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"Barking at the Moon" Shows Dogs Can Be Emotional Lifesavers

Tracy Beckerman's tales of living with Riley will surely touch your heart.

Tracy Beckerman, with permission.
Riley on the go.
Source: Tracy Beckerman, with permission.

A few weeks ago I published a post called "Piglet, a Deaf and Blind Puppy, Teaches the Power of Love" about a young dog who was a life-changer for a loving family. I recently read award-winning writer Tracy Beckerman's newest book called Barking at the Moon, and it moved me all over the place and there were many surprises about where I landed from time to time. I'm thrilled she could take the time to answer a few questions about her story of life with Riley, a tale of life, love, and kibble.

Why did you write Barking at the Moon?

This is my third memoir and I knew right away it would be about my former dog, Riley. It seemed like the time was right to tell his story, which included figuring out how to step on the pedal of the garbage can to open the lid, turning to a life of crime by stealing dirty socks, and so much more.

But it wasn’t just about the foibles of a crazy dog who liked to eat underwear and slugs. It was also about my time transitioning from a young stay-at-home mom with little kids to an almost empty nester and the challenges that presented for me.

River Grove Books, with permission.
Source: River Grove Books, with permission.

How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

I’ve written a syndicated humor column called Lost in Suburbia for 20 years about my family, living in the ‘burbs, and avoiding, at all costs, driving a minivan. After getting so much interest in the column, I decided to write the back story to the columns, which became my book, Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir. How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself, and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs. That book ended when my kids were about three and five and, as the title says, I had somewhat successfully gotten my cool back. Barking at the Moon, in a sense, picks up where Lost in Suburbia left off.

In this book, my kids are now five and seven and we decide they are ready for a dog. The mellow puppy we bring home quickly turns into Dogzilla and chaos ensues. I decided to write this story to put the focus on Riley because I realized how much of a lifeline I had gotten from my current dog Monty during the pandemic, and it seemed that people needed a funny, heartwarming dog story right now.

Who is your intended audience?

Of course, I think this book is a natural fit for dog lovers. But it’s also for moms at any stage of life. It’s a good book for women who are thinking of having kids (or perhaps more of a cautionary tale about how having kids and a dog will trash your house, destroy your sex life, and turn your life upside down.) It’s also obviously relatable for young moms who are in the throes of parenting children, and older moms who have already been through it all.

What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?

When we got Riley, I thought I was doing it for the kids. It turned out he was really for me—and not just because I was the one who fed him, bathed him, and cleaned up after him.

Riley became my constant companion through the child-rearing years, and he was the perfect buddy. He would listen when I complained, get excited when I got excited, and comfort me when I was sad. It really was like having a best friend who would stick by you no matter what—unless they heard some food drop on the floor in the next room.

This, I think, is the reason why dogs are amazing emotional support animals and therapy pets. They excel in calming you and don’t get mad if you forget to buy the Cocoa Puffs, or go in their room, or send them embarrassing texts (although we never allowed Riley to have his own phone so that wasn’t really an issue for us). Monty and I are actually a certified pet therapy team, so I’ve had a first-hand chance to see how much joy and comfort dogs can bring to people. Riley was that dog for me. This is not to say I didn’t get mad when, as a puppy, he ran through my wet cement subfloor, through the house, and across the new duvet cover on my bed. He did get points for looking cute while he did this, though.

Aside from what he meant to me, I really do think the kids grew emotionally from having a dog. He was a great Frisbee dog and a lot of fun, naturally, but he was also a constant in their lives when everything else was changing, which is the nature of adolescence. He was always there to be a friend to them, or a clown, or a comfort. They all grew up together in many ways—and then apart as the kids moved on to teenage things that did not include dogs.

But he was always considered part of the family until he died. (sorry, spoiler alert). And that is the hardest part of having a dog. They bring so much love and comfort and humor into a home that it really is like losing a member of the family when they pass. Unfortunately, dogs live very short lives, which is a good reminder, as Riley would say, to take time to stop and smell the fire hydrants.

How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

There are a lot of dog books that tell the story of an out-of-control dog who eventually endears himself to his family and brings them closer. But I don’t think there are any really funny dog books out there that will make you laugh with recognition and love. From raising my dog and my kids to facing an empty nest, I think this book will resonate with many.