Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks, with Aretha Bright reviewing new titles.
Today's post is a cross-post of Aretha's review of The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals by Lauren Slater, which was simultaneously released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook last week.
Don’t be fooled by the adorable puppy cover—author Slater does indeed love animals, but her memoir is anything but soft and fuzzy.
Her memoir is the story of a bleak childhood, dominated first by her mother’s mental illness and then by a foster family that gave her a house, "but not a home." Her love for animals starts here, where she finds refuge in the countryside and observing the lives of deer, foxes, and insects.
The $60,000 dog of the title is Lila, the family pet, who came down with an extremely painful case of glaucoma. The dilemma that Slater faced is one that will resonate with every person who has ever valued an animal as more than just a pet.
As Lila’s medical bills mounted, Slater was faced with choosing between sending her daughter to summer camp or buying the medicines that would ease Lila’s pain. The happiness of her daughter stacked up against the happiness of her pet.
Slater first wrote of this situation in O Magazine, where it was a huge hit and inspired the rest of the book. Animal lovers will certainly relate to the “do anything it takes” approach to save their fuzzy family members.
Slater is great at building tension and intrigue. Her memories of animals that affected her life are beautiful. Be prepared to cry during the scenes at the vet hospital! Especially for the baby swan whose beak was broken off.
This book will touch every person who has ever thought of animals as their dearest companions.
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.
Praise for The $60,000 Dog
“Assumption-busting, gut–wrenching, life-affirming essays about the borderlands where humans and animals intersect.” — More Magazine
“A revealing, often surprising memoir . . . Slater continually surprises with connections she makes. Beautifully written, and not just for animal lovers.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Because Slater is willing to take the personal essay to unsettling places and because she is a writer of uncommon, bracing eloquence, the beauty of her work can sometimes blindside her reader. But it’s precisely this wallop that makes her perpetually worth reading.” — Laura Miller, Salon.com
“A thoughtful examination of a sometimes difficult life, ameliorated and often alleviated by connections with nature and animals. . . .Dogs, wasps, and bats also figure in a poetic narrative that gives the reader a melodic look into a deeply considered life.”—Booklist
Lauren Slater is the author of seven 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.