Today’s book review is about one of the best dog books I ever read, “Merle’s Door:  Lessons from a Freethinking Dog” by Ted Kerasote.  I think cat lovers will enjoy this book just as much as dog lovers – and there is a cat in the book as well!


Books about dogs are everywhere – from understanding and training them to stories about them.  But no other book presents the unique blend of being both a moving love story between a dog and his human, and fascinating and well-researched information about how dogs think, communicate, and interact with their world.

The story begins when Merle, a big, reddish dog, appears out of nowhere near the San Juan River, where Ted Kerasote, a well-known nature writer, is on a rafting trip.  Merle chooses Ted as his human, and Ted takes Merle home to Wyoming.  Thus begins a 13-year relationship built on that initial freedom of choice for both dog and man – a choice that enriched both their lives in ways neither of them could have imagined. 

What follows is the story of a deep and balanced human-animal bond.  This is a relationship based on equality and freedom – Kerasote never subjects Merle to his wishes, but always offers him choices.  The door, a real dog door that Kerasote installs for Merle, becomes a metaphor for the opening of a whole new way of looking at how dogs view the world.  It shows how dogs, if given the opportunity to utilize their innate intelligence, can become fully realized beings with their own emotions, interests and thoughts, rather than the eternal puppies so many pet dogs turn into.

The door metaphor also extends to what the book really is – a love story.  It symbolizes the opening to loving fully.  Heart-touching, funny, moving and absorbing, it takes the reader on the 13-year journey of Merle and Ted’s relationship.  If you’re not weeping by the end of the journey, your heart is made of stone.  No matter how many times I’ve read the book, I still cry at the end. 

The book is packed full of interesting facts about dogs, from the latest research on wolves to explaining how sharing leadership with your dog, rather than treating him as your subordinate, can help create happier and healthier canine companions.  It is a must read for any animal lover – it will change the way you look at how animals communicate and deepen the bond with your own canine companion.

3 Comments on Book Review: “Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog” by Ted Kerasote

  1. It sure is a gut-wrenching decision for everyone — you are right that quality of life is different for each animal and person. I agree that we all make the best decision we can given each unique situation. It was clear that all of Ted’s decisions came from his deep love for Merle, & even though it may have been too long for me with my animal, I believe there’s a level of communication between pet and guardian that is all part of the decision.

  2. I agree that “Merle’s Door” and “Marley and Me” are on two completely different levels. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy “Marley and Me”, but “Merle’s Door” goes so much deeper.

    It is interesting how everyone’s definition of when it’s “time” to let an animal go is different – that could probably be the topic of a whole separate discussion. It is a gut-wrenching decision for every pet owner, and “quality of life” is not always black and white and is different for each animal and for each person. I address this in greater detail in “Buckley’s Story.” Ultimately, I think that it’s an individual decision, and I’ve always felt that those of us who love our animals so much (and that certainly was true for Ted and Merle) make the best decision we can given each unique situation. Sometimes, even the people closest to us may not be able to understand. As you said, everyone’s threshold is different.

  3. I, too, loved this book and found it one of the best dog books I’d ever read. I found it much deeper than Marley and Me, more in tune with who dogs are. I did have a hard time at the end with how long Merle went on sick. I’m afraid my threshold for when it’s time is lower than Ted’s. I had the opportunity to meet Ted at a book signing here in Boulder. His love for Merle was so palpable.

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