About the book:
Now including a wonderful new photo insert chronicling Merle’s life, this national bestseller explores the relationship between humans and dogs. How would dogs live if they were free? Would they stay with their human friends?
Merle and Ted found each other in the Utah desert— Merle was living wild and Ted was looking for a pup to keep him company. As their bond grew, Ted taught Merle how to live around wildlife, and Merle taught Ted about the benefits of letting a dog make his own decisions.
Using the latest in wolf research and exploring issues of animal consciousness and leadership and the origins of the human-dog relationship, Ted Kerasote takes us on the journey he and Merle shared. As much a love story as a story of independence and partnership, Merle’s Door is tender, funny, and ultimately illuminating.
About the author:
Click here to download the reading guide for Merle’s Door.
1. Discuss the book’s epigraph, regarding the effects of captivity on a wild animal. Do Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s words apply to the lives of pets you have known? To your life? To what extent do you live on a “leash”?
2. In the initial meeting between Merle and Ted, Merle conveys to Ted, “You need a dog, and I’m it.” Ideally, what guides the selection of a pet? Is the process very different from the experience of searching for compatible human companionship?
3. Discuss Ted’s attempts to communicate with Merle, and vice versa. What kind of language do they develop between them? How do they avoid the difficulties so often encountered when animals and humans try to “explain themselves” to one another?
4. What were the most surprising facts you discovered about canine physiology and evolution? What are the greatest limitations of being a domesticated dog, or a “domesticated” human? How can we best rekindle our remarkable but often unutilized capabilities, as perfume makers do with their heightened olfactory capabilities?
5. Chapter eight is devoted to Gray Cat. What distinctions between cats and dogs become clear in that chapter? What made Gray Cat and Merle surprisingly compatible? In what ways did Brower also complete Merle’s circle?
6. Discuss the landscape of the Rockies as a character in Merle’s Door. How does the breathtaking scenery in Ted’s memoir create a meaningful backdrop for the way Merle’s story unfolds?
7. How does Ted’s approach to hunting compare to that of other hunters you have known or heard about? Did he change your perception of sustenance and the way humans distinguish between their wants and their needs? Would you be content leading a more rural, self-sustaining existence?
8. How did you react to Ted’s observations regarding alpha dogs and the general concept of power and dominance in the animal world? Is Chamonix, described in “A Looser Leash,” an unattainable utopia? Do behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner offer good solutions, or do they contribute to the problem? In what ways is the process of training a dog similar to promoting good behavior in a child?
9. When Ted describes his opinion of Merle’s sterilization, he reverses decades of conventional wisdom. How well had you previously understood the process of spaying or neutering a pet? What does the popularity of current procedures indicate about widespread attitudes toward pet care in America?
10. What do quotations from philosophers such as René Descartes and references to gruesome vivisections tell us about the history of humanity’s approach to animals? How do you personally resolve such questions as whether nonhuman animals have souls?
11. The author describes several romantic interludes that did not last as long as he had hoped. What sometimes prevents dating and marriage from unfolding as smoothly as forging a bond with a favorite pet?
12. What might Merle’s Door have been like if Merle had been the author, interpreting Ted’s actions from a dog’s point of view?
13. Compare the end-of-life care Merle and Brower received to the care humans receive. Have you been in a situation that could have been gracefully resolved by applying Bernard Hershhorn’s criteria, described in “Through the Door”? Should distinctions be made between the rituals, medical treatments, and euthanasia procedures we apply to pets and those we apply to humans?
14. By the end of the book, what lessons did you learn from Merle? What enabled him to become more freethinking than many other dogs?
15. Discuss the title and its many meanings throughout the book. What did Merle’s door come to signify for Ted and for Merle? What are the most significant passages Merle encountered throughout his life, and what gave him the wisdom (and the freedom) to navigate them safely? Where do you imagine he went when he passed through his final portal?