My Dog Tulip – Classic Dog Book becomes Classic Animated Film

September 30, 2010

About 10 years ago I came across J.R. Ackerley’s book My Dog Tulip. It is, I think, the single best book ever written about the relationship between a man and his dog. It was first published in 1956 and failed to find an audience. Since then it has grown in reputation immensely.

One reason for it’s intital faliure was its utter lack of sentimentality and the unblushing accuracy of the physical functions of a female dog. Even today, you’ll find readers who are put off by the gorsser aspects of Ackerlys’ memoir. Personally, I react the same way to the mawkishness and treacle of contemporary books about dogs, like the hugely successful Marley and Me.*

Ackerley was a writer, arts editor of The Listener, the weekly magazine of the BBC, openly gay at a time when that was not the norm, and in mid-life still in search of a best friend or perfect life companion. He was not in any way prepared to be a dog owner and the German Shepherd Dog he adopted at 18 months old was not socialized or well trained. In the book the dog is referred to as an Alsatian, since the recent war made connections to Germany unacceptable to most, even in dog breed names. Misfits both, somehow they struggle together to accommodate each other and their love story, for surely that is what it is, ultimately, is one of the most moving, yet realistic I have ever read.

Now animated filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger have adapted Ackerly’s work for the screen and created a new vision of his book and it, too, is a classic. The character designs are perfectly suited to Ackerley’s prose and the lead vocal performance by Christopher Plummer is spot on. Read Ackerley’s book (it’s now available everywhere) and either get to a screening of the Fierlinger’s film or rent it when it comes out on DVD. I plan on buying a copy as soon as it is released. My highest recommendation for both!

Here are links for more information and clips:
YouTube – My Dog Tulip
Film Forum – My Dog Tulip
New York Times – Article


*For a journalist I found John Grogan one of the least curious or insightful writers about dogs. Marley was certainly not the ‘world’s worst dog’ as Grogan labels him, but Grogan certainly failed as an owner to deal in a positive way with Marley’s separation anxiety or even basic obedience training. Don’t try this at home, should be stickered  across the front of each book cocver. Yet this has been the most successful dog book of the new century, proving that most people want the ‘Disney version’ of life with canines. (For a much better recent book I highly recommend Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote).


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