When I first got Frankie, I had fantasies about taking long contemplative walks with him, during which I would ponder my surroundings and the nature of the universe and after which I would transfer my deep thoughts to paper.

Aside from the fact that Frankie has little, short legs and follows close behind me rather than leading me to explore new territory, I found that I had little to say about my surroundings, which pretty much stayed the same, and that I preferred listening to books on CD or walking with other people to contemplating the universe.

Luckily, John Zeaman, with the help of his long-legged, inquisitive dog, Pete, and his ability to look at nature with an artist’s eye — he is both painter and art critic — has done the job for me in Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odessey, and far better than I could have. Which relieves me of guilt and pressure. At least about this particular thing.

Zeaman also has the ability to look at the world of dog people with gentle satire and at himself with self-deprecating humor. Although he often compares himself with Henry David Thoreau because of his interest in the outdoors, I think he’s far more akin to Jane Austen, a keen observer of society (this is high praise; hate him, love her). I’ll spare you the rant. I mention Thoreau only because, if you feel the same way as I do about that humorless pontificating hypocrite, I don’t want you to be put off Zeaman’s book.

Its title notwithstanding, this book isn’t all that focused on dogs — or, perhaps I should say, it would be easy to enjoy even if you’re not canine oriented. But the astute observations about Pete and his kind are a bonus. (By the way, Pete, like John Steinbeck’s Charley, is a standard poodle. There must be a subgenre of meditative-men-and-poodle literature.)

For example, Zeaman does his research and knows about dominance theory but rejects it from a common sense perspective:

I never bothered with the “alpha-dog” theory. I don’t think Pete saw me as a dog, much less a subordinate one, or that we were in any kind of power struggle for hierarchy points. Pete could be pretty stubborn, and there were times when he questioned my judgment. But so what? There were times that he was right…. He could have been more mindful of me, I suppose, but then again it was never Pete’s idea — or any dog’s — that he be tethered to me and coordinate his movements, like a partner in a silly three-legged race.

Zeaman never romanticizes Pete or the activity of dog-walking; he calls himself, and the other suburban fathers forced to take on dog-tending duty, “a dupe.” His recognition of the nature of their relationship is clear-headed, and it’s one of the many joys of the book.

Spoiler alert: Don’t read the next two paragraphs if you haven’t finished Dog Walks Man.

There is only one part, towards the end, when I began getting mighty irritated with the narrator: He begins forcing the aging Pete to walk up ramps and take car rides and walks against his will. But to his credit, Zeaman comes to acknowledge his selfishness with brutal self-examination and honesty:

I had told myself that [walking] was some important purchase on life for him. The walk! To walk was to be alive!… But I was beginning to think that I hadn’t been doing it so much for him as for myself. It was me. I had become the one who needed to go on walks. We had reversed roles.

I further realized that on some childish level, I had been angry with him for not wanting to go anymore.

It’s the rare dog lover who doesn’t see her dog as a reflection of herself; it’s the rare writer who acknowledges that fact and expresses its pitfalls so articulately.

In the end, the book is not about dogs or about man and nature, but about being fully engaged, about observing and celebrating and mourning growth and loss and change.

If there happens to be a dog or two as part of the process, all the better.


To see what I had to say about the book’s literary aspects, and particularly its setting in the Meadowlands, New Jersey, please go over to A Traveler’s Library and read Pet Travel Book Club goes to the Meadowlands.

I’d love to know what you think of the book on both sites — dogwise here and literarily there. Or mix it up. My pal Vera Marie Badertscher and I are open to any opinions except rude and hostile ones. And we usually even allow those because it’s the commenters who look like jerks.

Haven’t read the book but want to now? You still haveย  a chance to purchase signed copies of the paperback and the hardcover editions of Dog Walks Man at a discount, including shipping charges. To order these signed, discounted copies directly from the publisher, contact Amy Alexander at 203.458.4541 or e-mail Amy.Alexander at globepequot.com. Signed hardcovers are $20, signed paperbacks are $15, and prices include tax and shipping.


