages unravelled with that one act. I didn't care about his grief, I didn't care about his continuing search for a new dog walking spot, I didn't care about whatever philosophical summation he was going to come up with. He wasn't a mensch. End of story.
So, three stars - it's a pretty good dog book, and a fairly amusing memoir, and though I'm sure Mr. Z is a decent guy, he should of sucked it up.