"The Dogs Who Came to Stay," by George Pitcher. New York: Dutton Press. 163 pages. $18.95
Published as a memoir, "The Dogs Who Came To Stay" is an oddly fascinating relic of old-fashioned "bachelor" couplehood, and a fitting revenge for all the gushing, sentimental first-child stories ever written.
Insipid, annoying, pathetic, and often boring, George Pitcher's book describes an undoubtedly honest affection for two dogs who breached the author's long-held emotional repressions and taught him and his partner how to love more fully. As men with positions of some rank among the faculty at Princeton University - Mr. Pitcher as a professor of philosophy and his companion, Ed Cone, a professor of music - they seem to have behaved for 17 years without regard for their own dignity and intelligence as the eccentric Mommy and Daddy of two dogs, Remus and Lupa.
The appeal of the story - and it does have its appeal - comes from the near-operatic voice of the narrator, whose fits and squeals over the dogs' rather unremarkable trials transforms every caustic bowel movement or snugly, lovey noodge of their wet little noses into an event of record. Thus, when Lupa disappears into the woods momentarily after "Our First Walk," and Mr. Pitcher, nearly apoplectic, discovers her near the Princeton Inn, the scene gains the height of melodrama:
"As I ran toward her, she stopped. Her chest was heaving ... Her lips were drawn back from her slightly open jaws so that she seemed to be smiling. I saw for the first time that she was beautiful ... she was ours, now and forever."
Employing a marching army of exclamation points, Mr. Pitcher recounts the many highlights of their lives together: Mr. Pitcher's initial scheming to persuade Mr. Cone to accept Lupa into their household; Mr. Pitcher, at times weeping for joy, at times in utter distress, over the dogs' devotion or occasional disappearances and illnesses; and their electrifying journey together aboard the QEII.
Based upon the ever-pooling dam of anecdotal evidence alone, Mr. Pitcher's devotion to the dogs seems absolutely aberrant. But there is more. More and more. The book not only contains drawings of the two dogs, but also 12 black-and-white photographs and poetry written by the author on their behalf.
This would be an excruciatingly funny memoir if it was truly camp, a Priscilla Through The Desert romp with an eccentric men-and-dog foursome.
Unfortunately, the story is too true, too familiar. Mr. Pitcher seems to understand himself well enough to acknowledge how odd their story may appear to some, and yet he remains utterly without embarrassment or apology. He seems to know there will be people who understand that Remus and Lupa were, his "surrogate children," and, even now, as an old man, he finds "continuing amazement at the fact that we cared so much for these two dogs."
Not for everyone, "The Dogs Who Came To Stay" will certainly find an avid audience among those who earnestly enjoy wetting a hanky over these sorts of silly, shaggy dog tales.
Gary Dorsey has written two books, "The Fullness of Wings: The Making of a New Daedalus," and "Congregation," a work chronicling the day-to-day life of a Protestant church. His next book will be about "next generation" aerospace engineers.