In DRINKING WITH MISS DUTCHIE, Ed Breslin writes very frankly about his chronic depression, anger issues, and destructive behaviors of smoking and drinking. He often became disgusted with himself and at various times checked in with AA, but didn't work the program seriously enough to achieve lasting results. His loving and very patient wife, Lynn, was getting tired of his benders. She had grown up with dogs and was a dog lover. Breslin, never really a "dog person," decided to surprise her with a Lab retriever puppy for her birthday in hopes of getting out of the doghouse himself. That was the plan at least.
Breslin bought the black puppy, sight unseen, from a breeder and had no idea what to expect since he knew nothing about caring for a young animal. When he first brought the dog home, she fussed and flailed, chewed on his fingers, tore up the house, defecated on his manuscript, and wore him to a frazzle with her anger, energy and neediness. He couldn't wait until Lynn returned from the city so he could unload the responsibility of the frenzied puppy onto the dog lover. But within 36 hours of Miss Dutchie's arrival, Breslin was totally in love with her. Naturally, Lynn was thrilled to once again have a dog in her life, and so the trio quickly became a family.
Dutchie delighted in running with abandon. She loved to swim, play fetch, and chase Breslin around the dining room table. She made up the games, and Breslin more or less learned to follow her lead wherever it led. She quickly dispatched rabbits and squirrels out of what she considered her territory. Because the Breslins had an apartment in New York City as well as a place out in the country, Dutchie made friends everywhere she went. She was so full of energy and fun that she was a magnet for children.
The puppy fussed whenever Breslin smoked and wanted nothing to do with him when he had been on a bender. It's very likely that her dislike of his addictions actually gave Breslin resolve to seriously battle his bad habits. The battles were anything but easy.
The trio soon fell into routines, and Dutchie was never happier than when the three of them were together. Breslin learned to lighten up a bit. The dog lived in the moment, and no doubt she was secretly teaching him by example. It's difficult to feel depressed and anxious when a warm, furry, 85-pound animal is snuggled up to you, licking your face and loving you wholeheartedly.
But, of course, all was not perfect. At age seven, Dutchie's right ACL had to be replaced with artificial ligaments in her right hind leg. The operation aged her considerably, and soon her spryness was gone. Still she enjoyed life to the fullest that she could. As often happens with elderly dogs, Dutchie suffered a severe health problem --- laryngeal paralysis. Surgery to correct it was unsuccessful. Then a bone defect, a ruptured vertebrae, caused a split spine, and inevitably the vet did the only kind thing he could.
Dutchie shared 12 years and two months with the Breslins. Her very presence --- her love, her joy of life --- profoundly affected Breslin, whose life was so much better for it. Readers close the book knowing that his grief eventually healed, and once again a dog is part of the Breslin household.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on March 28, 2011