Frustrated dog owners who like to tipple will find solace and instruction in this memoir. Martin Kihn is too busy sneaking a “voddy” to devote much time to his long-suffering wife, Gloria. Meanwhile, their incorrigible Bernese mountain dog, Hola, has run amok. Kihn must reclaim his derailed life when Gloria decamps for their cottage after Hola crosses the line and attacks her. “What I know now is that settling for a dog who is housebroken and doesn’t draw blood is like settling for a child who can talk,” writes Kihn. He realizes his marriage is in peril so he joins AA and enrols Hola in the demanding Canine Good Citizen program. What follows is Marley & Me meets Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. The narrative’s coy appeal is that it provides much-needed levity to an otherwise pretty grim scenario. As Kihn struggles with his eccentric sponsor, learns the ropes at obedience school and forgoes his personal dignity, the reader starts to root for him and Hola.
Also keeping the narrative aloft is Kihn’s kindling-dry wit. Here’s a description of the austere rural obedience camp he and Hola attend: “Big dog events tend to be held in places humans abandoned in the 1950s—out-of-the-way, downscale locations with no heat, no cellular reception, no TVs in the room, no Internet, no tiki bar or hot tubs or robes or room service.” I like to imagine Will Ferrell playing Kihn in the film adaptation in which Hola sniffs crotches, refuses to stay and sleeps on the family sofa. Read Bad Dog. It’s entertaining, authentic and self-effacing. Kihn is occasionally upstaged by Hola’s antics in this authentic love story, but her loyal presence will surely help keep him sober.