One of the books about dogs that I’ve most enjoyed owning is “A Dog Is Listening: The Way Some of Our Closest Friends View Us.” Written by Roger Caras, it was published in 1992, and is one of those books that you can read over and over again, and discover something new in every time.
As a lifelong lover and student of dogs, a feeling of overwhelming awe and gratitude sometimes washes over me when I realize the magnitude of what dogs give to us as humans. They just do so much, from being our best friends, playmates and comforters, to warning us of impending disaster, helping children learn to read, rehabilitating prisoners and so very much more. One of the reasons I love “A Dog Is Listening” is because Caras put in print all of the wonder of dogs that I struggle to put into words.
When Roger Caras left this world in February of 2001, dogs, indeed all four-legged creatures around the world, lost one of their most devoted advocates. His passion for animals seems to have begun as a very young man. In “The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster,” Bill Stifel wrote that Caras “took his first job at age 10 for 10 cents an hour, cleaning the stables of abused horses seized by the Massachusetts SPCA.”
Caras studied both zoology and cinema as a college student, between tours of duty in the U.S. military. His first career was in the movie industry, where, among other jobs, he once worked as press secretary to Joan Crawford. It was during those early years that he began a prolific writing career, becoming a contributor to “Audubon,” the award-winning magazine of the National Audubon Society, and writing his first book, “Antarctica: Land of Frozen Time,” a complete history of the continent and its explorers with stories about killer whales and colonies of penguins.
Beginning in 1964, Caras had a long career in broadcasting, working on programs such as the “Today Show,” “Nightline,” “ABC News Tonight,” “Good Morning America” and “20/20.” He worked for 10 years as special correspondent on animals and the environment for ABC news, and eight years as the house naturalist at NBC TV. He earned a great deal of recognition for his work, and won an Emmy for his reporting.
Caras also indulged his passion for the animal world by continuing to write, penning more than 70 books about a wide range of animals and related issues. His numerous quotes about dogs became famous, but perhaps the most familiar is this one: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” His appreciation for the purebred dog is, I think, aptly reflected in this quote: “Some of our greatest historical and artistic treasures we place in museums; others, we take for walks.”
It was in a different role that dog fanciers were most familiar with the Massachusetts native. Beginning in 1978 he became the announcer for the evening broadcast of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, and in time his rich, distinctive delivery earned him the title “the Voice of Westminster,” as much a part of the show to television viewers and those attending at Madison Square Garden as the green carpet, and purple and gold accents. He remained the Westminster announcer for the next 23 years.
Upon his retirement from the broadcasting world, Caras became the president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in New York City, a position he held from 1991 until 1999. After his passing, ASPCA president and CEO Dr. Larry Hawk said of him, “Roger Caras was considered by many to be one of the premier animal advocates of the 20th century, spending a lifetime as a champion for wildlife, companion animals and the environment in his professional and personal life. We shall miss him.”
Back to the Book
I intended to write about one of my favorite things, and I guess that, in truth, it is Roger Caras who was one of my favorite people, someone whose life I admired and work I enjoyed. “A Dog Is Listening” simply reflects his devotion to dogs, and mirrors my own sense of gratitude and wonder about the creatures with which we share our lives. But it’s more than that, of course.
In some ways, reading this book feels a bit like sitting in a comfortable chair and listening to Caras himself talk about things he’s done and learned. It brings to mind those treasured conversations some of us have been fortunate to have with iconic dog people who’ve been around for “hundreds” of years, the discussions where we hold our breaths and just listen, because we know we’re being exposed to the wisdom of the ages.
Except that instead of talking about pedigrees, or old show dogs, Caras shares with the reader his life experiences with the dogs (and other animals, and people too, for that matter) he’s loved, as well as the many things he’s learned in his studies of animals, dogs in particular, and animal people.
In this relatively short tome, Caras manages to cover ancient history, scientific evidence and his own personal experience in explaining why dogs do what they do the way they do it. We meet lots of interesting canine characters throughout the book, and, having read it, I think you’ll come away from it with an even greater appreciation for the intelligence, instinct and heart we find in our companions. You’ll love them more than ever.
A comment from actor Jack Lemmon appears on the cover of “A Dog Is Listening”, and he put it in a nutshell: “Roger’s book is more than a joyous read. It is a reminder that…dogs are given to us to teach the meaning of love.” That’s it. It is a joy to read, and reminds us of the love embodied in the dog.