Baltho, The Dog Who Owned a Man (first three chapters)

 

Embracing Mystery

 

One giant leap—and his front paws landed on my chest. As he stared into my eyes, and I gazed into his, I knew this was the Afghan hound who had been calling me telepath-ically for weeks. This time, I felt him physically.

I was standing just outside the Denver Afghan Rescue. “You’re here,” I whispered, sensing his presence. I surveyed the grounds. Dry, tiny-leaved, Chinese elms dabbed a landscape of sagebrush and sand beneath the blazing June sun. “I know it.” I walked toward the twelve-foot high, chain-link fence that surrounded the compound, giving it the air of a correctional facility.

As I neared the fence, pebbles crunched underfoot. I opened the gate and walked toward a small, wood-frame house on the west side of the grounds. Dozens of dogs barked, alerting each other and their caretakers to an intruder. I could make out the individual voices of at least fifteen dogs housed there—medium-to-low-range sounds of alarm. Their collective din was excruciating.

A man looked out the window of the house. The door opened. He stepped out into the sunlight and strode my way. He stood at least six-feet-three. He sized me up from head to foot and smiled. I guessed he was Jim, the head of the Rescue—the man I’d talked with last night on the phone. “I’m Jim.” He extended his hand. His grip was firm. “Mystery’s a super-sized Afghan, weighing seventy-five pounds,” he said. “With the build of a linebacker, you ought to be able to handle him. You’re what, six-two, maybe two-twenty?”

“Not quite—one ninety-eight.”

“Well, you’re big enough not to get knocked down.” He looked me over again. “Maybe suffer a shoulder dislocation, but only now and then.”

I laughed, hoping he was making a joke.

The name the Rescue had given the Afghan hound, Mystery, felt significant. My life was one of paradoxes and mysteries too. If we come into this life with a map, mine was one of roundabouts and detours, with few straight roads anywhere. I was at the Afghan Rescue because I hadn’t been able to elude the notion that an Afghan hound was telepathically calling me, begging me, to locate and rescue him. An independent, high-maintenance Afghan wasn’t the dog that I’d been planning to adopt. I’d wanted one of those popular breeds—a bouncy, responsive Golden Retriever or aLabrador.

“Mystery’s down at the other end,” Jim said, walking me out to the pens on the east side of the property. “You said on the phone you’re a psychotherapist?” He lifted the heavy padlock on the gate, stuck in a key, and released the lock. He swung open the gate.

I nodded. “I’m just about finished with my training. Until recently, I taught English and was the Episcopal chaplain for the Auraria campus.” It was 1992. The glare of the sun on the cement runs and concrete doghouses inside the individual cages made me wish I’d worn sunglasses.

“Good,” Jim began. “You’re complicated. You should be able to understand Mystery, if anyone can.” He laughed.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to understand mysteries,” I said. “It seems something is always trying to outfox us, threatening our best-laid plans. I’d like to see what’s ahead and avert the danger before it manifests.”

Jim laughed. He closed the gate behind us. “This reminds me—you’ve got to be careful about latches of every kind. Mystery is smart, often too smart. He can open just about any gate. A strong padlock—kept locked—is the only guarantee of confining him.”

We passed into an alley that must have stretched at least a hundred yards ahead. Individual kennels formed by six-foot high chain-link fencing lined the way. Each kennel was maybe eight-feet wide and twelve-feet deep and contained a square dog house made of cement at the back. Some kennels held one or two Afghans. Some were empty.

As we walked, I spotted a frail, small-boned, white Afghan. There’s a Snow Queen in hiding, I thought. Her body was shaking. She stared up at me with brown, soulful eyes. She looked pitiful, so needy. The rescuer in me wanted to respond.

“The dog for you is this way,” Jim said, urging me on. He was several yards ahead of me by then. The place was a labyrinth. I wondered where the Minotaur was.

We took a few more steps, and a huge, dark beast bounded from a distant side-run into our path. His long, brindle hair, as I’d learned to call it during my earlier years with an Afghan, flew from his sides like magnificent wings.

“Mystery’s out!” Jim shouted—as the Afghan bounded past him toward me, barking excitedly

I had only time to mutter, “Mystery’s everywhere,” before he skidded, reared up, and, with his front paws, landed on my chest. Remarkably, he was so graceful that he didn’t knock me over. I did, however, feel the impact of his muscle-driven mass.

Still barking—then whimpering and yapping alternate-ly, as if he’d found his long-lost partner and friend—he nipped at my nose, my earlobes, my chin.

