Benoit Denizet-Lewis to Talk Travels with Casey at Brookline Booksmith
Four months, 32 states, 13,000 miles, one mobile home, a man, and his dog. These were the ingredients for Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s cross-country road trip in 2012, a journey he took with his Labrador-mix, Casey, to explore the relationship between Americans and man’s best friend. He chronicles the adventure in his new book, Travels with Casey, which he’ll discuss and read from Monday night at Brookline Booksmith.
Denizet-Lewis, a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and assistant professor at Emerson College, began his trip at home in the “incredibly dog-friendly” Provincetown and Jamaica Plain, where his favorite dog-walking spots include Franklin Park and Jamaica Pond. Throughout Travels with Casey, he shares his encounters with dog lovers of all breeds, including everyday pet owners, trainers and rescuers, and even the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan.
Besides highlighting the many characters he and Casey met around the country, Denizet-Lewis also uses his encounters to inform how, and why, Americans love their dogs so much, as well as ways we can improve our treatment of them.
“What I wanted to do in this book is tell the full story of dogs in America, from dogs that are pampered and live seemingly charmed lives, to dogs who are forgotten or who live in feral packs,” Denizet-Lewis says.
For example, one relatively pampered dog he came across was Bella, an acting dog owned by Beth Joy Knutsen.
“She went above and beyond in her love for her dog. She very much treated the dog like a baby, talked about the dog like a baby. Even though Bella’s a rescue dog, she definitely enjoys the finer things in life,” Denizet-Lewis says.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are America’s many stray dogs. One of Denizet-Lewis’s favorite people to spend time with was dog rescuer Randy Grim, who devotes his life to caring for and rescuing dogs in crime-ridden East St. Louis. Denizet-Lewis was so moved by Grim’s dedication that he is helping raise money for Grim’s organization, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, in a Dreamfund campaign.
Between the two extremes of pampered and abandoned dogs in America are common human-canine relationships that everyday readers may not think about. Take, for instance, the relationship between homeless people and their dogs, who provide one another protection and companionship. Another area Denizet-Lewis found fascinating was the relationship between trainers and service dogs, be it K-9s, guide dogs, or even sheep dogs.
“Their owners have conflicted feelings. In theory, you want the dogs to have a clear understanding that they’re working dogs, so they don’t usually come in the house very often; they don’t go on the bed. Some of the guys talked about how hard it was to maintain that division, and how they’d still sneak the dogs in sometimes,” Denizet-Lewis says.
“There are a lot of ways Americans are crazy about their dogs,” he says. “I was fascinated by people who equate their love for their dog with their love for their human child. That was both surprising and unsurprising to me. As dog ownership has tripled in this country since the 1970s, we’ve come to really think of our dogs as family members and kids, but it’s not an accurate description. We don’t return our kids to the shelter if they’re too much trouble. We don’t have millions of stray kids roaming our rural areas and Indian reservations and inner cities.”
One such canine Denizet-Lewis met was Rezzy, a stray dog he came across in Arizona. Denizet-Lewis adopted her and named the dog after the “rez dogs” who roam Indian reservations. You can meet Rezzy, along with Casey, when they join Denizet-Lewis at the Brookline Booksmith event.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis will read from Travels with Casey on Monday, July 28, 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-566-6660, brooklinebooksmith.com.