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Puppy Dogs and Great First Lines

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I was flipping channels last night and came across the 131st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on USA Network. I always get a kick out of these things. I grew up surrounded by black labs (in fact, breeding them allowed my parents to pay for my extensive orthodontic work.. yep, headgear and everything), my grandfather was a very serious and competitive fox hunter, and just being basic farm folk, dogs were always around.

But when I watch one of these dog shows, I’m not interested in the hounds or working group at all. Instead, I’m all about the terriers. They just make me laugh.

During the broadcast, someone from Pedigree dog food explained that one-in-fifteen dogs is currently in a shelter. Pedigree’s website states that 4 million dogs end up in shelters each year. Which is truly awful. During the broadcast of the show, Pedigree was matching donations to the American Humane Association, but by the time you read this, that opportunity will probably be closed. However, you can still help your local shelter with a little bit of cash if you’re able.

But then, during the commerical break, my thoughts drifted back to Kevin Canty’s wonderful short story Dogs. Originally published in Canty’s 1994 collection Stranger in This World, the story has one of the most attention-grabbing, and horrifying, first two lines I can remember.

Let’s say things stop working out for you. Let’s say you run out of money in a city that doesn’t know you, and the only job they find for you is killing dogs on the night shift.

Don’t worry. The story ends on a more redemptive note (at least for the canine in question) than the opening would seem to foreshadow. Dogs, and the rest of the collection, are well-worth adding to your reading pile if you missed the book when it was first published.

Oh, and the title story from Brady Udall’s 1997 collection Letting Loose the Hounds is another four-legged literary favorite of mine.