“Hey,” I said, “I know you’re ecstatic, but take it easy with the biting. It hurts.”

In the bright sunshine, his thick, dark coat showed a glossy mix of walnut browns and mahoganies, highlighted by cherrywood and blonds. The hair revealed a distinct red cast.

A big white star with a long tail ran the length of his chest. His dark whiskers, also showing red highlights, formed a full and bushy beard, the greatest I’d ever sighted on an Afghan. His eyebrows must have been an inch long, and his intelligent eyes, like rich cherrywood, complemented his coat.

He began to pet me with first one paw and then the other. His toes moved upon me, massaging my skin. I noticed the huge, webbed feet that his breed had evolved. Their toes became webbed so they could gain better traction in desert sands, helping them grasp unstable terrain. Their upward-curved tails could be tracked above desert scrub.

“I think you’ve got yourself a dog.” Jim laughed. “As soon as you leave here, you’d better search for the largest carrier crate you can find. Put Mystery in it when you aren’t around. Even though we think he’s five or six, he needs security. That’ll keep your house safe when you’re gone.”

I recalled Jim’s telling me on the phone that the woman who’d first adopted him said he’d ripped up her bedding and chewed a hole the size of a watermelon in the middle of her mattress. “He peed and pooped everywhere,” Jim had said. “So she returned him to us.”

“On the phone, you told me you knew something about Afghans, didn’t you?” Jim asked. We’d already been through this, but Jim wanted assurance.

I nodded.

“They’re sight hounds,” he said, repeating what he’d told me earlier. “They see something and take off.”

“I got my previous Afghan as soon as my divorce went through,” I said. “I’ve long been drawn to Afghans. I don’t know why. I had my Afghan, Oriana, for years.”

Mystery wrapped his legs tightly around my chest, as if to hug me tight, never to let go. He fussed, whimpered happily, and yapped away. The distraction was welcome. I didn’t want to dwell on the past, certainly not my bad marriage and divorce.

I looked into Mystery’s eyes. “Oh dog, I know you’re the one.” Tears welled in my eyes. For weeks, he’d been tweaking the telepathic connection, finding my frequency. “I need you—rescue me!” he’d broadcast. “You are mine. I am yours.”

I lowered my head, so his cheek pressed against mine. “I am yours, and you are mine—for as long as we’re given.” By then, I could hardly speak. I hugged him tightly, gathered my wits, and opened my mouth, but the words remained only in thought. Hello, willful, curious—beautiful—swift-as-the-wind, Afghan. Hello, Mystery, my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know Me

 

On the way home, Mystery positioned himself in the back seat so the rearview mirror framed his face. Every time I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t help but see him glance at the scenery on the right, then on the left, and, next, gaze at my face in the mirror.

“So Dog,” I began, watching his eyes lock on mine in the mirror, as if to give me full attention. “I want to know how you tune in to me. What’s the connection?” He pulled his lips into a smile, not a broad smile, but a knowing, mysterious smile. “I know you think of me as coming to save you from the labyrinth where you were imprisoned.” My musings went unanswered. “How did you find your way onto the Stapleton runway?” I kept wondering if his smile might turn downward, if something I said might prompt a change in his demeanor. “Did you escape a carrier crate on a plane? Were you headed to a dog show somewhere? Why don’t you have any identification, no micro chip?”

I shifted directions. “You think you’re talented, don’t you?” I asked. “You know you’re very skilled is more like it,” I added, in a low voice. As wonderful as his aptitudes were, each of his gifts, I knew, could be dangerous.

“My earlier Afghan, Oriana, barreled out of the front door during an early blizzard in September, and got bounced off of five cars onFederal Boulevard. The emergency vet didn’t expect her to live, but I took her home, kept laying hands on her, and she made it for fifteen years. Trouble is, she was never all there, sweet but none too bright.”

Mystery opened his mouth and yawned loudly.

“I’m telling you this for a reason. I know Afghans. Like you, I also hate confinements, both physical and mental.”

Mystery smiled, panting heavily. I could almost hear him thinking, “Going home, going home, again.”

“As you know, I’m too independent, too creative to be locked up. By anything, or anyone. I follow the beat of a different drum.”

Internally, I heard Mystery remark, “Me too, ba-dum. Drum roll, please.”

No one had any idea what Mystery’s real name was. Although Mystery was a good name, I wanted the idea of mystery to feature less prominently in our life together. Because Afghans have been traced back toMount Araratduring Moses’ time, something Middle Eastern seemed appropriate. I would have to think about the possibilities.

