Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Travels With Casey

Growing up, I had three retired racing greyhounds, Magoo, Zoey and Kismet. After watching a documentary on the horrors of greyhound racing, my parents contacted a local rescue agency and, over the years, we brought home the three. Being that greyhounds are one of the fastest land animals with speeds up to 46 mph, taking care of them required some additional protections. For example, taking a greyhound to an open park is an exceptionally bad idea, but taking them to the local elementary school's enclosed field isn't all that great either (school security guard nearly called the cops because we were trespassing).

Reading Benoit Denizet-Lewis' Travels With Casey (Simon & Schuster) reminded me of those years our family owned the greyhounds. Blending a travelogue and a pet-focused memoir, Denizet-Lewis takes his yellow labrador Casey all across America in a rented RV. The book looks at every aspect of pet ownership, from dog whisperer Cesar Milan's compound (which I didn't realize was in my hometown) to the Westminster Dog Show to the unpleasant reality of overcrowded animal shelters. There is one particularly gut-wrenching chapter about dogs' lives on Native American reservations in Arizona. That chapter led the author to do something most people wouldn't do, but is incredibly noble.

To call the book a travelogue is selling it a bit short. What makes the book work is that it's really about the people and less about the environments they are in, so if you're expecting a travel book akin to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, you'll be disappointed. Perhaps a better way to describe the book is that its a pet book that happens to involve travel rather than the other way around. A chapter that takes place in a Manhattan dog park had me laughing, but as Denizet-Lewis' journey progressed, the author has challenges in his own life as well as seeing the aforementioned darker side of dog life in America. For that, the author should be commended for showing an even-handedness in portraying dog life.

Unfortunately, the last third of the book felt rushed, as if the author's rented RV suddenly grew rocket boosters on its back and hauled buns across the country. Admittedly, the author was going through some relational issues at that point in the journey. However, the whole book was leading up to what Denizet-Lewis discovered from his travels around our dog-obsessed country and if his relationship with his dog was any better than before their trip, but the book ends before finishing developing these ideas.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars. Despite the rushed ending, there's a lot to like about the book and I would still recommend it. Travels With Casey has moments of humor, lots of heart and shares concern for those dogs not yet lucky to find a home. Any dog owner will enjoy it.

To see videos Benoit shot during the road trip, visit his YouTube page here.

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