The $60,000 Dog by Lauren Slater
I am very open about my lack of affection for nonfiction, unless it involves humor, true crime, celebrities, or dogs. Lauren Slater’s The $60,000 Dog is more than a dog-themed nonfiction book; it’s a true in depth analysis of how animals, all animals, play a part in shaping our lives.
The summer when Slater was nine and living in the “Golden Ghetto,” a Jewish suburb, she found refuge from her angry and depressed mother by riding her bike to the country. There she discovered all kinds of animals, including cows, foxes, and dragonflies. It’s the forest where she feels herself waking up for the first time; where she feels like she’s discovering her true self.
One day she finds an egg and takes it home, finding a rare bond with her mother over the delicate item. As she waits for it to hatch, school starts and she no longer has the freedom to visit the forest. The waiting stretches on for months, and it’s during this particularly anxious time in Slater’s life where she sees the true downturn her mother has taken (a particularly devastating scene for me sealed my unwavering dislike of her mother). The revelation that the egg was a dud and would never have hatched doesn’t deter Slater from exploring her curiosity about animals over the years.
Slater goes through more chunks of her life that involved animals, including a summer at a horse camp and the pet raccoon she rescues after moving into a foster home. However, for me, the true meat of the book really came when she started discussing her two dogs, Lila and Musashi. Lila is old and blind, and her husband, someone who isn’t necessarily an animal lover, is quick to point out that between vet bills and medicine, they’ve shelled out around $60,000. The number doesn’t matter to Slater, as she digs deep into the philosophical questions of why humans keep pets and how important they are in the evolution of humanity.
I won’t lie—I picked up this book expecting a fun little read about how much money a person can spend on their pets when they’re a self-professed animal lover. That definitely is NOT what The $60,000 Dog is; it’s so much more. It is by far one of the most beautifully and philosophically written nonfiction pieces I’ve read in a long time. Slater is a psychologist, and she clearly has a grasp on human nature and how it connects and molds with the animal kingdom.
It would be easy to say this book should be on your shelves for animal lovers, and that’s true. But it should also be there for readers who are looking for something deep and meaningful on life and how everything in nature connects us together. I don’t think anyone can walk away from this book unchanged.
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