Apr 22, 2024 - News

One of Charlotte's favorite writers is out with a new book

"Dogland" book cover

Credit: Avid Reader Press

Pampered pooches trotting across the TV have captivated almost everyone's attention at some point. But usually, after a few minutes or hours, we change the channel and forget about it.

  • For Tommy Tomlinson, the curiosity about how the dogs in these prestigious shows felt took him down a three-year journey.

Why it matters: One of Charlotte's most admired writers, Tomlinson is out Tuesday with a new book, "Dogland," about his exploration of the dog show world.

The big picture: "Dogland" delves into the inner workings of the dog show subculture, the bond between humans and dogs, and happiness. It closely follows one all-star performer — a Samoyed named Striker — and his handler, Laura, as they competed in the 2022 Westminster Dog Show.

  • Striker had won more than 100 shows by the time Tomlinson met him.
  • Tomlinson says Laura was not only his "guide to the dog show world," but she also showed him "the crazy parts, and not be weary or ashamed."

Yes, but: This is not just a book for dog lovers. It's for anyone who can relate to being part of a unique culture or is craving a belly laugh and a decent cry.

  • "That's sort of like our relationship with dogs, right?" Tomlinson says. "There's some moments that are really sad, and some moments are really funny, and a lot of stuff in between."

Flashback: Years ago, Tomlinson accidentally began tuning into the dog show when it would come on in place of the usual wrestling match. A thought popped into his head: Are those dogs happy?

  • After his memoir was released, he gave his editor a list of 20 ideas for his next project. A book on the Westminster Dog Show was No. 19 on the list.
  • "That's the one," his editor told him.

"Sometimes they say write what you know," Tomlinson says. "I've always thought in many ways, it's more interesting to write what you don't know."

  • Tomlinson is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, host of the podcast "SouthBound" at WFAE, and former reporter and columnist for the Charlotte Observer.

Between the lines: Tomlinson spent years traveling to over 100 dog show competitions, including small shows, like one in Concord, where top dogs rack up points to qualify for bigger shows.

  • He interviewed people along the way. He scribbled notes of all he saw, smelled, heard and tasted. At the end of each day, he compiled those into journal-type entries on his computer.

One of the most memorable was the Westminster at Madison Square Garden. Putting on a dog show is a long day, he realized, and people surprisingly throw back beers all day.

  • "By the end, some of the people in the audience are kind of tanked up a little bit," he recalls. "They're like booing some dogs and cheering others."
  • But, he also remembers the electricity backstage as trainers, handlers and the dogs prepared for their moment in the spotlight. He compares it to the same thrill he witnessed covering the Final Four as a journalist.

The bottom line: Are dogs happy? You'll have to read the book to find out.

  • "I came to an answer," Tomlinson tells me. "I'm not sure it's the answer. But I came to an answer that felt right to me after being in this world, and I think it explains, in some ways, not just what makes dogs happy, but maybe what makes people happy, too."

You can buy Dogland here or at Park Road Books (4139 Park Road, Charlotte).


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