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The $60,000 Dog

Cover of The $60,000 Dog

The $60,000 Dog

My Life With Animals
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A stunning new book about the role of animals in our lives, by a popular and acclaimed writer
From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a "Private Way" full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild?spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes?Lauren Slater finds in animals a refuge from her troubled life. As she matures, her attraction to animals strengthens and grows more complex and compelling even as her family is falling to pieces around her. Slater spends a summer at horse camp, where she witnesses the alternating horrific and loving behavior of her instructor toward the animals in her charge and comes to question the bond that so often develops between females and their equines. Slater's questions follow her to a foster family, her own parents no longer able to care for her. A pet raccoon, rescued from a hole in the wall, teaches her how to feel at home away from home. The two Shiba Inu puppies Slater adopts years later, against her husband's will, grow increasingly important to her as she ages and her family begins to grow.
Slater's husband is a born skeptic and possesses a sternly scientific view of animals as unconscious, primitive creatures, one who insists "that an animal's worth is roughly equivalent to its edibility." As one of her dogs, Lila, goes blind and the medical bills and monthly expenses begin to pour in, he calculates the financial burden of their canine family member and finds that Lila has cost them about $60,000, not to mention the approximately 400 pounds of feces she has deposited in their yard. But when Benjamin begins to suffer from chronic pain, Lauren is convinced it is Lila's resilience and the dog's quick adaptation to her blindness that draws her husband out of his own misery and motivates him to try to adjust to his situation. Ben never becomes a true believer or a die-hard animal lover, but his story and the stories Lauren tells of her own bond with animals convince her that our connections with the furry, the four-legged, the exoskeleton-ed, or the winged may be just as priceless as our human relationships.
The $60,000 Dog is Lauren Slater's intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives. As a psychologist, a reporter, an amateur naturalist, and above all an enormously gifted writer, she draws us into the stories of her passion for animals that are so much more than pets. She describes her intense love for the animals in her life without apology and argues, finally, that the works of Darwin and other evolutionary biologists prove that, when it comes to worth, animals are equal, and in some senses even superior, to human beings.
From the Hardcover edition.

A stunning new book about the role of animals in our lives, by a popular and acclaimed writer
From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a "Private Way" full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild?spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes?Lauren Slater finds in animals a refuge from her troubled life. As she matures, her attraction to animals strengthens and grows more complex and compelling even as her family is falling to pieces around her. Slater spends a summer at horse camp, where she witnesses the alternating horrific and loving behavior of her instructor toward the animals in her charge and comes to question the bond that so often develops between females and their equines. Slater's questions follow her to a foster family, her own parents no longer able to care for her. A pet raccoon, rescued from a hole in the wall, teaches her how to feel at home away from home. The two Shiba Inu puppies Slater adopts years later, against her husband's will, grow increasingly important to her as she ages and her family begins to grow.
Slater's husband is a born skeptic and possesses a sternly scientific view of animals as unconscious, primitive creatures, one who insists "that an animal's worth is roughly equivalent to its edibility." As one of her dogs, Lila, goes blind and the medical bills and monthly expenses begin to pour in, he calculates the financial burden of their canine family member and finds that Lila has cost them about $60,000, not to mention the approximately 400 pounds of feces she has deposited in their yard. But when Benjamin begins to suffer from chronic pain, Lauren is convinced it is Lila's resilience and the dog's quick adaptation to her blindness that draws her husband out of his own misery and motivates him to try to adjust to his situation. Ben never becomes a true believer or a die-hard animal lover, but his story and the stories Lauren tells of her own bond with animals convince her that our connections with the furry, the four-legged, the exoskeleton-ed, or the winged may be just as priceless as our human relationships.
The $60,000 Dog is Lauren Slater's intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives. As a psychologist, a reporter, an amateur naturalist, and above all an enormously gifted writer, she draws us into the stories of her passion for animals that are so much more than pets. She describes her intense love for the animals in her life without apology and argues, finally, that the works of Darwin and other evolutionary biologists prove that, when it comes to worth, animals are equal, and in some senses even superior, to human beings.
From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • From Chapter 5

