If the Yankees had read this agreeably written story collection, we might be watching them, instead of Detroit, in the World Series.
Among the stories in Jon Katz’s well-written, appealing collection about people and pets is “Yankee Dog,” in which Lisabeth, an assistant manager at a Dunkin Donuts, has just lost a dog to cancer and wants to get another. Her husband, Frank, who is glued to the TV during baseball season, is a Yankees fan who does not want the work and expense of another dog.
Lisabeth discovers a beagle that needs to be rescued. She accepts the dog and brings it home. On the way, she realizes that another dog will cause a marital rift. Then, in the garage, she spots some memorabilia from a baseball game that she and Frank attended. She dresses the beagle up in a Yankees scarf, the dog goes into the living room and jumps up on the couch with Frank.
‘Dancing Dogs: Stories’
Author: Jon Katz
Published by: Ballantine Books, 256 pages
How much: $24
All of this could go wrong, with Frank demanding that the dog go back. But as the beagle jumps up on the couch, the Yankees win a close game, with two strikeouts by Mariano Rivera and a late-inning home run by Derek Jeter.
Frank sees the beagle as a good luck omen for the team. He asks Lisabeth the dog’s name and she says “Jeter.” To Jeter, Frank says at story’s end, “I’ll get you some biscuits every time we hit a home run or win.”
The themes and situations in “Yankee Dogs” recur throughout the other 15 stories in the book. Many of the characters work jobs requiring long hours and relatively low pay. Several work more than one job to make ends meet. But however financially stressed they are, they are willing to spend money to care for their dogs.
Katz also writes about how the recession has forced many people to abandon their dogs or leave them at shelters because they can no longer afford to care for and feed them.
Related to this theme is the idea of dogs transforming their human companions. Katz believes in the magic of dogs. They help humans make friends and money, overcome the sadness of family loss, take a break from illness, and meet new boyfriends or girlfriends.
The stories share the latest science on how animals think. Katz explains how dogs are trained and how training and work make them fit into a family better. One story tells what a dog does all day while his human family is away, explaining what dogs hear and sense.
A cute-ish story about dogs in heaven explains what they like to do instinctively, compared to the behavior that humans require of them.
Sometimes the way dogs save people in these stories is a bit far-fetched. But that’s a small quibble or, since this story is about dogs, should I say kibble?
Generally, Katz describes animal and human emotions equally well. Often the stories reflect life’s complexities. In “Laura Passerby,” Laura Jamieson rescues an apparently abused German shepherd from a farm near Atlanta. It first seems like a simple case of bad owner, good animal rescue group. Yet in a surprise ending, Katz reminds readers that animal neglect is not always a cut-and-dried morality tale.
He lives in nearby Washington County. Perhaps for this reason, nearly all the stories are set in upstate New York and nearly all of them feel just like what we Capital Region residents experience when we walk out the front door.