A conversation between Julie Klam, and J. Courtney Sullivan, best-selling author of Maine and Commencement.
Sullivan: One of my favorite parts of Love at First Bark is when you’re searching for an injured stray puppy in New Orleans and ask yourself a series of questions about how far you’d go to save a dog, which culminates with your jumping under a train to get the puppy. To date, is this the farthest you’ve gone?
Klam: It’s the farthest I’ve gone physically. Mentally, I’ve gone much further . . .totally off the deep end . . .on more than one occasion.
Sullivan: How many dogs do you have now? And how do they help or hurt your writing life? I love having my dog curled up under my desk while I’m working, but he always seems to want to go outside and play just as I’m reaching a critical moment in a scene.
Klam: I had four until last week, when we adopted out a foster. I would say, since I’ve written two books on my dog relationships, they help me quite a bit. In fact, Fiorello actually does a fair bit of copyediting. And Beatrice has consulted on all the dog dialogue. She frequently tells me, “A dog would never say that!” Or “No way--too human!”
Sullivan: I’ve only been a dog owner for nine months. One of the things that has surprised me the most is the way that our neighborhood has suddenly opened up to us—we know so many more people, and they all know us. (They may not know our names, but they know Landon’s!) Have you experienced the same thing? What is it about dogs that brings this out in people?
Klam: I wrote in my first book that when I got my dog Otto, I suddenly developed dog vision—I think the same thing happened when I was pregnant When something is suddenly appearing in your life, you relate to it everywhere. The thing about dogs is that, in most cases, they don’t just walk by a dog on the street. They stop and sniff and maybe play. They are far less boundary- obsessed than we are. I think we can stand behind our dogs, saying hello to other dogs, and be just slightly a part of it. I bring the dogs into the dog run, and they run over and join in the games and bark at a Boxer and chase a Lab. I’ve tried to incorporate that into my own life. When I go to parties now, the first thing I do is sniff the host’s butt, and then I’ll just start chasing the guests.
Sullivan: This is your second book about your relationship with dogs. Do you get flooded all the time with dog-related questions from readers and people you know, the way doctors have people asking for medical advice at backyard barbecues? I confess that when it comes to dog stuff, I often ask myself, WWJD: What Would Julie Do? Any particularly interesting requests or questions that you’ve gotten?
Klam: I get loads of questions—mostly about training issues, and I do try to remind people that I have the worst dogs on the planet. I’ve gotten many heartbreaking questions, too, about the timing in ending a dog’s life. It’s a terrible place many pet owners have to go to, and in those cases, I just say you do the best you can and it’s okay.
Sullivan: Earlier this year, there was a big kerfuffle in the news about allowing dogs to sleep in bed with you--a study found that it could lead you to get the plague, among other things. I do it anyway. WWJD?
Klam: The real secret of why I became an author is that I get to occasionally travel to places alone and sleep by myself in a bed. It’s remarkable. There’s no hair or sticks or ticks. If I eat in the bed, I don’t have to share. The floor is dry because no one has decided that morning is too long to wait to go out. . . .What was the question?
Sullivan: In the book, you talk a bit about using Twitter to get the word out about dogs in need. How has online social networking helped change the landscape of rescue work?
Klam: Oh, it’s HUGE! I compared it to the Twilight Bark in 101 Dalmations. I am constantly hearing about dogs in danger all across the country, and I can post about them and have a very caring national audience respond. A woman posted on my Facebook page that her parents had found an abandoned Boston terrier in Texas and no rescues had room for it. Someone else on the page worked with rescue in Texas and was able to help her (in the end, her parents kept the dog . . .which is the best thing ever).
(Photo of Julie Klam © Sarah Shatz)