Monday, September 24, 2012

Circling the Waggins by C. A. Wulff

An up-front warning:  Blogger has just forced their new "streamlined" settings on me.  I didn't like them when I tried them a few months ago and switched back to the older Blogger settings that used words rather than symbols (I cannot, for the life of me, understand why labeling buttons has gone out of style -- I like knowing a button's purpose at a glance).  It may take me a while before I'm back in the swing of regular posting.  


Circling the Waggins by C. A. Wulff is a book I was sent by the author after I saw Bob Tarte (author of Kitty Cornered and Enslaved by Ducks) mention it on Facebook and decided I must add it to my wishlist.  Subtitled, "How 5 Misfit Dogs Saved Me from Bewilderness," Circling the Waggins describes Wulff's large brood of animals (dogs, cats and, after a bit of begging from a friend, mice) but especially focuses on the dogs and their personalities.

Circling the Waggins is partly about how the author's beloved pets helped her survive depression but it's also about the changing fur faces in her home.  At the beginning of the book, she describes the loss of her partner's favorite dog, Troll, the decline of her dog Dillon, and the arrival of a new puppy she was certain she was not prepared to handle: Waldo.

Throughout the book, there are flashbacks that reveal the characteristics of beloved, now-departed dogs and the gradual arrival of new pets as more of the pet-loving duo's elderly brood of pets died off.  The reader gets to see Waldo progress from a goofy puppy to a huge but lovable and smart dog.

Circling the Waggins is a memoir, and the important characteristics of a memoir are always (in my humble opinion) the author's voice, along with the writing.  There were some problems I had with the writing.  It could have used a bit of editing and the fact that she jumped around in time -- going from Dillon's death to life with Dillon, for example -- often threw me.  But, I didn't find any of that enough to stop the reading; the writing issues were minor.

Voice-wise, I found the author occasionally came off as harsh -- in an emotional way.  However, she and her partner obviously have huge hearts.  They try to rescue as many animals as they can, finding homes for many and occasionally taking in a new pet.  When one becomes ill, she researches the symptoms and potential causes and goes out of her way to relieve, if not cure, an illness.  It's no wonder her animals live so long.  I was extremely impressed with her dedication and that also over-ruled the negative aspects of her individual storytelling voice.

Memoirs will usually reflect an author's opinions, as well, and I particularly agreed with Wulff about the senselessness of not getting pets spayed or neutered.  She's a little preachy about that.  Good for her.  Four million cats and dogs are euthanized every year because there aren't enough homes in which to place them all.  It boggles my mind that there are people who think it's no big deal to allow a pet to give birth to a litter . . . or two, or three.

A couple years ago, I gave a harsh review to an author who locked her cat into a restroom with an unfamiliar cat of the opposite sex so the female in heat could be relieved by getting impregnated.  It didn't work; the result was a painful cat fight, but the author and her family did allow several of her pets to give birth to litters, just for the fun of temporarily having tiny fur babies in the house (again, not something I condone). I thought locking a cat in a bathroom with another feline unknown to her was cruel.  I still feel that way and appreciated Wulff's no-nonsense feelings about the importance of keeping down the unwanted-pet population.

I particularly loved reading about the animals' individual personalities.  It should be noted that the focus is on dogs but the other animals do get exposure, especially when they become ill.  By the end of the book, all 3 cats  have perished due to natural causes.  The author is not a cat lover and was fairly disinterested in the cats, although she put every bit as much effort into trying to keep them healthy as she did any other animal.

Talking point:

The author's nephew told her he didn't want to visit her home because of a particular dog.  When pressed, he said it wasn't really that dog but the complete chaos of her home.  On a few occasions, the author mentioned considering dog training but rejecting it.  Here is where she and I disagree.  I think being jumped on and licked by a dog is horrifying.  Dogs are great pets but my personal opinion is that they should be trained to behave, especially around strangers.  Some of us have had some pretty terrifying experiences with dogs.

Since she and her partner take their dogs with them on outings, it seems reasonable that they ought to be willing to get them trained.  A well-trained dog can be a joy, even to someone who has had a bad experience in the past.  I agree with Wulff, however, in her conclusion that nobody has to visit her home if they don't appreciate her pets as they are.

The bottom line:

Recommended, particularly to dog-loving readers.  Jumps in time were occasionally a little confusing, but once you get to know the animals, you will love reading about their habits and quirks.  I'm looking forward to reading the author's first book, Born Without a Tail.

Final note:  So far, I'm unable to load photos to Blogger.  The image of the book, above, was loaded before Blogger forced the new settings on me.  Hopefully, I'll figure this out, soon.  As you know if you're a regular visitor, I post a *lot* of photos and being able to do so with ease is crucial.  If I'm not able to figure out the problem, I may consider leaving Blogger.  I've been very happy with this particular blog-hosting site and the ease of posting, till now.  After 6 1/2 years, it might be time for a change.  We shall see.  

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I loved this book on so many levels, but I thought that the sheer craftsmanship was often brilliant. Ariel knows how to tell a story very economically. No scene ever went on too long, and her descriptions were as pithy as what you would find in a top notch detective novel. She's the Dashiell Hammett of the pet book genre. And no one has a bigger heart or does more for animals.

    1. Oh, I think you're right about that. The book i written in such nice, conservative bites that any flaws in her writing are not all that noticeable because it's so hard to put the book down. I love a book that grabs you in that way. Thanks for passing my name on to Ariel, Bob!

  2. Circling the Waggins took me into a world where the heart leads the way -- but not in a sentimental way. I felt an intensity of caring and wonder as I followed her life with the dog, cats and, yes, even the mice.
    Personally, I am a dog person, but Ariel had me relating to all her furry friends. I, like you, also particularly enjoyed reading about the different animal personalities

    1. Robert,

      I found that the mice were just as interesting as the dogs and cats, but I am constantly surprised by animals and their intelligence. We had, for a time, an anole lizard (who lived outside but was recognizable) that lost his fear of me. I would chat with him and he'd tilt his little head as if listening. Most skitter away, but I called this one my little anole friend and it was quite a learning experience.

      I loved the way Ariel cared for every animal as if it was just as important as the next, whether it was her favorite or not. She obviously is a deeply caring person. So nice to read that kind of perspective in a world where animals are literally dumped by the road to fend for themselves.

  3. I might like to read this one, as I was a big fan of Enslaved by Ducks, and have a few other animal memoirs scattered throughout the house. I have a lot of them, actually, but getting me to read them is tricky because I often see the ending as heartbreaking. This one sounds a little different though, so I will be looking for it. Thanks for the very elegant review today. I liked what you had to say, and the way you said it.

    1. Enslaved by Ducks and Kitty Cornered are such delights. I thought Circling the Waggins was very good, too. It has a much different tone, since it's partly about an emotional battle, but it's also endearing and you'll fall in love with the dogs. There are enough animals coming and going throughout the book that it doesn't have a heartbreaking ending, although it's always sad when another one dies. They had a lot of elderly animals all at once!

      Thanks, Heather!

  4. User interface changes can drive me mad, so I completely understand needing an adjustment time. I hope it gets easier for you!

    1. I'm getting there slowly, Alyce. It's a little maddening trying to shift things around so that the images and spacing are the way I want them, at this point. But, apparently it was my computer that was having a hissy fit when I tried to load images, the first time.

      Thanks! I feel better about it after a second post, but I really do hate the "new, streamlined" look with a passion.


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