Travels With Casey
Simon & Schuster
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Premise: a man sets out in an RV to travel across America with his dog. No, I’m not talking about John Steinbeck’s 1962 classic Travels with Charley. “Steinbeck had traveled the country to tell the story of America’s soul,” author Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “I was traveling the country to tell the story of America’s dogs. Charley was an accessory; Casey would have a starring role.”
Casey is a nine-year old yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever mix; a laid back fellow who loves walks, chasing after balls, and humping. He’s been with Benoit Denizet-Lewis since he was eleven weeks old, and had stuck by the author through some rather tough and lean times. But still, thirty-something, single Denizet-Lewis had a sneaking suspicion that Casey was disappointed with him, and would rather have had another, more interesting owner. So while traipsing across dog-crazed America seemed like a great thing for an unattached, young author and his beloved dog to do, Denizet-Lewis admitted to an ulterior motive for their trip:
It doesn’t take an advanced psychology degree, though, to realize the most compelling reason I was dropping everything to travel around the country with an animal: I hoped to find some answers about my fraught relationship with Casey. I wanted – I needed – to feel better about my dog. Maybe other dog lovers could show me the way.
All psychobabble, navel-gazing and anthropomorphizing aside, Travels With Casey is a fun read. While sometimes you might want to biff Denizet-Lewis up the side of the head and tell him to “just get over it, already!”, his often humorous angst does keep the book from turning into an itinerized travelogue, and the myriad of different dogs and dog owners that he and Casey visit balances out the soul baring and keeps it from becoming too tiresome.
The pair certainly do have a lot of dog-centric experiences! From attending the haute Westminster Dog Show to rescuing emaciated strays in East St. Louis, they run the gamut of highs and lows of life with Fido. Along the way they visit dog psychics, dog masseurs, wolf packs, working dogs that drive cattle, police dogs, service dogs, dock-diving dogs and even several of the Pit Bulls that had once been part of Michael Vick’s dog-fighting enterprise. They would chat with “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan, speak with the head of PETA, and talk with the woman taken to court for (allegedly) not picking up her dog’s poop. They would stay in a bed-and-breakfast shaped like a Beagle and brave an entire day in one of the most polarized dog landscape in the USA: Tompkins Square, New York City’s oldest (and perhaps looniest) dog park. And all along the way they would interact with dogs and dog owner of all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life, from pampered pooches to reservation strays, from celebrated team mascots to dogs whose owners were homeless and unsure of where their next meal would be coming from.
Seamlessly threading through this narration of the journey are snippets of information, collaborating witticisms and well researched background material covering many aspects of dog development, behavior and cultural history. Denizet-Lewis, writer for The New York Times Magazine for a decade as well as for Sports Illustrated, The New Republic, Spin, Salon.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and Slate.com, is a talented reporter and essayist with a wide range of sources and a knack for knowing how and when to use them.
Between the unabashedly personal musings, the annotated additional knowledge and the first hand chronicle of their trip across “our dog crazy country”, there is something for everyone in Travels With Casey. It may not be Steinbeck, but it sure is fun (and occasionally heart wrenching/endearing).
And as to whether or not Mr. Denizet-Lewis finds the answers to his questions regarding his “fraught relationship” with Casey? Well, I’ll let you find that out on your own. Suffice it to say, after reading Travels With Casey, if I had a tail I’d be wagging it.