Whatcha Reading Wednesdays: Ackerley’s Sweet and Tempermental Tulip

My Dog Tulip is J. R. Ackerley’s honest and often witty memoir of his years spent with his possessive, fiercely loyal, highly intelligent, sometimes insecure German Shepherd, Tulip (Queenie). Tulip, who began her life in a neglectful home, is a handful. A canine hero only to her master, and sometimes not even to him, Tulip presents a face to the outside world that is often short of charming. She barks and growls, she comes in between Ackerley and just about everyone else, she panics and pouts when she can’t be with him, and she doesn’t always listen to him. She also loves Ackerley, who freed her from her abusive home, with a devotion that inspires and intimidates.

Instead of resorting to anthropomorphic devices to bring Tulip into our human understanding, Ackerley allows Tulip to be the dog she is and, instead, brings us into her world. The magic of this book is that it provides a journey into the animal world in a manner that respects and tries to understand the animal on the animal’s terms, much like Monty Roberts did for horses in The Man Who Listens to Horses.

Consider Ackerley’s lament after Tulip had a late-night accident while they were guests in a friend’s home. Tulip had fussed and pawed at the door to get Ackerley to take her outside to relieve herself, but he, believing that she that just wanted to chase the friend’s cat, ignored her and went back to sleep. The dog, showing more sense than her owner, “laid her mess on the linoleum.”

I was more than touched. I was dreadfully upset. My pretty animal, my friend, who reposed in me a loving confidence that was absolute, had spoken to me as plainly as she could. She had used every device that lay in her poor brute’s power to tell me something, and I had not understood her. True, I had considered her meaning, but she was not to know that for I had rejected it; nor could I ever explain to her that I had not totally misunderstood but only doubted: to her it must have seemed that she had been unable to reach me after all. How wonderful to have had an animal come to one to communicate where no communication is, over the incommunicability of no common speech, to ask a personal favor! How wretched to have failed! Alas for the gulf that separates man from beast: I had had my chance, now it was too late to bridge it. O yes, I could throw my arms about her as I did, fondle and praise her in my efforts to reassure her that it was all my fault and she was the cleverest person in the world. But what could she make of that? I had failed to take her meaning, and nothing I could ever do could put that right.

Next up on the 1000 Books to Read Before You Die (James Mustich) list, three unique books by three unique Adamses: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, and Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Happy reading, everyone! Feel free to share what you are reading or any favorite books about animals that you have read.

©️2020 Tanya Cliff

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