For an illiterate Irishman who was called “stupid” throughout his school years, Martin McKenna certainly knows how to tell a story.
In this case, his own story – about living rough, bigotry, Ireland in the ’60s, and the dogs that helped him to change his life.
It’s an emotional, poignant tale about overcoming odds, and a humorous and revealing journey into the language and behaviour of “man’s best friend”.
McKenna didn’t learn to run with the pack until he found himself literally living with a pack – of six stray dogs. A sufferer of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), he’d been fed a daily diet of bullying and humiliation, living the life of an outsider in a family of eight children.
They all had to deal with an abusive, drunken father, and torments from the local kids about their German “Nazi” mother, but McKenna had the added problem of his undiagnosed ADHD. He was treated with contempt by everyone, eventually causing him to leave home.
His early teen years were spent sleeping rough around Garryowen, just outside of Limerick, Ireland, where he adopted, or was adopted by, the six dogs that became his family for several years. Through them, he discovered different rules of behaviour, and a language that helped him understand the importance of honour, family, courage and self-respect.
McKenna is the author of three previous books about dog behaviour – written using phonetic spelling, with his children helping to standardise the text. He now lives in Nimbin, New South Wales, and is known in Australia as the “Dog Man”.
The Boy Who Talked To Dogs is an inspiration for anyone who has battled obstacles in life, and a must-read for those curious about their four-legged friends.
The Boy Who Talked To Dogs: A Memoir, by Martin McKenna, is published by New South Books, $21.99.
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