Arts and Entertainment

For pet lovers, “Dogged Pursuit” is the pick of the litter

The Bookworm

“Dogged Pursuit” by Robert Rodi, c. 2009, Hudson Street Press, $24.95, 274 pages.

Dog lovers are a contradictory bunch.

We bring home an adorable little bundle of fur called a puppy, aiming to make him a shining example of good citizenship. The applause will be deafening! Other dog owners will be envious! Little Pupsie will to learn not to jump on people, not to burrow beneath anything embarrassing and to never, ever climb on furniture.

And then he’s taught to jump, burrow and climb on furniture. It’s called “agility” and in the new book “Dogged Pursuit” by Robert Rodi, you’ll read about one man’s leap into a growing sport and what it taught him about himself and his dog.

During a dinner party some years ago, Rodi was telling fellow diners woeful tales of “raising a fiendishly intelligent, demonically driven Shetland sheepdog.” That was when Rodi learned about agility, a dog-and-human competition consisting of hurdles, tunnels, weaving poles, teeter-totters and platforms. Rodi started working with his dog Carmen and she was quite good at it. Unfortunately, she suffered a career-killing injury and had to be retired.

But agility was in Rodi’s blood.

He needed a new dog.

After applying online for other dogs in his Chicago area, Rodi found Dusty, a scruffy, funny-looking “cryptic blue” Sheltie available from a nearby rescue group. Although Dusty seemed to be almost indifferent to agility training, Rodi set out to make the pooch a pro.

Following agility classes, Rodi entered Dusty into competitions around Chicago, joining the All Fours agility group. The group was friendly enough, but Rodi felt uncomfortable, out of place, like he didn’t belong. And although Dusty had won a few ribbons early on, he started acting as if he didn’t know what he was doing anymore and his scores were embarrassing to Rodi.

Agility was turning out to be more irritation than enjoyment.

Willing to try anything for the elusive alphabet soup that follows a champion’s name, Rodi consulted his teammates. He hired a “dog whisperer” and tried aromatherapy for both of them. He tried to keep positive and focused for Dusty’s sake.

But anyone who’s ever loved a dog knows that you can’t teach a dog something the dog doesn’t want to learn. When Rodi took a break – literally – everything leaped into place.

“Dogged Pursuit” is funny and sweet, a true dog-lover’s tale with one near-caveat: while it initially appears that Rodi sees Dusty as a means to an end, it quickly becomes obvious that he adores the pup. But while his readers are learning that, Rodi tells a story every dog owner has lived – that of trying to make a dog do something he won’t do for you, but is perfectly willing to do for someone else.

As the human Mama to a long line of like-minded canine couch potatoes, I looked very forward to reading this book and I’m happy to say it’s a tail-wagger.

If you’ve been jumping from book to book, in search of something good to read, get this one. “Dogged Pursuit” is the pick of the litter.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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