What Is a Dog?: A Memoir
On the heels of her family’s beloved dog’s death, one woman returns to the canines of her past in order to imagine the human she hopes to become in the future in her memoir, What Is a Dog?
Chloe Shaw is in a dog house of her own choosing. A married mother with kids, the death of Booker, her children’s eldest family pet, has left her reeling and reckoning with her lifelong relationship with dogs. Unable to shake the feeling a year later, she asks her family for some time alone to be with nothing but her thoughts and remaining canines, Safari and Otter—only to find the dogs of her past pawing at her every memory and running, sticks in mouths, back into her life.
What follows is a meditation on one woman’s life through the dogs she's loved and lost. Since she was a child, Shaw had learned to escape the hardest parts of being human by immersing herself in the lives of her canine companions, an adaptive attachment that carried her to adulthood. Yet, in marriage and motherhood, Shaw finds herself facing her most human struggles yet. Her old ways of “being the dog” in the face of hardship prove destructive, and it’s not until she’s able to love herself and learn from the dogs of her past and present that she can truly thrive as a person, and show up for the family who needs her to be their person.
With artful prose and a philosophical touch, Shaw takes us on an emotional journey anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog will connect with—and discovers dogs do more than just make our lives better—they quietly (and sometimes loudly) pull us boldly toward the person we were always meant to be.
Praise for What Is a Dog?: A Memoir
"Shaw, mourning the death of a beloved canine companion, looks to the dogs of her past to understand how they added to her life. Her section on 'being the dog' in relationships is unlike anything you’ve read about our four-legged friends." - Washington Post
"This poignant and gracefully written memoir amply embraces the complexities of the human-dog relationship in a uniquely personal way, and it’s also a moving story of self-acceptance. A dog lover’s warmhearted delight." - Kirkus
"Shaw debuts with a beautiful paean to dogs in this touching memoir recounting the canines who changed her life.... In heartbreaking, lyrical prose, she meditates on the dogs 'that shepherded me into adulthood,' motherhood, and her decade of “hard-earned” marriage.... Dog lovers, take note and grab some tissues."--Publishers Weekly
"Shaw's language is lyrical and contemplative, whether relating small moments of intimacy or big feelings. This is a quiet, heartfelt, and memorable work that cuts right to the quick of the unique bond between dogs and their people.... 'What is a dog?' she asks, 'Maybe a dog is a second chance.' And lucky for us humans, and much like those ever-forgiving canines, we get those second chances again, and again, and again." - Booklist
"What Is a Dog? is a tender memoir that showcases the vulnerable self we often risk revealing only to our pets.... [This] sensitive recollection of a lifetime of anxiety and curiosity will invite readers to examine their own insecurities and to find acceptance in the process." - BookPage
"[A]n elegant memoir... a heart-rending and heartwarming tale that will resonate with just about any mom out there." - The Washington Post
"In What Is a Dog?, Chloe Shaw tells the story of her life — laced with loss, loneliness, and love — through the lens of her dogs' lives.... At every step along the way, Shaw relates more closely to her dogs than she does to other people — than she does even to herself. The quiet triumph of this deeply felt, lyrical memoir is Shaw's willingness to confront those things that scare her about being a human... and break through to the other side, a place where she can find her inner strength, her toughness."--Kristin Iversen, Refinery29
"This book is for anyone who has ever loved a dog." - John Irving
"A beautifully written book with insights about dogs, life, and living fully." - Lynne Cox, author of Swimming In The Sink: Episode of the Heart
"What Is a Dog? is at once a finely observed and wrenchingly tender tribute to a spectacularly beloved and lovable dog, a penetratingly smart meditation on what dogs mean to us, and a stirring account of one woman’s transformation. Chloe Shaw demonstrates how a lifetime of high-functioning efficiency in the face of pervasive if covert anxiety, and a tendency to stand on the periphery of joy, can nonetheless lead to a hard-won position as a fully present soulmate, mother and writer, if we only allow ourselves to learn from those dogs who offer themselves as our shelter and uplift and gateway, and who with their unapologetic need and effortless grace show us how to be our best selves." - Jim Shepard, National Book Award finalist
"In What Is A Dog?, Shaw deftly captures how the deepest parts of our humanity are revealed in the company of our four-legged friends." - Lee Montgomery, award-winning author of The Things Between Us and contributor to WOOF!: Writers on Dogs