Caroline Knapp's "Pack of Two," subtitled "The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs," details the stabilizing of an unsettling life after the author launched her recovery from alcoholism and published a successful book about her experience called "Drinking: a Love Story." She found herself alone in a newly purchased little Victorian house, wondering how to replace both the loss of her parents and the drinking that had dominated her life for 20 years.
The answer came unexpectedly — she adopted a dog. And an adorable dog, a pretty little shepherd mix that she named Lucille. Knapp’s quote on adopting: “Before you get a dog you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward you can’t imagine living any other way …"
She adopted Lucille at the time that dogs were becoming not just pets but part of the family. A 91-year-old friend of mine, Betty, remembers that while raising her family of three boys in Colorado she would just let the dog out in the morning and he was on his own in the semi-rural area until the boys returned from school. Not all dogs had such a wide space to roam, but most made do with being let out into a yard a few times a day.
With the 1990s and more urban dog owners, dogs assumed more the role of children. Then came the advent of play dates with other dogs, fancy hotels offering luxury treatment such as bone-shaped beds, massages, fancy baths and grooming, playing to the high number of dog-owning households in the U.S.
Gail Caldwell's "Let’s Take the Long Way Home" (reviewed by Senior Correspondent here) detailed the extraordinary friendship between Knapp and Caldwell, a friendship that ended with Knapp’s death from lung cancer at age 42.
In "Pack of Two," Knapp obviously considered her relationship with Lucille a perfect bond, one that had eluded her with her family of origin and subsequent male relationships. She was sure that Lucille sensed her moods, often looked at her with understanding, and shared end-of-day moments sitting on the front steps with Caroline’s arm around Lucille and the dog’s paw linked over her arm. This concept of dog as soulmate is a little hard for me to grasp even as a dog lover all my life. I feel a wonderful bond with my present doggie companion, but several human ties I consider much closer.
Nonetheless, I have terrific admiration for Knapp’s thorough analysis and discussion of the relationship between (mostly) women and their dogs. She interviewed scores of “packs of two” and provides a perfect picture of the relationships between dogs and their owners at the turn of the 21st century.