Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Racing in the Rain2

★★★★☆

This is one of those books that’s been on the “to-read” list for a long time. Highly rated amongst friends, with many saying some variation of “I loved this book, but it just destroyed me. And now I want to hug my dog.”

Alright. So, I finally decided to pick it up. My verdict: I loved this book, but it just destroyed me. And I want to hug my dog.

This book struck a chord with me on a few different levels. First, and most obviously, as a dog owner. I kept glancing over at Benson as I read it and would involuntarily start scratching his head and wondering what he’s thinking about.

I felt that the asides about racing (like, straight up, actual car racing) were a little long and drawn out, but I get it and understand how it ultimately connects with the story. And it’s especially amusing the think of a dog who watches TV all day and really, truly understands what he’s seeing.

Secondly, the book resonated with me as a father. We ourselves had Benson with us long before we ever had kids, and they’ve since grown up around him and he’s always been patient and shown them love as well.

There were other parts that really affected me as well, that were downright shocking. I don’t want to spoil them. I would mope around the house with tears in my eyes after reading parts of the book and my wife (and Benson) would wonder what was wrong with me.

I think some of the emotional impact of this book has to do with confronting our own dog’s mortality. He’s a big dog, though not super old (as far as dogs go), but he’s starting to get mysterious lumps under his skin and having more difficulty walking up steps.

Anyway.

Let’s not forget that ending, oh man, I was just a weepy pile of tears by the time this thing was done.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

So long, Axl-dog.

Axl

I remember when we first picked Axl up, back in August of 2001.

We went down to a nearby pet store, specifically looking for a new dog. The local humane society had setup a small pen with dozens of adorable puppies. All of them were yipping, running around, playing with each other. How could one choose between so many animals? My sister, mom, and I debated. There was a cute dalmatian sitting in the corner.

My mom shot down that idea, “No! Besides, dalmatians often have health problems.”

My sister focused on this adorable pile of black fur sitting in the middle of the pen. It looked happy as can be, ignoring the other rambunctious pups tussling around it. Sitting on his hind legs, ears flopped over, head slightly cocked, tongue hanging out, and mouth stuck agape as if he was smiling.

My sister said, “I want that one!” And so, it was.

Axl as a Puppy

– – –

All puppies are adorable. But Axl was especially so (at least in our eyes). Nearly perfectly behaved, not too overactive, easy to train. Compared to previous dogs we’ve had, he was incredible!

He’d love to be nearby, that way he could always have an eye on what you were doing. Whether it was on the couch, or on my homework.

Axl

Axl

– – –

Little did we know, that cute, compact pile of fur (which we initially thought was a chow / black lab mix) would grow into a large beast of a dog. A beast, but a gentle giant. It turns out, he was a newfoundland.

We found this out while taking Axl for a walk in the park a few years ago. A lady walking her dogs passed by and said, “Oh wow! I love your newfoundland! He’s so beautiful!”

Confused, we said, “I think you’re mistaken, he’s a black lab!”

But the lady was insistent, “No! He’s definitely a newfoundland.”

So, we looked it up when we got home. After seeing photos, we were flabbergasted.

Here is your average, typical photo of Axl:

Axl

And here is your average, typical photo of a newfoundland (according to Wikipedia):

250px-Newfoundland_dog_Smoky.jpg

– – –

Well, that was certainly exciting news. And it earned Axl a new nickname. We called him the Goofy Newfy. And the descriptions of typical newfoundlands certainly made sense.

It is known to be one of the kindest and gentlest dogs. It is for this reason that this breed is known as “the gentle giant”.

All of this was true. Axl was the absolute sweetest, most well behaved, and loyal dog we’ve ever had. He was at his happiest when someone was there to pet him. That’s really all he ever wanted.

The Happy Newfie!

– – –

Of course, with the newfound knowledge of Axl’s ancestry, was the stunning realization that newfoundlands often have serious health problems — their lifespan typically ranges anywhere from 8 years to 13 years, which is quite a bit shorter than your average dog.

But surely, our Axl would be an exception He was always so limber and active.

Axl as a Puppy

Axl playing with volleyball

And he loved playing in the creek, or sitting in front of a fan to cool off.

Axl

Axl-dog being cool

Though sometimes, you got the impression that all he ever did was sit in front of a fan…

Axl

– – –

Sadly, over the past year or so, he’s become a bit slower, more lethargic, and even larger. It seems his “old” age was catching up to him. You’d often find him just sitting around. As long as he was next to someone who could pet him, he was happy as can be.

Axl

Axl

Axl

– – –

One of my favorite things about visiting my parents’ house was how excited Axl would be to see me. It didn’t matter how long I had been gone — 3 months, 9 months, nearly a year? He would always remember who I was. When I got out of the car, he would be right next to the window, looking at me with his cheesy grin, his tail straight up in the air and wagging.

You could easily imagine him saying something like, “Oh yeah! You haven’t given me a good petting in awhile, buddy! Oh, good to see you again too.”

The Most Awesome Dog in the Universe

The other thing Axl would always do, every single day in fact, is greet you in the morning. And it was only in the morning.

He would attempt to speak. It sounded like something between a growl and a howl — a very deep throated “WOOOO WOO WOOOOOOO WOO WOOO.” But it wasn’t threatening at all. It was an affectionate sound. And you could speak right back to him too. Sometimes he would even reply, “WOOOOOOO WOO.”

Axl

– – –

When I went home last Christmas, we talked about Axl’s health and mentioned this could be the last time I’d ever see him. It was heartbreaking. He was still sharp, but he struggled to get up and move around.

I visited my parents again back in April, and saw that his condition had deteriorated a bit more. It was obvious that something had to happen in the next few months. So, I spent a few hours playing around with him — which basically involved him sitting in one spot and me petting him!

Axl

Axl and Dave

Anyway, I had to leave for the airport the next morning. I said goodbye, gave him a big hug, and sadly had tears in my eyes. And I took one final photo as I walked out the door. It was the last time that I would see Axl.

Axl

He was just over 9 years old.

So long, you Goofy Newfy. You’ll be missed!

Photos of Axl Dog

I was browsing through my iPhoto library and found these ridiculously cute and old photos of our dog Axl back in 2001. He was still a tiny little puppy! Apparently, he was a runty little newfoundland that grew up into our monster of a dog (though still small compared to normal “newfie” standards).

Axl as a Puppy

Axl as a Puppy

And today –

Axl sleeping

Axl and Ariel