I pulled up in front of the old, two-story red brick building that had recently been converted into nine townhomes. An L-shaped structure, the edifice spanned a corner lot in the tree-festooned Highlands directly west of downtown Denver.

I got out of the car, opened the door to the back seat, and attached the leash to Mystery’s collar. The green lawns, the great-leafed canopies of sturdy oak, elm, cottonwood, and maple formed a welcome and cool contrast to Saudi Aurora, as the location of the Afghan Rescue was sometimes termed.

Mystery bounded from the car to the front of my townhome, dragging me along behind him. He acted as if he’d been there dozens of times.

When I opened the door and unsnapped the leash, he glanced  at  the living room on the right—and bounded up the stairs. I hurried after him. He took a quick look at the guest bedroom, then the study, to which he gave more time, especially the walls lined with books, and pranced into my bedroom. With one great leap, he landed on the bed. Using his front paws, he moved in a clockwise manner and pulled the covers inward toward him at the center of the bed. Seeing his work was satisfactory, he plopped down in the middle, head high and eyes alert. He’d claimed his domain.

“Too bad your throne is only bedding,” I said. I walked to my study and pulled down a few books to search for a good Middle Eastern name. Within an hour, I arrived at Balthazar, a regal appellation.

Later that day, in the living room, Balthazar crouched on the emerald plush carpet and pounced at me, yapping, as dogs do when they want to play. I reached to wrestle with him. We both growled and lunged.

Pinning him, my arms wrapped tightly around his chest as he lay on his back, I suddenly found myself overcome by grief. It was as if someone had kicked me in the stomach. My eyes welled up with tears. A deep, convulsive anguish, accompanied by an inability to breathe, overtook me. I’d never experienced anything like thisa foreshadowing of doom that draped over us like a pall.

“Dog, you’ve got to live a long life. I hope you know that,” I said, burying my face in his hair and holding him hard, just as he’d gripped me at the Rescue. I couldn’t shake my sorrow, no matter how hard I tried to bring back the playfulness between us. I couldn’t find relief. I was tuning in to something awful. I knew it.

Finally, I pushed Balthazar away. I raised myself from the carpet and made my way outside to the calm of the common area in the back.  I looked at the roses I’d planted.  Big blossomsdeep pinks, blended with reds and peaches, surrounding yellow centers, character-ized the flowers of the Chicago Peace near my back door. The Mirandy beside it was bursting with velvety blossoms of burgundy that smelled like baby powder.

The gardens near my unit were always the most luxuriant, not because they got special treatment, as a couple of the residents had once suggested. They didn’t. But the phenomenon was curious. My psychic friend Marilyn said, “It’s because nature spirits love you.” I hadn’t seen themas she professed she’d done—but I was open to the idea.

Our Homeowners’ Association president and manager had moved toGreeleyfor work and rented out his townhome. He’d told me he was planning to pay me a salary for the gardening that I did, but I said, “I don’t mind. I’m glad to have the three-hundred dollar a year allowance for some plants, fertilizer, peat moss, and so on. I’ll still pay personally for some things.”

I walked to the back of the yard and slipped out the gate into the alley. I felt guilty for going alone, but I couldn’t have the source of my distress with me.

At the street’s edge several yards away, the full force of the realization that I was walking out on Balthazar and away from the issues that had come up when wrestling dropped on me. I returned to the house. I was greeted by a huge pile of feces and two wet spots the size of dinner plates on the living room and adjoining dining area carpet.

“Oh Balthazar!” I gasped. He didn’t move but stood and watched every move I made. “What a mess.” I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed a plastic bag to pick up the feces, which I then tied and tossed in the trash.

Because he’d drunk so much water, I had to run upstairs to the bath-room for a couple of bath towels to soak up the urine. I threw the first one down on one of the spots and stepped on it till it was soaked.

“Why couldn’t you have gone on the tiled areas?” I asked. Balthazar had not moved.

Then I used the second towel to soak up the other pool of pee. After that, I scrubbed the spots with carpet shampoo.

He continued to watch. I couldn’t tell how he was reacting. “If you have to, the floors in the kitchen and bathroom are far better places than the carpets.”

I dumped the soaked towels into the washer, added detergent, turned on the machine, and shut the lid.

Calming myself, I returned to the living room. “We’ll work through our anxiety,” I said and bent down to hug him. “We’ll figure things out.”