So — as I wrote at the end of my Pet Blogger Challenge post, I’m wrapping up my involvement in the Pet Travel Book Club and other regular features on this blog to start on another project. But I don’t want to let the Pet Travel Book Club meet an untimely demise. I’m not going to divulge any details — because I don’t have any yet — but look for its reincarnation on one of my favorite blogs as well as on A Traveler’s Library.

Update: I was waiting for both parties to sign off but it’s official: Pamela Webster of Something Wagging This Way Comes is going to be taking over the book club. With a punny literary name like that for her dog blog, it was clearly meant to be. And I know Pamela will do such a terrific job, you’ll forget you ever knew me.

But you commenters are pissing me off. You’re putting in such interesting, intelligent comments that I’m starting to regret that I’m leaving. Can we please lower the level of this conversation? Talk about Kim Kardashian, maybe?

26 thoughts on “Dog Walks Man: A Review (Wherein I Pass the Pet Travel Book Club Torch)”

  1. I’m glad to know the Pet Travel Book Club will continue on. Even if I don’t have time to read all the books, I enjoy finding out about them and reading the conversations the reviews spark. The Club will be moving out of the house, and I’ll look forward to following it to it’s new address.

  2. Ack….you had to add in the painful reminder that you are leaving us. I suppose you did HAVE to for those who hadn’t heard yet but it makes me sad. At the same time, I am still happy an excited for you though.

    Anyway, I am a little intrigued by this book and even more so now that I know that it’s not some romanticized story about a man and his dog. Not saying that’s inherently bad (I liked Following Atticus) but I am a left-brained person so those kind of books feel more natural.

    1. I hear, you Jessica. I’m not big on the romanticized bonding thing either (and — shhhh! — liked this better than Following Atticus but luckily found someone who adored that book to review it).

      I find these reminders that I am leaving painful too if it’s any consolation ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I enjoyed John’s artist perspective. Only he could have “walked” the meadowlands and turn it into something that interesting. Would it have been me, I probably only would have seen a waste dump. John’s humor is fantastic too. There are so many passages in the book which had me laughing out loud when I read it. I enjoyed his convo’s with Cassandra, the know-it-all. I think everybody that has a dog also has somebody like that in their circle of dog acquaintances. And like John finds out even after trying his best with the “ticks story”, he concluded inevitability “checkmated again”.

    My annoyance with John started at the same episode as yours, where he forced aging Pete to join for the walks. But his realization of their reversed roles made it all up again. And the message was strong. Always scrutinize the relation with (not necessarily) your dog for things that have changed and adapt.

    I didn’t know Thoreau, but both Tom Ryan and John Zeaman seemed to be inspired by him so I wanted to read something from him. Your mini-rant made me all the more curious ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for launching this club Edie, it was a a lot of fun to participate and you selected some great books. Especially for me it was what I needed to read about, if you can remember my post “Its the environment, stupid” where I discovered Viva’s needs to be in an environment she can thrive in, I am sure you will understand.

    1. Oh no — I’ve sent you to Thoreau! I’ll only say that if you have to read one of the American Transcendentalists I would choose Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was the founder of the movement. I will only say that, while Thoreau was writing Walden — his key work — and pretending to live in nature, he was living a mile from his mother and going home for baked goods and, I believe, having her do his laundry.

      Thanks for sharing your favorite parts. It was very hard for me to write this review because there were so many passages I wanted to quote too. And I needed to post!

      I’m glad you enjoyed these books. I think you will not be disappointed in the replacement — far from it!

      1. I am instantly cured. I am not going to read something from somebody that is an infantile and runs back to mommy. Ralph Waldo Emerson it will be then, he was quoted too ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Can you believe the level of intellectual discourse?! We’re discussing the Transcendentalists on a dog blog! Pamela, it’s not me you need to worry about living up to; it’s the voracious readers!

  4. You picked some wonderfully evocative passages to quote. I was drawn in by the dog but enchanted by the writing. Zeaman is a strong writer and thinker.

