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Roxane Gay & Everand Originals Presents: Good Girl: Notes on Dog Rescue
Roxane Gay & Everand Originals Presents: Good Girl: Notes on Dog Rescue
Roxane Gay & Everand Originals Presents: Good Girl: Notes on Dog Rescue
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Roxane Gay & Everand Originals Presents: Good Girl: Notes on Dog Rescue

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The fourth installment in the series from Everand and Roxane Gay, the beloved bestselling author of Hunger, Bad Feminist, and Opinions. Award-winning novelist and essayist Elaine Castillo details her life spent rescuing and training dogs, a story that reveals just as much about modern society and culture as it does our relationship with humankind’s first domesticated animal.

Like many of us, Elaine Castillo wasn’t a dog person — until she was. Her conversion came in the form of a flea-bitten, nine-year-old German shepherd with missing teeth and an intense gaze. Xena cracked open Castillo’s heart and ushered her into a new world of mutual love and trust, and eventual heartbreak.

Good Girl tells the story of Castillo’s decision to adopt an older dog and of the two precious, life-altering years they spent together. More than the standard life-with-my-dog memoir, it also turns a lens on the long, often fraught relationship humans have had with these animals, dating back to when we first welcomed them to share our fires and food. (Women, she notes, were likely the first to bring dogs into the fold, making them woman’s best friend.) “To trace human history is to trace the history of dogs because, of course, we invented them,” Castillo writes. Good Girl examines and complicates what this invention has meant for both dogs and people.

Throughout her essay, Castillo grapples with two of the thorniest issues surrounding dog “ownership” (itself a loaded word): buying versus adopting, and training techniques. What types of dog people choose, where they get them, and how they treat them aren’t just personal decisions — they’re societal barometers. In poorer communities — such as the rural areas that produce the most rescues — dogs are often kept for protection; they are a byproduct of racialized poverty and vulnerability.

Some dog breeds, including Castillo’s beloved German shepherds, are inextricably linked to violence and the oppression of marginalized people. German shepherds are also the breed most associated with harsh training methods and the false yet stubbornly resilient alpha-wolf theory that says dogs respond best to dominant (i.e. male) humans. As she points out, the long-standing “teach your dog who’s boss” mode of training is toxic masculinity in microcosm and toxic for the dogs themselves.

Castillo uses her own experiences with Xena as well as other dogs she’s adopted or fostered to explore the many ways dogs come into our lives, and how we create space in our lives and our hearts for them. In doing so, she reminds us that dogs are a mirror. They are who they are because of who we are. What if we were better stewards, she writes, “models of gentleness, of play, of responsibility, of care, protection, and mercy. Models of giving away power, of comforting the ailing and injured, of not having to win all the time, of showing tenderness to the vulnerable, of providing for others first. What kind of dog training might that produce? What kind of families, for that matter?”

We’re several thousand years too late not to have a complex emotional life with dogs, Castillo argues. Let’s challenge ourselves to do better for the dogs we share our lives with.

Release dateApr 24, 2024

Elaine Castillo

Elaine Castillo, named one of “30 of the Planet’s Most Exciting Young People” by the Financial Times, was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her debut novel, America Is Not the Heart, was a finalist for several prizes, including the ELLE Big Book Award, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and was named a best book of 2018 by NPR, Real Simple, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Kirkus Reviews, and the New York Public Library. Her latest book is the highly acclaimed How to Read Now, an exploration and manifesto on the politics of reading.

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