- Hardcover: 398 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.; 1st edition (July 2, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151012709
- ISBN-13: 978-0151012701
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,453 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog Hardcover – July 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Humorous, jubilant and touching by turns, this story of the relationship between man and dog is informed by the author's grasp of animal research and his attachment to Merle, a stray dog he adopted. A Labrador mix, Merle first appeared while the author was on a camping trip. Kerasote (Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age), an award-winning nature writer, decided to take his canine friend home to rural Wyoming. This chronicle of their 13 years together is interspersed with studies by animal behaviorists that strengthened Kerasote's desire to see Merle as a responsible individual rather than a submissive pet. Merle set his own eating schedule (though not without early mishap), refused to hunt birds (although not elks) and, according to the author, possessed a range of emotions and sentiments similar to those of humans. Kerasote tends to anthropomorphize Merle's every look and movement, but this narrative is entertaining and Kerasote's strong love for Merle and enthusiasm for life in the wild will win over many readers. Kerasote's joyous relationship with Merle is balanced by a bittersweet account of a close relationship the author had with Alison, a neighbor and fellow dog owner. Kerasote's last weeks with the dying Merle are beautifully rendered. (July)
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*Starred Review* Merle showed up at the San Juan River at the same time Kerasote and his river-rafting friends arrived. Merle looked at Kerasote as if to say, "You need a dog, and I'm it." He accompanied the group down the river and then went home to Wyoming with Kerasote. A dog who was eager to please and almost trained himself, Merle learned the ways of bison, ground squirrels, and coyotes. Merle then taught Kerasote the fullness of the hunt, leading Kerasote to his favorite prey. But, after Kerasote installed a dog door, the main thing Merle taught him is that a dog develops to his full potential, becoming the dog he was meant to be, when allowed to make his own decisions. Merle developed a life of his own, patrolling the small settlement where they lived with his dog companions, and yet was always very aware of Kerasote and his schedule. In telling Merle's story, Kerasote also explores the science behind canine behavior and evolution, weaving in research on the human-canine bond and musing on the way dogs see the world. Merle is a true character, yet Merle is also Everydog. An absolute treasure of a book. Bent, Nancy
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Ted Kerasote is an excellent writer. He's also a wonderful story teller (which is a different and higher talent) with a novelist's crafty way of drawing the reader compulsively on to the next page, the next incident. But he also has a fine sense of insight and a wonderful loving way of describing Merle, his friend and companion for almost twelve years.
"Merle's Door" is one of the best tales I've read of the very deep bond which is possible between a human and another animal. Not everyone is lucky enough to experience this bond, even during a long lifetime. In fact I believe that few of us are fortunately enough to experience the depth of it - and as a person who has helped to train others to train their own dogs, I think that most people don't even have an understanding of how deep and how rewarding that bond can be. Maybe one has to experience it first hand to truly understand it. Kerasote's book comes as close as any book I've read, to showing us how wonderful and rewarding that interspecies bond be. It also hints at how devastating is the loss when that bond is broken by the dog's (or other animal's) inevitable passing.
Kerasote, an outdoor adventurer and writer, and Merle, a lost and semi-wild two year old labrador mix, found each other on one of Ted's rafting trips. The book tells of Ted's evolving knowledge and understanding of Merle, and of their deepening friendship and mutual love for each other. This story is told in such an endearing and evocative way that even if the reader doesn't agree with everything Kerasote believes, reading the book is a very moving experience, even an ennobling one.
As I read, I realized that I loved Merle's story - but I could not categorize the book. Was it simply a history? An instructional book? No, it was neither of those. It's a tribute to Merle, a memorial of the relationship Merle and Ted shared, but it's more than either of those. I finally decided that if it can be categorized at all, it is a love story. Ted's descriptions of Merle himself, of Merle's activities, and of the tender moments between Merle and Ted are set forth with such love that I doubt they could have been written without the author's feeling of love and loss as he wrote.
Kerasote's "discovery" with Merle was, he believes, that dogs must be allowed to live independently if they're to reach their maximum ability to learn. He believes that almost all of us infantilize our dogs by keeping them on leash, in fenced enclosures or similar limiting places, and by feeling that we have to control their every activity - by being "the Alpha" (controlling) animal and the sole source of good things in our dogs' lives.
While Kerasote's ideas have appeal, my own belief is that very few of us, either humans or dogs, could approximate Merle's and Ted's life situations. The two of them were uniquely lucky in several respects. They lived in a tiny rural town in the heart of the Teton-Jackson wilderness where off-leash dogs were not only tolerated, but expected. Merle was an unusually clever dog, a quick learner with excellent survival instincts. In human terms, Merle would probably have had an IQ of somewhere north of 130, very far above average. But Merle had another, almost contradictory, trait; he was very fond of all humans (Ted in particular)and tolerant of almost all other dogs. He had a great ability to feel and express affection for Ted, while at the same time he grew into a natural "Alpha dog" in his community, one of those almost rare beings who are automatically recognized as the Alpha by others, without the need of any expression of aggression or dominance on his part. Dogs who combine all those traits are truly rare - as rare as humans who combine them.
Kerasote has studied books on animal behavior and on dogs in particular. He interpolates interesting bits of research he's read, into Merle's story. But a disclaimer is in order: despite what some others have written, this should not be misunderstood as an instructional book. It should also not be thought of as a template on how we, the general public, should raise and treat our own dogs. Most of us live not in rural Wyoming, but in crowded suburbs and in cities where there is no safe place for a dog to roam without human companionship, where unleashed dogs are misunderstood and are not tolerated, where the great majority of dog owners do not socialize their dogs properly (or at all!) and do not know how to deal with most aspects of dog behavior.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't have dogs in our lives, or that our dogs can't have fully rewarding and enjoyable lives, mentally stimulating and fully physically active. But it does mean that we need to treat our dogs differently than Kerasote treated Merle. We don't have to be "the alpha" in the sense of one popular TV dog-show entertainer (who shall be nameless for now) but we do have to keep our dogs safe, to make sure they are properly socialized, to make sure they are trained enough to exist safely and amicably in a crowded society where very few people are comfortable with dogs running free.
Ted Kerasote was incredibly lucky with Merle, and I think he knows it. Merle was incredbly lucky to find Ted. The story of their relationship, as told by Ted, is nothing short of inspiring. If you have any interest in dogs at all, please read this book. If you have little interest in dogs, or even no interest - read it anyway. You'll be very glad you did.