Letters of Note: Dogs by Shaun Usher

This is my third book from Shaun Usher’s Letter of Note series, and they are quick reads you can devour in a single sitting. I’m admittedly a cat person who, at the best of times, can barely tolerate dogs! But my husband has been campaigning for us to get a dog once we settle down for the longest time now, so I’m trying to warm up to the idea. After reading this, I must say I’m still not a fan and very much on the fence about potential dog ownership! But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few letters in this collection that gave me a chuckle or made my heart warm.

My favorite out of the bunch is a letter George H.W. Bush sent out to the White House staff while he was in office. I have heard Bush Sr was an inveterate letter writer and have read the graceful letter he left for Clinton. And this tongue-in-cheek letter made me realize perhaps I should get my hands on the compilation of his writings! This particular letter, written in 1992, is regarding Bush Sr’s favorite pet puppy, Ranger, who was born not long after they moved into the White House. “Recently Ranger was put on a weight-reduction program. Either that program succeeds or we enter Ranger in the Houston Fat Stock Show as Prime Hereford,” writes Bush Sr, before calling all hands on deck to help “Ranger’s fight against obesity.” He requests that all staff take a formal “pledge” not to feed Ranger, and actively encourages everyone to “rat on anyone seen feeding Ranger,” whom he says “looks like a blimp, a nice friendly appealing blimp, but a blimp.” A bit of digging on the internet upon reading this hilarious letter revealed that Ranger was euthanized in 1993 after a bout of cancer – apparently his obesity continued to contribute to his overall poor health. Poor thing! 

My second favorite is Sue Perkins‘ letter to her Beagle, Pickles, who also died of cancer. It is sort of an eulogy for Pickles who was with Sue for 11 years, “walking alongside [her] during the hardest, weirdest, most extreme times of [her] life, and never loving [her] less for the poor choices [she] made and the ridiculous paths [she] took [them] down.” Sue’s memories of all the naughty things Pickles had done made me laugh!

“You crunched every CD cover in the house for fun. You chewed through electrical cable and telephone wires. As an adult you graduated to raiding fridges and picnics, you stole ice cream from the mouths of infants, you jumped onto Christmas tables laden with pudding and cake and blithely walked through them all, inhaling everything in your wake. You puked on everything decent I ever owned.”

It was bittersweet. 

Another memorable letter in the collection is one Uncle Lynn, whom Chuck Jones (the creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner) revered as an “ideal uncle,” wrote to them after the death of their pet dog, Teddy when they were young. In his letter, Uncle Lynn writes that Teddy called him to say that he thinks the kids are having a hard time because they think their pet is dead. Teddy had wanted Uncle Lynn to assure the kids he’ll “always be around keeping an eye, an ear, and a nose on them,” and tell them “just because they can’t see [him] doesn’t mean [he’s] not there.” According to Chuck Reducks, Chuck’s semi-autobiography, he “worshiped” Uncle Lynn, who was one of his biggest influences. It is easy to see why.

As with most volumes like these, the quality/ effect of letters vary, and there was one letter particularly cringe-worthy to me. This letter was written by Charlotte Brontë‘s father, Patrick Brontë when he heard his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, had proposed to Charlotte. Patrick didn’t think much of Nicholls’s prospects and objected to the match, so he penned the letter included in the volume, taking the voice of Flossy, the Spaniel Charlotte’s sister, late Anne Brontë had owned, who Charlotte had taken care of after Anne’s death. To me, it was such a despicable form of emotional manipulation to put words into an innocent pet’s mouth, who would have had no opinion on the matter! It left a bad aftertaste! 

3 stars.  

Note: Many thanks to Penguin Books for sending me a review copy of Letters of Note: Dogs.

One comment

  1. Getting a dog is a big commitment, Nirmala. Maybe you could dog-sit for someone, or find other ways to spend with dogs, so you can get to know (and hopefully like) a few. 🐶


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