For the twelfth and final book in the Heartwarming Animal Stories 2012 Reading Challenge, I chose Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family by Glenn Plaskin.
The author shares his story about how he discovered the true meaning of family after adopting a cocker spaniel puppy. Through the engaging personality of his dog, Glenn makes powerful connections with neighbors in a high-rise in Lower Manhattan.
Katie, the dog, led a comfortable (and spoiled) life and positively impacted many people. She was unlike many dogs who lived in the city, according to the author. Glenn said, "Unlike most high-rise city dogs, who do, by necessity, spend long periods of time alone - napping, bored and lonely, or being taken out for fifteen-minute walks by dog walkers and then promptly returned to their solitude - Katie was virtually never alone thanks to Pearl and Arthur."
Pearl and Arthur were an older couple living a few doors down from Glenn, and were essentially Katie's caretakers during the day. Glenn said, "We seemed to fulfill within one another a deep need for connection."
After losing his job and suffering from a debilitating back injury, Glenn begins going to a community center for support. He met a friend and his son who were looking for another place to live. As serendipity would have it, they ended up moving in only a few doors down from Glenn, Katie, Pearl, and Arthur.
One of the first things John did upon moving in was having his home blessed. I remember when my family moved into our new home in 1974. My parents had the home blessed as well. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I do remember thinking it was a nice thing to do.
In the book Katie Up and Down the Hall, the home blessing that was said was:
Graciously receive our thanks for this place...and put far from those who dwell here every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children and enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another."
And, in essence, that is exactly what happened with this group of five people and Katie.
About mid-way into the book, there are inevitable challenges that faced this group of individuals: Arthur passes away; John and Ryan move to Paris due to a job opportunity; September 11th; Katie died; and Pearl died.
Some of the parts of the latter section of the book hit a bit too close to home - such as having to make the decision to euthanize a pet and the accompanying feelings of loss and grief; and experiencing the death of someone close to you.
Despite the sadness of reading through these experiences in Katie Up and Down the Hall which conjured up some difficult memories, there were some ideas that I found interesting and/or meaningful include:
=> "Home is not a place; it's the people placed in your heart."
=> A day before Katie died, one of Glenn's friends, who worked at a nursing home, said, "Katie's demeanor reminds me of some very elderly people I knew. As people get near the end, there's a kind of gauzy veil that comes down between them and everyday reality. Their reactions are slow and not quite appropriate - almost as if they already have one foot on the other side."
=> "As painful as it is to lose...any dog, I always remind myself that our dogs want us to be happy. They live for it. Knowing this, more than anything, I think, is the secret to accepting the loss."
=> "Dogs who are devoted to their owners have been known to go to heroic lengths to hide their own pain and to protect [their owners] from distress."
=> "The sadness we feel [after the death of a dog] is a price worth paying for the joy that our dogs give us while they're living."
There were two passages that were quoted from the book The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog. The book is written in the voice of a departed dog who offers his grief-stricken owner words of comfort.
=> "I ask my Master and Mistress to remember me always, but not to grieve for me too long. In my life I have tried to be a comfort to them in time of sorrow, and a reason for added joy in their happiness. It is painful for me to think that even in death I should cause them pain."
=> "No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail."
There's a short video with photographs of Katie, Glenn, Pearl, Arthur, John, and Ryan on YouTube that is worth watching. It closes, as it does in the book, with the thought that "...maybe, right at this moment, there's somebody down [your] hallway or across the street just waiting to open their door to you."
Katie Up and Down the Hall is a book worth reading, especially if you enjoy dogs and if you are interested in seeing how animals can bring people together who normally would not have connected otherwise. It is inspiring to think that a dog forever and positively changed these five people's lives in ways they could never have imagined.