Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
A deeply touching portrait of a remarkable dog and his relationship with the author, Merle’s Door explores the issues that all animals and their human companions face as their lives intertwine, bringing to bear the latest research into animal consciousness and behavior as well as insights into the origins and evolution of the human-dog partnership. Merle showed Kerasote how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of their own decisions, and Kerasote suggests how these lessons can be applied universally.
Praise For Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog…
"The world is lucky to have this book."—ELIZABETH MARSHALL THOMAS, author of THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS
PRAISE FOR OUT THERE
"[A] sly, funny, and wise look at the world beyond the walls that we erect to keep ourselves safe from the wilderness and to keep the wilderness safe from us."—ALEXANDRA FULLER, author of DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT
Mariner Books, 9780156034500, 416pp.
Publication Date: April 21, 2008
About the Author
TED KERASOTE is the author of several books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. His essays and photographs have appeared in Audubon, Geo, Outside, Science, the New York Times, and more than sixty other periodicals. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
Discuss the book’s epigraph, regarding the effects of captivity on a wild animal. Do Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s words apply to the lives of pets you have known? To your life? To what extent do you live on a “leash”?
In the initial meeting between Merle and Ted, Merle conveys to Ted, “You need a dog, and I’m it.” Ideally, what guides the selection of a pet? Is the process very different from the experience of searching for compatible human companionship?
Discuss Ted’s attempts to communicate with Merle, and vice versa. What kind of language do they develop between them? How do they avoid the difficulties so often encountered when animals and humans try to “explain themselves” to one another?
What were the most surprising facts you discovered about canine physiology and evolution? What are the greatest limitations of being a domesticated dog, or a “domesticated” human? How can we best rekindle our remarkable but often unutilized capabilities, as perfume makers do with their heightened olfactory capabilities?
Chapter eight is devoted to Gray Cat. What distinctions between cats and dogs become clear in that chapter? What made Gray Cat and Merle surprisingly compatible? In what ways did Brower also complete Merle’s circle?
Discuss the landscape of the Rockies as a character in Merle’s Door. How does the breathtaking scenery in Ted’s memoir create a meaningful backdrop for the way Merle’s story unfolds?
How does Ted’s approach to hunting compare to that of other hunters you have known or heard about? Did he change your perception of sustenance and the way humans distinguish between their wants and their needs? Would you be content leading a more rural, self-sustaining existence?
How did you react to Ted’s observations regarding alpha dogs and the general concept of power and dominance in the animal world? Is Chamonix, described in “A Looser Leash,” an unattainable utopia? Do behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner offer good solutions, or do they contribute to the problem? In what ways is the process of training a dog similar to promoting good behavior in a child?
When Ted describes his opinion of Merle’s sterilization, he reverses decades of conventional wisdom. How well had you previously understood the process of spaying or neutering a pet? What does the popularity of current procedures indicate about widespread attitudes toward pet care in America?
What do quotations from philosophers such as René Descartes and references to gruesome vivisections tell us about the history of humanity’s approach to animals? How do you personally resolve such questions as whether nonhuman animals have souls?
The author describes several romantic interludes that did not last as long as he had hoped. What sometimes prevents dating and marriage from unfolding as smoothly as forging a bond with a favorite pet?
What might Merle’s Door have been like if Merle had been the author, interpreting Ted’s actions from a dog’s point of view?
Compare the end-of-life care Merle and Brower received to the care humans receive. Have you been in a situation that could have been gracefully resolved by applying Bernard Hershhorn’s criteria, described in “Through the Door”? Should distinctions be made between the rituals, medical treatments, and euthanasia procedures we apply to pets and those we apply to humans?
By the end of the book, what lessons did you learn from Merle? What enabled him to become more freethinking than many other dogs?
Discuss the title and its many meanings throughout the book. What did Merle’s door come to signify for Ted and for Merle? What are the most significant passages Merle encountered throughout his life, and what gave him the wisdom (and the freedom) to navigate them safely? Where do you imagine he went when he passed through his final portal?