The author Ken Foster has shared stories of people and their canine companions in a popular book called "Dogs I Have Met." VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with the writer about the things dog lovers have learned from their animals.
The writer Mark Twain said that the more he knew about people, the better he liked his dog. Ken Foster, who owns three dogs, probably would not go that far, but he agrees dogs have something to teach their owners. He says they are spontaneous; they live in the moment, and, he says, dog owners come to appreciate those qualities.
"A lot of people see their dogs as complex beings, and also see their dogs as something that has led them to look at the world in a different way, just as it did with me," he said.
In an earlier book called "Dogs Who Found Me," Foster recounted getting a dog from an animal shelter. Then he found more of them in the street -- or, they found him -- and took them home.
He says dogs have enriched his life, and helped him in difficult times. They got him through the trauma of the terror attacks in New York when he lived there in 2001. And his dogs were with him in New Orleans when the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He says his dogs helped him cope with the death of two close friends, and deal with a heart condition that nearly killed him.
After he wrote his first book, Foster heard from other dog owners who told their own stories of canine loyalty and love. He decided to include some in his recent book, and tell more about his own pets. "In this new book, I have more stories about my experience in New Orleans after the hurricane with my own dogs, as well letters that people sent me in response to the last book from all over the country and all over the world, including soldiers who had to leave their dogs behind in order to serve," he said.
He says he received a moving letter from a woman in the U.S. military who was stationed in Kuwait, and had left her dog behind in the United States. "And on the morning she was due to come home, she got an email saying the dog had been hit by a car and killed. So she knew she wasn't going to come home to the dog she thought was waiting for her," he said.
He says the woman decided to open a shelter for the dogs of those in the military who were in the same situation.
The soldier's dog was a Pit Bull, as is one of Foster's. His second is a mixed Pit Bull and Great Dane, and the third is a Rottweiler. He says such big energetic dogs have gotten a bad reputation through sometimes-fatal attacks on their owners or neighbors. He says the sinister reputation is undeserved, especially for pit bulls.
"If you look in history, they used to be the all-American dog. They were used in posters during World War I. They represented everything that was good about our country. President Roosevelt had a Pit Bull in the White House. And then something happened."
He says people started to use the dogs for fighting, but he says the problem is with the owners, not with the dogs. Foster says Pit Bulls can be kind-hearted, and he recounts the story of one that raised a suckling pig as its puppy.
Foster loves dogs regardless of their breed, and, he says, dogs return the love that they get from their owners. Sometimes, he adds, they make demands because of a difficult personality or physical ailments. But he says even those dogs can change people's lives.
He tells of one dog with the blood disease hemophilia, requiring expensive veterinary treatments. The owner bore the cost and the dog became a therapy pet for hospital patients, including some children who had hemophilia, just like the dog.