    I’ve always loved contemplating how hard humans work to defeat nature. Places like the Meadowlands survive in the midst of the densest development in the U.S. They teach us that if we were to disappear tomorrow, nature would reclaim all our “civilization” in no time.

    So I was primed for an up close look at this untamed area in the NY metro area. And I can’t think of any better way to explore it than with a dog. Dogs can lead us to discover so many things we’d normally miss.

    I will reemphasize that this book is a poor fit for people who enjoy sweet and sentimental stories about dogs and their people. I know a number of people who would just hate it.

    But you’re right that it’s worth reading even if you have no interest in dog walking.

    To enter the Thoreau debate–I agree that Ralph Waldo Emerson is a great American philosopher for KenzoHW to read. But I can’t be so hard on Thoreau.

    His ideas still enchant me. And I don’t mind that he would have never written them if not for Mrs. Emerson making him Sunday dinner or his mom doing his laundry (although I too would have liked a shout out in that direction).

    Maybe I can take such a flawed individual as a role model because I was raised reading the Christian Bible. Talk about a bunch of bad examples! And yet wisdom peeks through despite an awful lot of bad behavior. I guess we have that anywhere people gather.

    Thank you for starting the pet travel book club. It’s a smashing idea and it blends three of my favorite things. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Mrs. Emerson made Thoreau dinner? I thought it was Mrs. Thoreau but I know the whole crew was close so I don’t doubt your take.

      I don’t mind flawed in the least; what I hate is hypocrites. And here’s Thoreau advising other people to do what he is not doing himself. Full disclosure: I read Thoreau while I was studying for my PhD qualifying exams. It was a horrid summer and I couldn’t go out in the fresh air. I found his tone horribly self-satisfied and when I discovered that he was not in fact doing what he was telling everyone else to do, ie., be self reliant, I felt completely vindicated in my visceral dislike.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the pet travel book club, Pamela.

      1. Ok, so that last comment was a big disingenuous, but at that point I didn’t know when the torch passing would be accomplish.

        I’ve been meaning to say, last year Alexa — the ranking site, not a Russian — told me I had readers who were overly educated. This year, not so much. These comments tell me that’s untrue, but still, Alexa says that Pamela is now playing to the brainy crowd so it’s only fitting that the book club go to her.

  5. I decided to chalk up the references to Transcendentalists as some sort of tic that afflicts New England dog walkers much the way obsessive analysis of the tide guides and barometric readings afflict us West Coast beach walkers, and then skip over those passages. This is because I completely share your ennui with Thoreau in particular, and the Ts in general. Just seem rather sophomoric in their pretentions. And I confess that I loved Atticus…his follower, not so much. Too self-congratulatory.

    Happily, Zeaman is charming and understated. I would have wanted to be one of the passing characters who populated his doggy netherworld, because he seems kind and fun. And willing to correct his mistakes. I would have loved to have seen Archie and Pete interact, as they shared an exuberance for running and chasing, as well as the headstrong knowledge that the humans trailing them were fine and loving, but not that bright. I would have liked Zeaman and Pete see 30-pound Archie stop a horse in its tracks when it was running down Archie’s beach without permission. All of this is to say that, although it’s true that Zeaman was the great character of the book, but he wouldn’t have been out observing and conducting silly experiments were it not for Pete. I found the book a worthwhile read, not compelling (and I don’t think Z intended it to be), but memorable in its way. I also found it comforting, particularly his description of Pete’s latter days and the way Zeaman didn’t flinch at cleaning up after him, giving him the good soft blanket in front of the fire, being the best kind of dupe to the end.

    In the interests of building the book club library, I’ve read two more I would recommend: “The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog” by Kevin Runolfson (couldn’t put it down); and “Nearer My Dog to Thee: A Summer in Baja’s Sky Island” by Graham Macintosh (laughing my ass off while reading it).

    1. Clare, I can’t believe you just summed up the basic problems of East Coast and West Coast literature — well, okay, dog-walking literature — in one sentence. I’m in awe. Actually, I think you may have summed up a more general phenomenon on both coasts. I’m doubly in awe and annoyed that I didn’t think of that.

