Welcome to the last installment of the Ken Foster interview series. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Ken as much as I enjoyed getting to know him doing the interview!
Drop by one of his book signings if he’s in your area and let him know you “met” him on Dogster!
Joy: How has your relationship with the dogs changed your writing?
Ken: I hadnt really thought about this until somebody else asked me and I came up with this answer I was amazed by because I thought, Oh my God, thats true and yet Ive never thought of it.” But I think because of my dogs my life has scaled down in a way and Im not so worried about what the world thinks of me. Also, because I think Ive gone through so many disasters in the last couple of years, with September 11th and having some friends die too young and having my heart stop and Katrina, it just changes the dogs did this but also those experiences with the dogs made me realize that so much of what we worry about is a waste of time. And one of those is worrying about what people are going to think of what you have to say in your writing. So I think my writing has become much more direct and much more honest because Im not afraid of saying things that matter to me. Because if people dont like me, Ive got my dogs. I dont just have my dogs; my friendships with people are much better for the same reasons.
So if I never publish again, who cares? Ive got these great dog friends and these great people friends and I can find something else to do with my time. And yet because of that I think my writings becoming much better because Im not censoring myself in the way that I might have done before or Im not writing what I am supposed to be writing. Im writing what Im actually thinking and feeling and I think people actually appreciate that much more.
Joy: What else is coming up for you?
Ken: There are some short stories, a lot of which involve animals in some way. A lot of which involve an intense appreciation of life. So Im working on some more of those. Im hoping to do this history of the American Pit Bull.
Joy: What is it about Pit Bulls? Youve almost aligned yourself with Pit Bulls.
Ken: Part of it is that there are so many homeless or abused Pit Bulls so I find them all the time. If you work in a shelter youre likely to see them all the time; unless you work in a shelter that refuses to help them, which there are unfortunately many of. So its a combination of that there are so many of them and the fact that so many people dont want to help them that has made me feel something more for them. Also, when I realized what a Pit Bull was, because so many people dont know, I realized that they were dogs that I had known forever and always loved and never knew that was a Pit Bull. They make up such a huge percentage of the dog population, which I think people dont realize and theyre such a target for hate from people who abuse them and people who want to just kill them outright and make them extinct, thinking thats going to solve the problem of abuse, which it wont. I feel somehow, and I know so many people who have rescued Pit Bulls feel this way too, its like we share the same blood or something. When I see a Pit Bull, I feel like Im related to it.
Joy: Tell me more about that.
Ken: I think part of its from saving Sulla, who showed up at my door and was torn-up and had heartworms and was sick and sick and sick and every time I thought she was healed she came up with some other kind of parasite. So I would literally hold her as if she was a baby sometime. This was while my own heart was failing and I didnt realize it so my whole experience saving her and ending up having to save myself seems tied together in this very emotionally intense way. So Im talking about essentially her relatives. If youre saying that they arent worth saving, then youre saying that shes not worth saving and I take that very personally.
Joy: Whats bad about that, saying that shes not worth saving?
Ken: Cause shes such a great dog and shes such a little baby.
One of the things that I realized just recently when someone sent me a slideshow of someone being rescued from the flood waters where they were wading or swimming in some cases with just their heads sticking out of the water. So they didnt have their dog body; they had just their head. Their heads look very human. They look like either bald babies or bald old men. Suddenly I thought, Is that what it is? Is that why I identify with them so much is that they have the look of a person to them? Because theyve got these big skulls, and these wide-set eyes, and theyve got ears that are sort of on the side of their head rather than on the top. It never occurred to me before but is it partially aesthetic? We have this innate thing supposedly, anyone who looks at a baby feels they need to take care of it. Maybe its that they look so close in some way to the head of a baby. I know there are going to be some people reading this who say, Hes lost his mind.”
Joy: These are Dogsters. I don’t think so.
Ken: They don’t really look like a baby. I am not going to confuse a Pit Bull and a baby if they were sitting next to me. But seriously, the structure is so close, maybe that’s what it is. And they’re so playful and so emotional. So needy. And they really seek having someone to guide them and show what to do. Of course, I sometimes wonder if these same qualities are part of what attracts so many abusive people to them.
After Katrina, the Louisiana SPCA estimated that 62% of all the animals rescued were pit bulls. And there weren’t any stories of people being mauled by them. In fact, when I got back to New Orleans in October, one of the first programs they started was a rehab tent, where the traumatized dogs could be resocialized. Again, a lot them were pit bulls. And we would read to them. Sometimes I even brought some of my student’s work to share. There was one dog, Ethel, who I was particularly in love with, and of course, one day I arrived and discovered that she had been adopted. But it turns out she lives a few blocks away from me now. Sometimes I see her being walked down the street–and she’s so happy, she just gives me a quick kiss and continues on her way.
If you want to read more from Ken and find out where he’ll be appearing check out his web site!
Thanks to Ken for being my “guest!” I look forward to again crossing paths with you in the not too distant future!
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