Book Review: Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp

Caroline Knapp has put into words many feelings that I share regarding several of my relationships with dogs. Words I had not heard before about the deep relationship a dog can provide—not just any dog, but a special bond that forms especially with dogs we have had for a long time or have had during critical periods in our lives.

Caroline had never owned a dog as an adult, but after the illnesses and deaths of both her parents, her break up with her long-time boyfriend, and overcoming alcoholism, she decided to get a dog.

… dogs can—and often do—lead us into a world that is qualitatively different from the world of people, a place that can transform us. Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.”

Pack of TwoShe discusses many things that I felt with my dear, departed Cassie, who went to work with me her entire life, traveled on almost every vacation, slept in my bed, and spent most of every day with me. She felt anxious when I was gone, causing me to schedule my work as an environmental consultant into short field days away from her, returning to her in the office; to teach at the local community college, so I could work on lectures and grade papers at home; to walk 3.3 miles to work and back for years until her arthritis required me to shorten those walks by parking my car only a mile away. Many, many things I did because of my dear Cassie.

Caroline recalls a similar experience:

…how I basically structure my life around the dog, organizing the day around the morning walk, the noon walk, the evening outing….how much I think about Lucille (her dog), how much I hate leaving her alone when I have to go out, how I’ve either written off or vastly reduced my involvement in activities that don’t include her—shopping, movies, trips that involve air travel.

Many statements in “Pack of Two” rang true for me, including:

“Growing up, the only person my father could relate to was the family dog… He was a completely isolated person and none of us was close to him, but because he and I both had this bond to the dog, we had a relationship. We could take long walks in the woods and be friends, with the dog as a catalyst.”

I can truly relate to this statement. Our family dog was the catalyst for my relationship with my dad. He had stopped talking to me for well over a year after I moved in with my boyfriend, but when I brought my new puppy over to his house, he broke his silence and said, “Now you’re responsible for another life. You need to take care of it.” That was the last full sentence I remember him saying to me as nasopharyngeal cancer took away his voice and he died a few years later, with me and that dog at his side.

Caroline is most famous for Drinking: A Love Story. It’s her memoir about being an alcoholic and overcoming this disease, which made me see it in a whole new light. Unfortunately, Caroline passed away in 2002 from cancer. Gail Caldwell describes Caroline’s illness, and their friendship which began because of their dogs, in Take the Long Way Home.

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