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“Sometimes love really is a bitch”

“My Dog Tulip” — J.R. Ackerley’s classic account of how a dog entered his life, stimulated his curiosity, broadened his horizons, and brightened his otherwise cranky golden years — is now out as an animated movie, and the book has been reissued in paperback.

“Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs,” the British writer wrote in what’s perhaps the most famous line of the 1956 book about the bond between dog and man.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch,” reads the tagline, updated for the times, of the new movie.

The movie came out late last summer, directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who are also responsible for the hand-drawn animations that, on screen, are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley, and also features the voice of Lynn Redgrave, who died in May and to whom the movie is dedicated. One review called it “the most sophisticated dog movie ever made.”

It tells the story of a lonely gay man who has all but given up on finding a longtime companion and “ideal friend” in the human world.

Enter Tulip, or, as was her name in real life, Queenie, a German shepherd Ackerley acquired from his neighbors when he was “quite over 50,” and with whom he would spend the next 15 years.

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.”

Ackerley died in 1967, and though the book is now 55 years old, it retains a sense of freshness attributable to the fact that Queenie was his first dog. His keen observation of inter-species interaction is that of someone who just landed on the planet, as opposed to being an old hand with dogs.

“It seemed to me both touching and strange,” he says at one point, “that she should find the world so wonderful.”

We long-time dog lovers know exactly what he means. It’s what makes dogs so lovable — they see the world as wonderful, and, no matter how curmudgeonly we may be, they help us see it that way too.

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