To push him away, slip out, and leave him alone in the house had made him especially anxious. He was afraid that I too would abandon him. Did he also share some precognitive glimpse into the future which had shaken him as deeply as it had me? That hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but with our psychic bond, I suspected that he too had tuned into the future in some way.

“We’ll go for a long walk,” I said, “but you’ve got to try hard not to destroy things.” I stood up and walked to the foyer for his leash. He followed.

“I don’t know how long we have together, my dog. Perhaps not long, if this glimpse into the future proves true,” I attached the leash to his collar. “But we have this day, and this night.” I bent to hug his neck tightly. “We must take advantage of it. We’ll go to a place where you can be free, unconstrained by city traffic and leash.”

I drove north to the Clear Creek nature trail just past Regis Univer-sity.  I parked.  I opened the back  door of  the car  and  unhooked Balthazar’s leash.  He bounded out and raced along the trail ahead of me, barking joyfully at the air, the creek, the birds, the sky.

Even though I could no longer see him, I found myself sharing his consciousness. I began experiencing what he did.

He spotted a squirrel and gave chase. All of a sudden, the squirrel was staring up into his eyes. Balthazar was on top of him, holding him down with his paws. I felt his heart pounding—racing—terror mixed with the thrill of bagging his game.

Suddenly, the squirrel let out a squeal and bit Balthazar’s nose. He yelped and jumped off. The squirrel scampered off and ran up a tree.

I came to the top of the rise and saw Balthazar standing beneath the cottonwood tree where the squirrel now looked down in safety, scolding Balthazar in his loudest, sharpest voice.

Balthazar paced beneath. He barked intermittently. His rebuke was angry but edged with hurt. “You were very bad to run away before Tom had the chance to see with his own eyes what a great hunter I am,” he seemed to say. “Why didn’t you trust me?”

Like a good sight hound, Balthazar had wanted to hold his prey till I reached him.

Now and then I had seen other dogs catch and kill a squirrel, but there had always been at least two of them. Merely snatching the squirrel wasn’t enough for them. They had to eviscerate it too. Not Balthazar. He’d held it and waited for me.

“Balthazar!” I called.

He stopped stalking and cantered over to me, still breathing heavily.

I  reached  to stroke  his  head. My  heart  was pound- ing. “This relationship,” I said, “is going to be very—”  I paused, searching for the right word“awaken-ing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabbages and Kings

 

For several days, I thought of the dogs that had been part of my life. One of my favorite childhood books was a Little Golden Book, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown. Mister Dog was Crispin’s Crispian, a shaggy, funny, shrewd dog who belonged, said Brown, to himself. He found a boy and adopted him. Crispin’s Crispian became the boy’s mentor, his best friend, and constant companion. Together they made a life.

On every family outing, I would bring this book along, just as the boy and his dog roamed hill and valley together. On a trip to Arizonaone winter, I forgot Mister Dog, leaving it in a motel room where we’d spent the night. Losing that book was like losing my guide.

After Balthazar arrived, I remembered the magic of this story. I knew I’d met the dog who’d also adopt me and teach me to become fully myself, just as he was fully himself, both of us owned by the other.

On the seventh day of my life with my own Mister Dog, I stopped to chat with my neighbor Johnny. He and his wife, their two kids, and his aged father-in-law lived in a little brick home across the street. Balthazar stood at my side on his leash. Like many of my neighbors, Johnny was quite a character. Everyone knew of his wee-hour-of-the-morning chases after property-destroying kids, his baseball bat  in  hand, clad in  his white  jockey  shorts,  his  tee shirt barely covering his belly. I told Johnny my new dog’s name. “It’s sometimes Mr. Dog, but, formally, it’s Balthazar.”

“Oh yeah, one of the three wise guys who visited baby Jesus,” Johnny said. “When Christmas comes, you can put a robe around Balthazar and a crown on his head. We’ll find a baby for a proper visitation.” He began to sing in his clear tenor voice. “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and ransom captiveIsrael, that mourns in lonely exile here . . . ”

Balthazar, tossing his head back, his hair sweeping off to the side of his noble face, looked up at Johnny and cocked his head, as if listening intently. He opened his mouth as if ready to answer, showing his perfect, long white teeth, not in a snarl, but in a happy manner. Obviously, this dog loved the limelight.

“You’re always welcome to listen to me sing,” Johnny said, bending down to examine Balthazar’s coat of many colors. With satisfaction, Johnny remarked, “Some dog you’ve got there with hair like corn silk. He must have won all the shows.”

