Have you ever met someone or even gotten on the phone with them and before you knew it time had flown by and you still wanted to talk? Just imagine if this was your first time ever talking and that happened? That was my experience with this urbane, delightful and open writer (who also happens to be a Dogster himself). What a delight to interview! I hope you’ll experience some of the fun I had as you read through this 10 part series. That’s right, 10 parts! There as just WAY TOO MUCH good stuff to get tossed on the proverbial cutting room (or in this case computer room) floor!
So plan on checking back in every day and getting to know Ken better!
Joy: A little bit on how you got started with writing The Dogs Who Found Me.
Ken: The way I got started writing it is someone asked me to write it, which is a little bit unusual and in spite of the fact I was asked to write it I initially said no. I had done a book before this that was an anthology of dog essays.
Ive worked with the same editor Ann Treistman on all my books at two different publishers. When she moved to Lyons Press we thought we wouldnt work together again because they do outdoor, nature, animal books and I had nothing to do with those things. Then I got a dog and she got a dog and we started running into each other again and she said do you want to do a dog book? At that time I said I dont think I can write a whole book about a dog. I cant imagine that I have that much to say. Laughable now but thats why I did an anthology first.
Then later when we were working on the paperback edition of that book, every time we were talking I had a stray dog in the house that I would refer to because I would put down the phone and go do something with the dog. She, like all of my friends, would say, Oh you still have that dog that you found two weeks ago?” And I would say, No, its a different dog.” Thats when she said maybe you should write a book about rescuing dogs and again, I said, I dont know what Im doing. Im not any kind of expert.” But then the more I had people who were surprised that I kept finding dogs, the more I thought well maybe there is something unusual about this for some people, something that I could explore. And then I decided that I would write it and I wanted to try to really figure out what this is about and not just make it a series of anecdotes even though it is that in a way. But to also try to figure out why, why am I finding them when other people arent seeing them. Why do I feel compelled to do something when I used to be the kind of person who wouldnt, to be honest. So thats how the book began essentially.
Joy: You werent the one finding them. What does that say about you now that you are the kind of person who rescues them?
Ken: Thats exactly the question I was trying to answer in writing the book. Whenever people ask it I think, well, it took me two hundred pages to answer that question.
I think part of it is that I got a dog. A dog first in Costa Rica came to me every day for three months and I fell in love with him without meaning to at all, as frequently happens. When I couldnt bring him home with me I was sort of devastated first of all but then when I did go back to New York I needed to get a dog because I didnt know how to live without one at that part.
I think part of it is that I fell in love with dogs so I think living with dogs I have learned to become more intuitive and spontaneous and so the things I would filter out from the environment around me, whether its a stray dog or something else, I no longer filter those things out. Im completely aware of everything. I think thats one of the things the dogs have taught me because as you know dogs dont ignore things and dogs know theres something around the corner even if they havent seen it yet. And I think were capable of being not quite as intuitive but were capable of being more intuitive than we have been in the past couple of hundred years.
Joy: Whats important about having that kind of spontaneity and intuitiveness?
Ken: I think it changes your priorities. I think a lot of our human priorities, especially in contemporary culture, are false. They involve things rather than beings. And they involve things that exist only on paper and things that are televised and things that are electronic and they dont really involve the actual living world. And I think thats another part of the book. There are times when I would have to make a commitment to an animal without knowing what might happen or how long it was going to take to solve the problem of this animals health or this animals homelessness or whatever and I had to give certain things up. I couldnt do whatever I wanted. I couldnt take a vacation or I had to delay a vacation or all of those things. But as dog people we do this all the time actually. But it made me realize too, like what if I dont get to visit my friends this weekend, its not that big a deal. Ill visit them again; it just wont be this weekend. Thats not such a big sacrifice to make.
Joy: Whats bad about having this focus on things and things on paper?
Ken: Because you can spend a lot of energy on those things and they dont give us very much back. The living world is continually giving back to us.
When you rescue a dog you make a commitment and you make sacrifices. Even if the dog doesnt stay with you the rest of its life, even if the dog goes on to live somewhere else, theres a huge reward to doing that, which sounds, I hesitate to say things like that because I listen to myself and think it sounds so corny.
My dogs have saved my life more than once. Theyve made me appreciate really simple things and simple things are also really affordable. My parents sometimes worry that I spend a lot of money on my dogs, the medical bills and things like that, yet I think they keep me at home when I might have gone out to dinner and spent fifty dollars on an entre or given me entertainment that doesnt require that I gas up the car and drive out of town. And so, I feel like the existence of the living world, particularly in this case, animals, dogs particularly, its just a much more efficient way of living and appreciating our lives, to me.
Joy: What does that do for you to have that much more efficient way of living and appreciating your life?
Ken: It makes me happier for one. It makes me feel more alive. I often think what did I spend my time doing before I had a dog? I think what I spent my time doing was thinking a lot about myself, which is just sort of embarrassing. (Laughs) Particularly when I almost died and had to get a pacemaker I was sitting there thinking, What about the dogs?” Again, I thought, thank God Im thinking about the dogs. It would be so embarrassing if I were in this situation and thinking , Poor me!”
Joy: What does that do for you that you can think about them and not yourself?
Ken: I think its very liberating. And I think in some ways, Ive become, to go back into the terms that what we value in society, I think Ive become a much more efficient person.
Come back tomorrow for Day 2 of the Ken Foster interview! He’ll explain what he means by a “more efficient person” and how the dogs helped him cope with a life-threatening heart problem.
If you can’t wait until tomorrow to know more, you can always visit Ken’s website to see some pictures of the dogs and read up on other things happening to this New Orleans resident and fromer New York City bon vivant! You can also check out Brando’s website here on Dogster!