In doing an interview with Julie Klam, you tend to feel that you want to be at least half as witty as she is--but be forewarned, it's impossible. Julie Klam is hilarious, (all you have to do is read her to know that by the first line), kind (she encouraged me to get Timothy Hutton to follow me on twitter), and yes, according to all the rave reviews she's racking up for You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secret of Happiness, everyone agrees that she writes like a dream. Doing this interview with her was a blast--so thank you, Julie!
So tell us, what are the secrets of happiness? And what wisdom do you think dogs can give us?
The secrets of happiness are being rich and pretty and thin, right? Oh wait, no having dogs-- that’s what I meant.
Can you talk a bit about the rescue work you do with dogs? Do you instinctively know which dog is going to be right for which person?
My work with rescue involved doing home visits for prospective families, pulling dogs from shelters, helping transport dogs and fostering. It’s not so much an instinct as looking on paper at the needs of the dog and the lifestyle of the person. One thing we get from fostering is the foster family knows what the dogs issues are. If it’s a dog with terrible separation anxiety, you don’t want a person who’s going to leave it alone 10 hours a day. A senior dog shouldn’t go with a person in a 5th floor walk-up.
You talk about how humans sometimes see rescuing dogs as a way to rescue themselves. How does this work and does it ever misfire?
Well, in my case, there was something missing from my life and the work I do with the dogs definitely fills a hole. It’s different to care for a dog than a human.
I love the way you write that loving Otto made you grow up, and you became more open to loving a man. Are you suspicious of people who don’t like animals? (I know, I am.)
I have a very good friend who “hates” animals. I think it’s a little like having friends who are different political parties. We just don’t go there. I also think they haven’t met the right animal.
I have to ask, since you are a mom, too, what’s your feeling about childless people who say their pets are their children?
I have no problem with people referring to their pets as their children. Any way you want to look as it as long as it’s loving is okay with me.
You’ve had 17 family dogs, the section about the death of Moses was so moving—you couldn’t totally grieve because you had a young daughter but the rescue group became a support group. I loved it that you wrote so eloquently about the risk of loving another living thing, because there is always loss, and with animals, because of their life span, they “give you the end of their life.” Does it ever get easier? Are there ways we can better prepare for the end of our pets’ lives?
Oh, no. I don’t think it ever gets easier. Every dog, every animal is different and the relationship is different. Every dog I’ve lost has been a unique experience depending on so many things—how long I had them, how old they were, whether the death was accidental or not. I do think Otto’s death was the worst one I’ll ever go through because he was my first dog and only my dog.
Why do you think dogs are spiritually superior to humans? Do they really not have conditions for their love? I think their capacity for love and forgiveness is different. Dogs aren’t petty, they don’t hold grudges. To me they have all the best qualities, they’re the beings I aspire to be more like (except for the breath).
You write, you rescue dogs, you’re a wife and mother and dog owner—how on Earth do you manage to juggle your time and still be so funny and happy? I have a really good shrink. Just kidding. Sort of. I am extremely happy with my life, I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to write and be with the dogs and have a husband who supports my madness, and a wonderful sweet daughter. I live in my favorite city in the world, oh and I take a lot of drugs. Just kidding. Sort of.
I always ask, what’s obsessing you now? Clothes. I feel like when a new book comes out I should look nicer than I do in my going to the gym/dog walking/writing/dropping off at school life and I have zilcho in my closet so I’m trying to figure out what to get that will be really comfortable and attractive and dog friendly. Definitely nothing white or silk.
And—what question should I be mortified that I didn’t ask?
How I stay so young looking. Well, Caroline, let me tell you. I don’t.