When we got to the Book Loft in Columbus after driving much of the day from Buffalo, there was already a surprisingly large crowd waiting for us, thanks mostly to the blog, Barbara Kurtz, the Book Loft and Facebook. We only scheduled the event a week ago, and I never expected so many people. Lots of them had already read "Rose In A Storm" and some lovely thoughts about it, and some challenging ones.
I loved everything about the visit to Columbus – the store, the people, the question, the discussions about writing, life and animals. The Midwest is a special place, and I think not enough is said for the openness, friendliness and groundedness of many of the people I meet there. They are different. We continued the very great conversation I've been having all over the country about so many things, the novel being one of them.
One disturbing incident, and I want to be open about it.
Izzy is the most even-tempered dog I know, but like other border collies, he gets uneasy when kids come after him. One young girl was running at him for a good while , yelling and running and sometimes lunging towards him, and another, a loving and older adolescent , accidentally stepped on his foot and was unknowingly twisting it, and he reacted, something between a snarl and a border collie nip, something I've only seen him do once before, shortly after he came off of the farm he was on. He didn't bite or snap, and it bothered me more than either of the kids.
As is well known, I put down a border collie, Orson, after he bit three people. Izzy is nothing like Orson, and didn't come close to biting anybody, but it was disturbing to me, something I wanted to take seriously. And I was shocked and puzzled. Izzy has been to scores of readings and talks and never had an incident with anybody of any age, not to mention his hospice work, where he has been loving and gentle with many critically ill people under often volatile conditions.
Traveling with a border collie is never simple and the reading and talk was intense, the people very close to both of us. There were a lot of people and not much room. Izzy is a wonderful creature, and much loved. People want to touch him. Yet Izzy is a dog, an animal, and I wanted to take the incident seriously. Any dog is capable of reacting aggessively under the right circumstances. And nobody ever thinks their dog will harm anybody. It was so unlike him, and it made me wonder if I should continue to take Izzy around on the rest of the book tour.
Then I got to see what had happened. When we got out to the door, I saw that there was blood on his leg and on the ground – a lot of it. The pad on the back of his right leg near the dew claw was opened, and hanging down. It was extraordinarily tender to the touch. I suspect it happened in the parking lot of the Buffalo motel when I was throwing the ball for him and he ran into some shrubs where, later saw, there was broken glass and metal. Examining him, I found there was also blood on the back of his other leg, near the claws. I don't really know how this happened, but it did explain why he reacted that way when he was stepped on.
Despite that, it's my responsibility to make sure that noone gets hurt, and that he doesn't either. Part of the challenge of a dog on the book tour. So we treated the injuries. And I've decided to bring him to the other stops in Ohio and Kentucky and explain to people to be easy with him – he is usually mobbed – and let him decide how much contact he wants. If I see kids there, I will warn them and their parents to stay back and give him some space. People often think they are approaching dogs affectionately by getting in their faces and moving quickly towards them.
With border collies, that often triggers a response – a herding response and they control sheep by nipping. I understand it now, which is a relief, but still want to be cautious. Still, it's my responsibility. And you can't blame people or kids for loving dogs. It's natural. This momentarily distracted me, but it didn't detract from a great trip to Columbus or a wonderful talk, and memorable questions and conversations at a great book store. Book tours are never dull and always challenging and as always, I just wanted to share the story with people who understand all of the implications of it. The challenge of having dogs are so many issues of ethics, compassion, empathy and responsibility. On a book tour, they come clearly into relief. Book tours are tough, and having a dog makes them tougher.
But it's part of the story we all share, and I don't want to run from it. However much we love them, dogs are animals and sometimes we forget it and they remind us of it.
Izzy – bandages and all – and I will be at Books & Co. Monday night in Dayton, Ohio, 7 p.m.