      I think Archie and Pete would have been good pals. Dogs don’t have either East or West Coast pretensions.

      Thanks for your suggestions for future book club selections. The title alone makes Nearer My Dog To Thee worth reading.

  6. So glad that the book club is taking on a life of its own. And Clare’s two suggestions sound like great additions for future discussions!
    I continue to be amazed at your ability, Edie, to find two different ways to review the same book. I pour enough sweat just finding one angle. Both your A Traveler’s Library review and the one here are delightful to read, and enticing to would-be book readers. I particularly loved your phrase, “a subgenre of meditative-men-and-poodle literature.”
    But how unfortunate that Thoreau hijacked your thread. He’s snickering because you’re giving him lots of exposure of the “doesn’t matter what they say as long as they spell your name right” sort.

  7. Haven’t read this book but would like to now. I’m Netflix streaming the British TV servies “All Creatures Great and Small” based on the James Herriot books. The Herriot they portray is snarly, snappy and not nearly as fun as his boss, Siegfried. My point, though, is his dog is dying, doing very poorly and he insists on taking him for a walk in a field up a hill; well, of course, the dog dies; I felt pain and remorse for the dog but none for the portrayal of Herriot in that episode. Sounded similar to Zeaman’s need to walk no matter what it did to his dog.
    I look forward to the Travel Club continuing. The two POVs sound super and helpful, too.

    1. I never read/saw any of the Herriot books or the TV films made from them and what you say doesn’t inspire me to do so. I do owe James Herriot a good line: I always like to say that my mother feared all creatures great and small. Which is true, but sounds better phrased that way than my mother never liked animals.

  8. I haven’t read this book, but I think … I might. (Wonder if it will be on kindle or nook, that way I can read it while I’m supposed to be doing real work at my other job…. bwahaha.)

    ;____; I must be really lame; this is actually the first I’ve heard of the super-neat-sounding book club that you aren’t heading up anymore. Guess I’ll have to go harass Something Wagging This Way Comes. (And you’re right, that is a fantastic blog title. I’m almost sure I follow her on twitter…maybe I’ll shout at her [a message in ALL CAPS MIGHT WORK!] or I can get @reply her….like a normal human. We’ll see.)

    And. Ew. No one wants to talk about Kim Kardashian on a dog blog. Unless there is a picture of a dog peeing on her leg.

    ….I think I could photoshop that……. *insert evil grin*

    1. I too am very sorry you missed this, especially since I now know you are willing to provide evil illustrations! But, yes the club will be in good hands. And yes Dog Walks Man is available on Kindle and is very good for work distractions. I think you’ll like it.

  9. P.s. Yes, all these books are on kindle–that’s how I read them–and in the cases of the two additional books I recommended, a lot cheaper than hard copy.

  10. I’m still in the midst of reading this one – I did enjoy the opening of the book, where Zeaman talked about being duped into his role as the family dog walker. I do have to admit, however, that growing up in a more rural area, I don’t actually have any experience with that particular trope. The leashes only ever came out at our house whenever we were going on a trip or taking the dogs “to town” for a vet appointment. Simpler times…

    It is funny how dog walking becomes a routine and you have special routes and places that become almost sacred to you and your dog. My husband and I always split dog walking duties – in our last apartment complex, we each had our own walking routes and routines plus a third routine when we decided to take a family walk on the weekends. I always found that time so relaxing and pleasant. Having a yard – like we do now – is something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s great because Bella can go relax in the sun and because she gets tired more easily and sometimes seems to prefer that to a long walk. However, it means our walks are often less frequent – I think I need to work on adding a few more walks back into our routine.

  11. Oops… I forgot to add that I think Pamela’s a perfect person to carry on the Club. I’m looking forward to her unique perspective and thoughtful posts. (I have tried for ages to start a book club with my friends and it never works – thank you for setting up one I can actually participate in!)

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