Although we as readers may possibly think we do not know author Robert Rodi, he is
actually a well-known satirist who constructed the novelization of The Birdcage (aka
La Cage aux Folles, a seminal play remade as a movie titled The Birdcage by
Mike Nichols), and several other works, including the novel Fag Hag in 1991. His
scathing commentary, clever repartee and self-depreciating moues are hysterical.
Rodi can be a bit over the top; middle aged, in a long-term gay relationship, and amazed
to find a hobby that becomes a passion—canine agility. He has dabbled in this
form of dog training before with his lovely bitch Carmen. When an arthritic body betrays Carmen
and takes her out of the ring, he sees no other alternative but to train a new dog to
Thus, the tale begins. Dusty is a rescue dog. Angular where he should be round, nervous
tension radiating from his wiry body, this Sheltie is not exactly a showman’s perfect partner,
able to handle all the challenges that agility competition requires. Without overwhelming
the reader who is not in tune with this specialized sport, there are obstacles required in
each course. These include a bar jump, A-frame, suspended tire, a "dog walk," the teeter, the
tunnel, the chute and the weave poles. Whew! There are also different levels of competition,
all of which is entertainingly covered in this comedic tale.
Rodi seems rather pompous at times, stuffy and airy alternately, with a great infatuation
for Italians as a race, and as fantastic purveyors of food, not necessarily in that order.
However, his budding relationship with Dusty is touching to behold, and each step of the way
they are learning not only agility skills, but also how to get along with one another, and
to build the trust they both so desperately need.
Each chapter is a vignette in Rodi’s life on the road with Dusty. Days and even weeks go
by without much success in or out of the ring. One conversation with a dog trainer goes like
"...conveying all the authority I could muster...said, 'Dusty, over!' He turned
the opposite direction...vaulting over the gate and into the lobby. I looked at Dee sheepishly.
'Well,' I said, 'he did jump.' "
When a fellow dog lover at a dog show mentions that Dusty’s coloring is very unusual, the
so-called "cryptic blue," Rodi begins to realize that is also a great way to describe Dusty’s
personality. Enigmatic and inscrutable; nevertheless, with time, patience and a lot of love,
both canine and human partner come to feel that bond with which all dog owners can identify.
Thought without words, goofier than silly string, and sometimes as fleeting as suppertime, it
is a unique connection. Rodi capitalizes beautifully on that link in this book, giving us an
honest, humorous look at the inner recesses of dog agility training and shows; and, perhaps
even more meaningfully, a look at dogs as the better parts of ourselves.