As Benoit Denizet-Lewis reports in his new book Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country (Simon & Schuster), America has the highest rate of dog companionship in the world. These animals—loyal and protective, eager and unconditionally loving—perhaps represent something fundamental about the American spirit. They are, as Denizet-Lewis writes, “relentless optimists,” just like we are. There is something to be learned then about American life and values—especially at a time when the country is polarized and it seems impossible for anyone to agree on anything—by examining our national love of dogs. What do our dogs say about us?” This is what Denizet-Lewis set out to explore when he hopped in an RV with his lab Casey for a four-month road trip through 32 states.
Denizet-Lewis’s travels led him to meet all kind of dogs and dog lovers, including “therapy dogs, police dogs, shelter dogs, celebrity dogs, farm dogs, racing dogs, stray dogs, show dogs, hunting dogs, dock-diving dogs, and dogs with no discernible ‘job’ other than lounging around the house and terrorizing the mailman.” He met their human companions, too, and caretakers: rescuers and shelter workers, dog healers and psychics, and even a dog masseur. Contrary to some of the more complicated theories Denizet-Lewis was reading during his journey, he discovered that these myriad dog companions loved these animals so much because they provided company, and comfort. He explains:
“The dog lovers I met…lived with dogs because they couldn’t imagine life without them. … [T]hey spoke often about the ease of their dog’s company. The dog could be counted on—to show up, to make them laugh, to comfort them—in a way that many of the humans in their lives couldn’t, or wouldn’t. … Sure, some worried about whether their dogs were happy. Others confessed that they didn’t always feel like they deserved their dog’s attention, respect, or blind adoration. But most simply appreciated their dogs. Their dogs weren’t the cause of their worries; they were a respite from them.”
Denizet-Lewis is a writer for The New York Times Magazine and the author of two previous works of non-fiction, one a collection of his previously published work and the second a narrative of Americans struggling with addiction. While Travels with Casey, a thorough investigation of dog ownership in America, displays the author’s journalistic talents, it is also a more personal exploration of Denizet-Lewis’s relationship with his own dog.
Before his trip, Denizet-Lewis met with Dr. Joel Gavriele-Gold, a psychoanalyst and author of When Pets Come Between Partners, and explained his concerns that his lab Casey would perhaps be happier living with someone else. Denizet-Lewis was hopeful that the four-month journey with Casey would help to improve their relationship. While Dr. Gavriele-Gold was skeptical that this would happen, Denizet-Lewis does eventually come to a new appreciation for Casey. “Somewhere around Texas, I stopped worrying about whether Casey was the right dog for me and started appreciating him for the dog he is.” For Denizet-Lewis, what he learned about our national love of dogs was intertwined with what he learned about himself, and his love for his own dog. Readers of Travels with Casey can learn similar lessons without ever having to step into an RV.