Pete, an Irish Wheaton Terrier, was Maira Kalman's first and, to date, only dog. Kalman, the author and illustrator of multiple books depicting dogs, many that seem inspired by Pete, a dog admittedly with more personality and looks than brains, has written Beloved Dog (Penguin, Oct.), an essay on family life with Pete and the lessons she learned from him. "Pete became my muse. He became my constant companion," says Kalman.
Kalman didn't grow up with dogs. She was even terrified of them. Her family, and the culture in which she grew up, taught her not to trust them. Yet during a time when her husband, Tibor, became ill and her children were young, she brought in the pup that would become the family distraction. "When you are around a dog that you love, this great compassion, kindness and empathy comes out of you—unconditional love—that's an incredible thing to feel, to be the recipient of and to give. It really does inform your other relationships."
During Pete's ongoing training, he chewed up Kalman's shoes, some books, a pair of rubber gloves, and even her prized camera. She was able to forgive him everything. For Kalman, it was similar to bringing up a young child. "You're in the moment. Focused. You forget every other thing," she says. "And, when you walk [a dog] you are doubly encouraged to enjoy the moment: it's meditational."
After her husband's death in 1999 and Pete's death in 2011, Kalman finally felt she could broach the subject of Pete's role in their lives. "Pete brought out some of the best in me, another side of me, but I do have to reserve some of that for my family."
What about another dog for Kalman? Clearly besotted by dogs, right now Kalman is busily multitasking and traveling, but looks forward to a time when it makes sense. In the meantime, there are the many dogs she sees and falls in love with when she takes her daily walk.
Beloved Dog includes a compilation of Kalman's many different paintings produced over the years for books and magazines, including several New Yorker covers. Today at 2 p.m. she signs a poster of an illustration from the book at the Penguin booth (3119). —Linda T. Mead
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.