Balthazar’s eyes brightened even more. He pulled his lip muscles back to show more of his teeth. He opened his mouth wider, sighed dramatically, and then unfurled his tongue, as if he were rolling out a red carpet. For a moment, it hung there in the air. Then, slowly, he pulled it back into his long snout, as if performing some sort of trick.

“He’s a happy dog now, a very happy dog,” I said. “He’s found me, his human companion. And I’ve found him.”

Balthazar began to pull on the lead, signaling that he was ready to go. Because he was strong, I had learned to march after  him.  He could give me a  sore  shoulder—perhaps dislocate it—as Jim of the Afghan Rescue had warned.

“Sorry,” I said, “Balthazar and I have to counsel some-one.”

Because I worried about leaving Balthazar in my home alone, I had been meeting with clients there instead of my office.

Darren was a new client whom I was meeting that afternoon. When we set his appointment on the phone the day before, I had told him, “Balthazar, sometimes known as Baltho, or Mr. Dog, will be attending our sessions. Just as I’m still under supervision to complete my therapy training, Balthazar is also training as a therapy dog.” I added, “Sometimes, I think he’s training me.”

Darren laughed. “Dogs are my favorite beasts,” he’d said.

When Darren arrived at the door, he was immaculately dressed in a navy-blue pinstriped business suit and elegant black loafers with gold-tipped tassels. Noting the formal attire, I said, “Welcome,” and motioned for him to take one of the two winged-back rocking chairs in front of the living room window.

“You must have come directly from work.”

“No,” Darren replied. “I took the afternoon off.”

My face must have given away my surprise.

“I dress like this even on the weekends,” he said.

“Well,” I began, “I rarely put on a suit and tie, and boy, am I glad to get them off as soon as I can.” I sat down in the opposite chair.

Balthazar positioned himself like a king between us. He lifted his head high so that Darren and I had to look at him instead of each other.

Darren’s manner, like his attire, remained cordial but rather stiff.

Balthazar looked directly at him and cocked his head to the left and then to the right, as if wondering what was up with him.

“Do you dress like this all the time?” I asked.

Darren nodded. “It goes back to childhood. My mother made sure I put on a set of clean clothes every day that she laid out for me. I could never wear jeans or sneakers, like the other boys.”

Baltho edged nearer to Darren. He raised his head so Darren and I couldn’t make eye contact. I bent my head to the side so I could see Darren’s face.

“I had to wear dress pants and shirt, often a tie. And dress shoes.”

Balthazar moaned.

“He seems to be giving you sympathy,” I said.

“Thanks Balthazar,” Darren said. I thought he would reach to pet him, but he didn’t.

For several minutes, I listened to Darren talk about his overbear-ingly neat and rule-bound mother and his mostly-absent father.

“Do you think your dad was gone so much because he had to work that hard?” I asked.

“No. I think he did it to keep his sanity. My mom wanted to run his life too.”

I winced.

Darren continued telling me about his family.

To glimpse each other for a moment, either Darren or I kept moving our head to the side—until Balthazar again repositioned his head directly in our line of sight.

“Dog, please, don’t do that,” I scolded, pushing his head down.

“It’s all right. Balthazar distracts me. I don’t like to remember the pain of growing up. I was so lonely. I always had to act perfect and be my mother’s little man.”

I smiled. “ Balthazar, will you please move?” I asked. I was tired of his shenanigans.

He got up and moved directly in front of Darren.

Darren seemed about to cry. Just as he reached out to pet him, Balthazar jumped up onto his lap. As if that wasn’t enough, he flipped over onto his back. “Whoa,” Darren said, holding onto the dog with both hands so he wouldn’t fall off. “My suit is slippery,” Darren laughed.

Stretching the length of Darren’s body, with his back feet now touching the floor, Balthazar touched his nose to Darren’s nose and lightly stroked his cheeks with his paws. “He loves me,” Darren said, still chuckling.

“He certainly isn’t acting very regal,” I said. “Some noble royal you are,” I muttered, recalling what one of the neighborhood boys had recently said about him. Even though I was trying to sound stern, I also found Balthazar’s antics amusing.

“Don’t be too hard on him. I envied my neighbors who had dogs. They seemed so happy. My mother wouldn’t let me have a dog. She said they were dirty.”

“That they are,” I said. “But I figure they’re worth it. Most of the time,” I added, hoping Balthazar wouldn’t take that as an invitation to mess things up just as soon as I turned my back.

“I have a hard time opening up. I really need to work on that. I never learned how to interact with people.”

