Conversations with Raika is now available!
Self-centered, manipulative, irritable, opinionated …is it possible to fall in love with a dog who possesses most of the worst qualities of humanity, and rather few of the best?
I want to talk about me. Specifically, I want to talk about my Hanukkah wish list. Yes, Hanukkah. It appears that the gifts start earlier and last longer than for Christmas, so I’m signing up for that program this year. Admittedly, Hanukkah is almost over, but I’m thinking we could split the difference and start today – sort of a hybrid holiday celebration. We can call this “Chrismakkah.”
The story of Raika begins several years after she retired from a noteworthy career in the world of competitive dog sports. Now that Raika and her owner no longer spent hours a week training, playing and traveling, she was left with relatively little to do. As a result, her life transitioned from one of working to one of eating, and eat Raika did! Unfortunately, all of that eating led to a serious weight problem, and she wasn’t about to take responsibility for her mom’s guilt-driven negligence:
“While I hate to be blunt, we do need to begin with a basic understanding: It’s your fault that I got fat. …You’ve dug yourself quite a hole where my weight is concerned. Ten pounds. Wow….I say we get walking!”
In the process of losing that weight through long daily walks, we find ourselves privy to Raika thoughts on everything from the weather to human frailty to the importance of living life to the fullest.
“The fact is, I may well be on death’s door. I mean, one never knows about these things. One day, blithely stealing biscuits from the counter, and the next day, boom! Lightning strikes and we’re flattened; never to steal a biscuit again.”
While mom is initially unable to hear Raika’s thoughts, she slowly comes to appreciate life through the eyes of her elderly dog. She also comes to accept that time is short.
“Raika, last night I had a dream. In my dream, you were trying to talk to me….it was so clear what you were trying to say…No amount of walking, or changing of diets, or listening…could make you young again….You wanted me to let you go…I know that your time will come. It is inevitable.”
And so begins the second part of the story as the pair begin to engage in dialogue. Raika presents her perspective on the irrational nature of human behavior and emotion with a blunt matter of factness that startles…and then thoroughly charms, with her sense of humor and keen awareness of the human condition.
Raika: Are you feeling better from your worry?
Raika: Do you find it at all ironic that I am asking if you’re feeling better and I’m the one that missed breakfast? You know, if you get that worked up over a missed meal, what’s your plan for when I’m really struggling? Are you going to have any worry left for those times?
The reader is held with a deep and growing affection for the pair, even as the inevitable effects of aging take their toll and we work our way closer to the end of Raika’s life. The book wraps up as Raika speaks one last time in her distinctly funny and compelling way, at which point we learn that she has agreed to an enormous sacrifice in order to fulfill a promise made when she was alive.
Raika’s final words to her mom leave the reader with a sense that she has not passed on at all and that indeed, all living creatures stay with us forever.
Here we have a uniquely memorable story that leaves the reader with a sense of acceptance and perspective on the topics of life, aging, and death. In a candid and heart-wrenchingly beautiful way, a reader can find comfort and wisdom in the face of deep loss and grief, laughing through their tears all the way to the end.
The social media world has fallen in love with her. The wider world will fall in love with her as well.
Note that Raika bookmarks are also available for sale! These are a lovely gift for someone with an old dog or who has a lost a beloved dog in the past.If you'd like to read more about the book and check out a free chapter, please visit Denise's blog: www.denisefenzi.com/books/