By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Do dogs have souls? Can they embody the divine?
A dog named Bunker kinda makes you wonder. Julie Barton calls Bunker her soulmate. They were as emotionally close as a dog and a person can be. But, to hear Barton tell it, there was more than just friendship going on here between dog and human. There was healing.
In her fine memoir, “Dog Medicine,” Barton describes her sudden descent into severe depression and the golden retriever, Bunker, whose devotion became her salvation. That’s the way Barton tells the story: I’d add that Barton’s devotion to Bunker played no small part in her return to health and life.
Barton begins her book with “I hope you’ll see yourself in this book.” I don’t see myself in this book. I don’t have depression, not the major type anyway. My brothers didn’t beat me up as a kid. And, having been attacked twice by huge neighborhood dogs, I’m not crazy about dogs. But I am crazy about this book.
“Dog Medicine” begins with Barton’s mental breakdown as a young woman just getting started in the New York publishing industry. A desperate phone call brings her mother to the rescue.
A ride back home to Ohio ensues. And soon Bunker, a golden retriever puppy, arrives on the scene. With that, the story of how a beloved pet helped restore this not-so-fragile-after-all young woman to health gets under way.
Barton is a brave woman. She’s written a story that’s ostensibly about a deep friendship with a dog. In fact, it’s the story of mental illness and childhood sibling abuse told from the inside out.
Julie is brave. Even braver is her brother, who apparently abused her regularly, physically and verbally, when they were children. That he has given his consent for their story to be told is a remarkable act
of generosity – to his writer sister, but also to other victims and perpetrators of past sibling abuse, many of whom no doubt suffer in isolation.
Dog lovers will enjoy this book hugely; I was fascinated by its insights into dog psychology and training. Lovers of memoir will appreciate Julie’s skillful retelling of a poignant story. And those who suspect that their pets are expressions of the divine will want to meet Bunker.
“Dog Medicine,” by Julie Barton, Think Piece Publishing, 2015.
If you enjoyed this post you might like “At Point Reyes — Animals Wild and Tame.” Also, “I Can’t Believe I Got in the Water With That 1400-Pound Whale.”