A Peek Inside

New book, There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard, will be out in June. I’m thrilled and honored that Dream of Things Publishing in Chicago sees this book of essays as meaningful and unique. Of course, I hope you do, too.

Here’s a little bit to give you a taste:

There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A life in pets.

There’s a moment in the early morning, just before the sun rises, when my yellow lab arrives at the side of my bed, rests her nose on the mattress, nuzzles her snout into the sheets, and wags her tail so vigorously it wildly collides with everything in its way. Rhythmic thumps strike the wall and reverberate throughout the house. She’s knocked books off the nightstand and once whacked a table lamp to the floor. And every time, she is completelyunaware of how this exuberant flailing is a rather discourteous wake-up call. To her it is simply a joyful “good morning,” an involuntary signal of how happy she is to be alive, ready for a walk, and to be with me.
Pets are so pure. They are undeniably honest, so utterly real. And every morning, with the beating of that tail, I am reminded of this.
My dog and all the pets that came before her have shown unwavering love. And with every one, I’ve tried my best to show it back. I’ve gone on hundreds of walks, thrown dozens of Frisbees and tennis balls, and given in to sad-eyed puppies whining to be allowed into my bed. I’ve picked up truckloads of dog poop, mopped up K9 throw-up, cleaned filthy litter boxes. I’ve held dying dogs in my arms, helped bury cats, and even organized a funeral for a hamster. I’ve scraped out the muck in fish bowls, watched ants escape from an ant farm, and carried a turtle home in a golf bag. And all of it—the good, the bad, and the misguided—was absolutely worth it, even if I might not have believed it at the time.
But there were moments when I should have known better.
It’s not as if someone forced me to own a pet. I accepted, purchased, or adopted each one with complete free will. I never entered a relationship with a pet at gunpoint. And, I don’t believe I’ve been an inadequate, inept pet owner, although I could have done better in what now seem to be achingly obvious cases. The thing is, I’ve been fascinated by animals, all kinds, always have. But as with caring for children, I could have used some guidance—and I think that’s probably true for anybody who has cared for a pet or raised a child.
As mothers and fathers, we all have our anxieties, doubts about this most important job. We attempt to do the very best we can. We read instructionbooks from the so-called experts. We ask lots of questions. We make regular appointments with doctors and dentists. We escort our children to school, play groups, and soccer practice. But sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we screw up. We should have thought something through, tried harder, been more attentive, more responsive. It’s not that we don’t love them—our kids or our pets—it’s just that we are helplessly human.
Each of the stories in this collection touches on an accidental revelation or challenging moment that could only have been experienced while being an ordinary and not-so-ordinary pet owner, probably just like many of you. Yes, like you, I’ve tried—sometimes not very well—to care for a bevy of creatures and through that process have learned plenty, more than I could have imagined. Not in some formal educational way like the lecture of a professor or the homily of a preacher, but more like an unexpected gradual awakening, like the sun burning through fog. You don’t even know it’s there, until it’s warmingyou and lighting the way. But most important, I’ve experienced that beautifully simple, yet immensely profound instant when a pet owner connects, almost spiritually, with an animal in an unparalleled bond of man and beast—clearevidence that the creature you’ve allowed into our life is really an extension of your self. That’s what these stories are all about—those magnificent relationships, the love of family, and the uniqueness of each existence shared with the living and breathing. They are the personal stories of a life with pets, those remarkable companions that so uncannily allow us to catch ourselves being human.
— David W. Berner, There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A life in pets. Dream of Things, June 2015

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