A Dog’s Life

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Alsatians have a bad reputation, they are said to bite the hand that feeds them. Indeed, Tulip bit my hand once, but accidentally.”

From the very beginning of the animated adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s memoir My Dog Tulip the author leaps to the defence of his pet. He explains that Tulip bit his hand, mistaking it for an apple, having become so uncontrollably excited at the mere mention of a walk that she grabbed the vegetables and scattered them all over the corridor “as if they were rose petals marking her ascension to heaven.”

It is impossible for the usually grumpy Ackerley, voiced by Christopher Plummer, to be angry with Tulip, as he cannot help but be enchanted by her enthusiasm. “It seems to me both touching and strange that she should find the world so wonderful.”

Director Paul Fierlinger, with wife Sandra, drew all of the film’s nearly 60,000 frames, composed of rough, thin lines reminiscent of a newspaper cartoon. Although usually quite serene, the animation transforms into frantic scribbles underscored with free-form jazz during some of Ackerley’s more fanciful monologues.

The soundtrack shifts from hymns to classical piano as the pair pay visits to the country and the vet and attempt to find a mate for Tulip. Tulip’s difficult search for a partner mirrors Ackerley’s own, who speaks of his struggle to find an ‘ideal friend.’

His failure to form satisfying relationships with people means that he strives for the fullest possible relationship with his dog. As he admits, looking at her in her later years, he feels that the ideal friend ‘would have had the mind of my Tulip.’

Perhaps this is why he defends her often inappropriate and destructive actions, viewing the situation from the point of view of the dog. In one scene, for instance, a passing cyclist comments on Tulip relieving herself on the pavement.

What’s the bleeding street for!?,” he says.

For turds like you!” is Ackerley’s response.

While all around him people complain about Tulip’s barking, smell and behaviour, Ackerley feels only sympathy for dogs in their attempts to understand their masters.

What strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of humans, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestioningly to obey, and whose mind they can never do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend.”

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