    Pressure
    My dog, Lila, is forty pounds packed with muscle and grit. Her hide is as rough as the rind of a cantaloupe, covered with course hair that is nevertheless somehow soft to the touch. She is a dumb dog in the sense that all dogs are dumb, driven by genes and status, she will willingly fight any mammal that threatens her alpha position, and she delights in bones, big greasy bones she can crunch in her curved canines, and then swallow, splinters and all.
    My husband disparages Lila, and, to his credit, there is much there to disparage. She lacks the capacity for critical thought. She has deposited in our yard an estimated four hundred pounds of feces during her ten-year tenure with us. Her urine has bleached our green grass so the lawn is now a bright yellow-lime, the same shade as the world seen through a pair of poorly tinted sunglasses, at once glaring and false. Lila farts and howls. Lila sheds and drools. Lila costs us more per year to maintain than does the oil to heat our home. There is her food; her vaccinations; her grooming; the four times yearly palpating of her anal glands; her heartworm medications; her chew toys; her city leash; her second, country retractable leash; her dog bed; the emergency veterinary visits when she gets ill; the sheer time it takes to walk her (my husband estimates my rate at fifty dollars per hour). Picture him, my husband, at night, the children tucked in bed, punching the keys on his calculator. Picture Lila, unsuspecting (and this is why she charms us, is it not?), draped across his feet, dreaming of deer and rivers as he figures the cost of her existence meshed with ours. It is cold outside. The air cracks like a pane of glass and sends its shards straight up our noses. He presses = and announces the price he claims is right. Sixty thousand. The cost of Lila's life. I look out the window. The lawn she's bleached is covered with a fine film of snow and the sky above is as dark as a blackboard, scrawled with stars and beyond them?what? Six trillion suns. Ancient radiation that still sizzles in our air. Scientists now claim there is more than one universe, but precisely how many more? No one knows. Some things cannot be calculated. I won't tell my husband this. I love my husband. I love Lila too.

    Why I
    love Lila is not clear. The facts, after all, are the facts. There are, by some estimates, 2 million tons of dog feces deposited annually on American sidewalks and in American parks and lawns. The volume of the collective canine liquid output in this country has been estimated at 4 billion gallons. Dogs are the carriers of more than sixty-five diseases they can pass to their human counterparts. Some of the more well-known ones are rabies, tuberculosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Six hundred and fifty four people died last year in the United States from dog bites, and over thirty thousand were injured enough to require a visit to the emergency room. Seems a no brainer, right? Knowing these facts, you would have to be as dumb as a dog to have a dog in your home.
    Now, another small fact. I don't have one dog. I have two. And if I had a bigger home, I would have three. Maybe even four. Or more. My idea of heaven on earth is to have as many dogs as I do socks, or spoons. All the facts in the world cannot change the final fact in this matter, which is that dogs and I?we get along.
    I don't know why this is. Nor do I know why I so adore dogs while my husband fairly despises them. I have a hunch, though not up to investigation. Still, here it is. Dogs evolved from wolves. The modern-day human evolved from the Cro-Magnon man. A long time ago, so long that even all the dog scat stretched...

About the Author-
  • Lauren Slater is the author of six books, including Welcome to My Country, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Opening Skinner's Box, the short-story collection Blue Beyond Blue, and Love Works Like This, which chronicled the agonizing decisions she made relating to her psychiatric illness and her pregnancy. Slater has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2004 National Endowments for the Arts Award, multiple inclusions in Best American volumes, and a Knight Science Journalism fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Slater was a practicing psychologist for eleven years before embarking on a full-time writing career. She served as the clinical and later executive director of AfterCare Services. Slater lives and writes in Harvard, Massachusetts.

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My Life With Animals
Lauren Slater
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