You look at your dog, and she gazes back lovingly, as if you hung the moon just for her to howl at on summer evenings. Her tail thumps the floor as you praise her, and she seems on the very brink of speech.
But — if she could talk, what would she say? In all honesty, might she have a few complaints?
A new book by Hazard Adams, UW professor emeritus of comparative literature, explores this scenario as the dogs of the fictitious Hilltown, a pleasant Puget Sound college community, give voice to resist the towns first-ever leash law. “The Day the Dogs Talked,” a modern fable with illustrations by Dana Sullivan, was published in late 2011.
Having found their voices (they always could talk, but simply chose not to), the canines express a number of concerns — about leashes, muzzles, tail-cropping, surgical debarking, cages, electrified fences, dry kibble, revolving doors and more.
“This is the most comic novel Ive done, but its also serious,” Adams said. “My publisher thinks its a political novel.” The book doesnt comment on politics as such, Adams said, “but I think what the dogs do ends up being a kind of parody of what human beings do. To some extent, its about politics in a small town and the dogs intervening with their insistence on changing certain laws.”
One Amazon.com reader commented, “The Day the Dogs Talked is no more a story about talking dogs than ‘Gulliver’s Travels is a story about tiny people. Just as Swift was commenting on the politics of his day, so is Adams commenting on the politics and culture of ours.”
Adams is a serious scholar of Yeats, Blake and Joyce with dozens of books to his credit, including scholarly and critical works, fiction and poetry. He came to the UW in 1977 from the University of California, Irvine, where he was chairman of the English department and, later, vice chancellor of academic affairs.
He said the idea for this latest book came as he read about the work of Canadian psychologist Stanley Coren, who ranked dog breeds by intelligence. (Border Collies are at the top, followed by Poodles. “I dont like Poodles very much but I like Poodles better than what I see people do to them,” he said.) Corens work got Adams thinking about what various breeds might say if given the floor, so to speak.
And speak they do in Hilltown, debating their uprising in a canine convocation in a store parking lot, with much dog-booing at the limiting idea of “breeds.” Finally, like true college-town dogs, they form committees (giving them the more acceptably doglike name of packs), draw up demands and take them to the Hilltown City Council.
A Husky addresses the crowd, cribbing liberally from human oratory: “Ask not what we should do to each other, but what we as an infinite pack can do for all of us. I have long had a dream! If we speak out … we shall speak for what is right and just for dogs of all breeds, so that true dogdom will not perish from the earth.”
The story does not stop when the last dog has finally returned to his native language of barks, growls and whines. The reader sees the incident studied at first, then slowly forgotten as the years go by. Did the dogs really talk that day?
In Adams Hilltown, fact and fiction get mixed up. Take the old story of the colleges two statues — one of its founder and another of the school mascot, a Malamute. “It is said that when the colleges team won a championship, the founders statue walked over to the Malamutes and they shook hand and paw,” Adams wrote.
He added, “History turns quickly into myth in Hilltown, or does myth turn into history?”