“Balthazar seems to know that,” I said.

“I feel like a mannequin,” Darren confessed, “something my mother dressed and bossed around. I don’t feel close to anyone, not even my wife.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “to be intimate, we have to take off our formal attire and be seen for what we are, imperfections and all.”

“The idea petrifies me,” Darren said. His affect was flat. I had expected a physical reaction of some sort, but Darren’s body and face remained calm. He seemed to have put his mask back on so that he wouldn’t feel too much pain.

Balthazar raised himself so he could touch Darren’s cheek with his own.

“I think Balthazar’s telling you that you can do it, you can open up and find your real self. It’s there beneath the facade.”

Darren nodded. For a moment, he seemed about to cry. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see you or one of the other therapists I set appointments with. Now I know. You’re the one. You and your dog.”

As if to seal the arrangement, Balthazar touched Darren’s mouth with his.

“Oh dog, you’re getting a little too intimate,” I said. Darren didn’t express disapproval. “I’m so glad he isn’t a licker. At most, you’ll get the tip of his tongue, but even that isn’t guaranteed.”

I turned back to what seemed Darren’s central issue. “As far as intimacy goes, I want to point out that you’ve already made progress. Baltho, the nickname I’ve given Balthazar, is showing you how to interact on deeper levels. You’re doing fine.”

Darren laughed. “Well,” he said, “he is a dog, not a human.” He stroked Baltho’s head thoughtfully. “Nicknames are terms of endearment, aren’t they?”

I nodded. “We use them for people and animals we feel close to.” I paused to let the point sink in.

Darren nodded. “You make a good team. Like you, he’s creative.”

I glanced at my watch. “It looks like our session is about over. It’s been good. Next week, same time?” I asked.

Darren nodded.

I stood. Balthazar and I accompanied him to the door. I smiled down at Mr. Dog, who stood at my right side, his head under my hand. I stroked it. “We’ll see you soon.”

We watched, as Darren walked down the steps to his Mercedes parked at the curb.

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Endorsements

One of my life’s quests is to show people that animals are here to teach us compassion and unconditional love. The story of this dog, Balthazar, demonstrates this beautifully. The author weaves a captivating story of the dog that had an innate healing ability as well as being a great teacher. I’m a big fan of this book and convinced it will be loved by anyone who ever looked into the eyes of a dog and saw its soul.

Jenny Smedley – best-selling author of Pets Have Souls Too

www.jennysmedley.com

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One reason human beings and animal companions forge close bonds is they sense their time together is limited. In Baltho, The Dog Who owned a Man, Thomas Watson doesn’t present a story of that bond–he accompanies us on a sojourn of joy, wonder, courage, discovery, compassion, love, healing, frustration, sorrow, and, ultimately, the hope of reuniting some day. Curl up with your pet, along with some tissues, and enjoy a good read.

                     ~Dianne Arcangel

 Author of Afterlife Encounters and Life After Loss

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Slipping and sliding happily on the fine clothes of a fashionable man, the dog Balthazar, or Baltho, takes the stiffness out of Darren who would present himself always in a full suit of clothes. Head weighing on her lap, Baltho finds Carmen’s inner child, as he reveals his own “inner puppy.” These are clients of the therapist who owns Baltho, and such fee payers benefit while the therapist wonders.

Thomas Ramey Watson puts up such a cloud of appealing detail for the life of the psychotherapist and his extraordinary Afghan hound that the willing suspension of disbelief is automatic—oh, tell us more about this charming psychic dog, whose first act of esoteric sharing is so strong that the narrative speaker feels his own nose bit by the squirrel that Baltho has chased. The dog has superimposed his own dog vision of the hunt into the consciousness of his owner.

But it all hangs together, even for the supervisor of the therapist, Gold, who in some of the funniest scenes I have read in a long time, actually takes the dog to a posh restaurant wearing a “Dog in Training” saddle and orders fancy courses for Baltho, while diners look on.

For those who believe in dogs’ powers of the psyche and those who do not, this is a fine book about the inner quest of a dog lover who knows how to narrate the most exotic psychic aspects of the connections between man and beast.

—Alan Naslund

Author of Silk Weather

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Baltho, The Dog Who Owned a Man is a heartfelt story, and so well written it’s as if you are there, experiencing every moment. A wonderful personal and working relationship between two beings, the book points out how great animals are and how kind humans can be.

JoDell Stansel, President

Paws Animal Rescue, Inc.

www.pawsrescue.org