Book Review – Dog-Ma: The Zen of Slobber

Dog-Ma Book Cover

Only after reading Dog-Ma that you’ll understand the beautiful meaning of this book cover.

Barbara Brunner’s Dog-Ma: The Zen of Slobber is a memoir written by a dog lover for dog lovers. It is a collection of dog stories, 30 years in the making—from 1980 when the author and her husband’s first dog was welcomed home to 2011 when this book was published. I found this title on the Novel Blogs reading list. It’s summary says that the stories will tickle the funny bones at times and touch the heart the other times. As a person who never tried to connect with animals in the same level of intimacy, reading and reviewing this book is a challenge. It is marketed for dog lovers, but will it have the same heart-felt effect to someone who doesn’t fit the label?


The Humor

Everyone is attracted to anything that feels good—laughing is no exception. Dog-Ma claims to be humorous, and it did pass my definition of “humorous.” Readers will read detailed struggles of the dogs and their human parents. Without a touch of comedy, it will be nothing but a very heavy read that can make you feel stressed, if not depressed. The book is a good passing time for those who want to break away from all the life dramas. It will remind readers that even in the hardest situation, there’s this silver lining that can lighten it up, only if you’re like the author who always sees something worth laughing or smiling about. To me, this is the funniest part:

This was going to be a good birthday. Ray was stumped for a gift. A party was not anything I was interested in. I had every possible piece of jewelry I could want. He was struggling for an idea and finally asked what I would like. Without hesitation and not missing a beat I said the little white dog from the pet shop.

Oh my god. Is she insane?

Five dogs?

Has my wife lost her mind?

“No” isn’t something you can say to a cancer patient, right? As we entered the shop, we realized she was not in her usual cage. Oh no, I thought, she’s finally been adopted. I suspect “thank goodness” ran through Ray’s head, although he vehemently denies it.

Although Dog-Ma is humorous, it isn’t as funny as I expected it to be. Maybe it’s my problem? I’m way too exposed to dry humor. If you like satirical kind of comedy, this will not make you laugh out loud. It’s still a good idea to deliver the story in such a light, not-so-serious tone. As a bonus, here’s another funny scene I like:

It was February, there was snow on the ground and it was beautiful. We got into the elevator and the folks who were already in the car wished us luck. How nice, we thought. We exited into the lobby and the doorman gave us directions on where to walk the dogs and also wished us luck. Did they know something we didn’t? It seemed odd but nice nonetheless. The same thing happened to us every time we went in and out of the hotel with the dogs. Only later did we realize it was the week of the Westminster Dog Show. They thought the Germans were in the Dog Show!


The Drama

Who wouldn’t be touched by stories of genuine love, especially from creatures you least expect it to come from? As mentioned, I have my biases towards this dog book. I am neither a dog lover nor hater. If not out of curiosity, I would have never read the book. How can someone create stories of creatures who can’t even talk or communicate? That’s intriguing.

To my surprise, I was touched. I am deeply moved by the love that Kashi, Cooper, Gus, and the rest of the gang have given to their human parents. I am stunned to their dedication and loyalty. They are family who truly love and look after one another.

It was deep in the evening, everyone’s asleep, when I reached the part where Kashi died. For some strange reason, this is the time when I’m easily moved, I would cry ‘til dawn if tears start falling.

I knew it was time. I hugged her and picked her up. We rocked on the porch swing for an hour and I talked to her about all of the fun things we had done in her seventeen years. She seemed comfortable but still let out an occasional whimper.

This book just made me cry. I had to stop reading for days. I knew, more dogs will die in the memoir, and I can’t take more endless hours of crying.


Here are some photos of the dogs taken from Barbara Brunner’s website:






Gus or White Dog


Izzy or Isabela


The Story-Telling Style

Thirty years is surely filled with stories worth sharing on a book. Besides personifying the dogs, one challenge is how to choose stories and how to arrange them in a way that’s entertaining yet touching. I think the author has brilliantly chosen the stories as well as the way those stories were arranged and stitched together. They’re neither strictly chronological nor jumping from one year to another (like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut). Yet, it is impressively clear. I wonder if the author has journalism background.

Some chapters have 80s and 90s references, which younger readers can hardly relate to. It’s great that everything is explained well without a Google search, except maybe for the Pong.

The arrangement is similar to introducing a stranger. Slowly, the reader gets to know every character and develops attachment. One thing I’m happy about delaying to the book’s conclusion is that I get to spend more time with the dogs, and not end our relationship so abruptly.



Dog-Ma: The Zen of Slobber has touched my life beyond expectation. It still amazes me how the dogs can communicate without words, and I know all dogs (and other animals) are like that. However, it lacks the comedy I was expecting. So I’m giving it 4 stars.


I really liked it!


Back to my question, will this memoir have the same heart-felt effect to someone who is NOT a dog lover? Without hesitation, it has. Taking the author’s perspective on life will surely lighten up whatever heavy burden that readers are carrying. Dog-Ma should be recommended not only for dog lovers, but to everyone who wants to see how dogs carry on with life, and hopefully learn how to add humor to this complex existence. It may be surprising sometimes that the best lessons in life can come from four-legged pals. No wonder why the author’s dog addiction wasn’t cured even after 8 dogs. And I sincerely hope she won’t get cured, for I am pretty sure that the Most Wanted poster is still prominently displayed in Doggie Heaven.




About the Author

Award-winning author, Barbara Brunner grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with her parents, sister and always a dog, or two or three. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from a small women’s college in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Meeting her husband in Washington, DC, they continued together on a journey as self-proclaimed dog addicts. In the ensuing years, she founded three successful businesses in the Pacific Northwest and is a prolific fundraiser for breast cancer research. She and her husband are retired and now reside in Southwest Florida with two dogs and copious amounts of dog fur. She is currently working on indulging her well known flip flop addiction.