Off the Leash (Hardcover)

A Year at the Dog Park

By Matthew Gilbert

Thomas Dunne Books, 9781250014221, 240pp.

Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (4/5/2016)

List Price: 24.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


OFF THE LEASH is a group portrait of dog people, specifically the strange, wonderful, neurotic, and eccentric dog people who gather at Amory Park, overlooking Boston near Fenway Park. And it's about author Matthew Gilbert's transformation, after much fear and loathing of dogs and social groups, into one of those dog people with fur on their jackets, squeaky toys in their hands, and biscuits in their pockets.

Gilbert, longtime TV critic at The Boston Globe, describes his reluctant trip into the dog park subculture, as the first-time owner of a stubbornly social Yellow Lab puppy named Toby. Like many Americans, he was happily accustomed to the safe distance of TV viewing and cell-phone web surfing, tethered to the digital leash. But the headstrong, play-obsessed Toby pulls him to Amory, and Amory becomes an exhilarating dose of presence for him. The joyous chaos of wrestling dogs and the park's cast of offbeat dog owners - the "pack of freaks" - gradually draw him into the here and now. At the dog park, the dog owners go off the leash, too.

Dog-park life can be tense. When dogs fight, their owners - such as the reckless Charlotte - bare their teeth at each other, too. Amid the rollicking dog play, feelings tend to surface faster, unedited. But Gilbert shows how Amory is an idyllic microcosm, too, the home of enduring friendships and, as the droll but vulnerable Hayley knows, romantic crushes. Meeting daily, a gathering of dog owners can be like group therapy, or The Office, or a standup concert.

As a TV critic, Matthew Gilbert is well-known by his readership for his humorous and wry writing style. A charming narrative that will appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed watching a puppy scamper through a park, OFF THE LEASH is a paean to dog lovers and their pets everywhere, perfect for fans of Marley & Me and Merle's Door.

About the Author

Matthew Gilbert is the TV critic at The Boston Globe, where he also covered books and movies. He has written for Slate, served as the managing editor of Boston Review, and clerked at Harvard Book Store. He lives in Brookline, Mass., and Off the Leash is his first book.

Praise For Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park

“An admitted curmudgeon just a few steps away from Cruella de Vil, Gilbert sees his life change when he falls in love with a dog person and then falls in love with dogs… Gilbert captures with great humor the world within the dog park… Beyond the individual quirks, Gilbert finds community and the ability to empathize among people who on the surface have little in common.” —Los Angeles Times

“In Off The Leash Gilbert chronicles a year at the dog park (Brookline's Amory Park), observing the characters he and [his dog] Toby meet there... Gilbert's book is witty, sweet, and affirming.” —The Boston Globe

“A wonderful, engaging, surprising book. It's what I've walked past all the time without having noticed until now, since my dog is from Hammacher-Schlemmer. It's also any dog's dream of how to be written about, and a real squeak toy love fest of a memoir by displacement, in which social form, social interaction, and the vicissitudes of the social order are convincingly examined and explained via the presence of a wet snout.” —Ann Beattie

“Your local dog park is a world on to itself - full of laughs, drama and life's revelations. Matthew Gilbert's new book captures it all delightfully and astutely.” —Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark

“The love story of a man, his new dog and the freedoms they both discovered through their relationship with each other... Gilbert explores many aspects of the dog-park environment ... Young dogs, old dogs, sick dogs, doggy toys, aggressive dogs and their owners, who refused to apologize for any fights, and humans who acted as ventriloquists for their dogs - all played a role in transforming Gilbert from a work-at-home critic, sheltered from the world by a screen, into a man devoted to his dog and his dog-loving friends. A lightweight, humorous tale of a new dog owner and the friendships he formed at the dog park.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An honest, funny and heartwarming tale about the love between a man and his dog. Gilbert's quirky cast of characters--both human and canine--will be familiar to anyone who's logged serious hours in the dog park.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and The Engagements

“Dog Park People are one of the most committed, loving and often neurotic subcultures in the booming companion animal world, Matthew Gilbert has written a wonderful man-and-his dog books that takes us inside a year in this quite wonderful, funny and sometimes poignant universe.” —Jon Katz, author of Second Chance Dog: A Love Story

“Move over Tulip, there's a new dog in the park. Matthew Gilbert's Off the Leash is wry, warm, and witty enough to rival J.R. Ackerly's classic, My Dog Tulip. Canine characters and their humans are observed with just the right blend of skepticism and compassion, and Gilbert's relationship with Toby is one of the more convincing love stories I've read in a long while.” —Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection and Insignificant Others

“Dog enthusiasts will flock to this entertaining account of an unlikely canine lover's ascent into full-fledged member of the neighborhood dog park.... Any dog owner who has ever steeped foot in the local dog park will recognize these types, and Gilbert is an adept storyteller, adding just enough keep the pages turning.” —Publishers Weekly

“As the TV critic for the Boston Globe, Gilbert has a fine nose for observing, reporting, and navigating this territory. And in this, his first book, he has created a witty and memorable read that will delight and enthrall off-leash readers everywhere.” —The Bark