Half Memoir / Half Tribute, 'Fetch' Attests to the Power of the Comic Form
There are plenty of tough moments in this tale, in both the author's personal life and in her struggles to understand her troubled dog, yet there's never any doubt that they belong together.
“Something about Beija as an ally (and constant source of drama and joy) inspired me to start drawing again. It was like how I'd played with my pets as a kid. Our own introverted world, now transformed into something new I could share and use as a bridge. She was my muse. A distinct character whom I could vocalize and bounce off of. An externalization of something I'd been trying to say." (p. 172)
Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home
“Forgiving and earnest, heartbreakingly faithful. Beija loved me even when I lapsed in loving myself. Neither of us had ever been chosen, but we chose each other." (p. 227)
Nicole Georges' Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home is a kind of half memoir/ half tribute that attests to the power of the comic form. A quasi-sequel to her first memoir, the wonderfully sharp and honest Calling Dr. Laura, Fetch is ostensibly an account of Georges' life with her dog, Beija. More than that, though, it's also Georges' story, one that touches on her childhood, teenage years, and adulthood with the same kind of openhearted candor she reserves for her beloved companion.
One of the things that make Fetch so endearing is that Beija is not what anyone would characterize as a lovable or cuddly dog, at least in the most traditional terms. She's shy and fearful and comes with a list of rules that includes not allowing humans (with very few exceptions) to bend at the waist in front of her. She's outwardly surly and more than one person refers to her as “crazy" throughout the book, but she's also a devoted friend who not only serves as Georges' self-described muse, but she also furthers her interest in animals and their humane care.
A lifelong animal lover, if inept child pet owner, Georges' complete dedication to her dog isn't always an easy balance to strike. Living in various homes of varying stability, often with a revolving door of tenants, Beija's stress levels are tested constantly. Whether in contact with people with a blatant disregard for an animal with so many specific needs, or the well-meaning, but ultimately confused, Georges and Beija learn to navigate the wider world and all its potential pitfalls through trial and error. Sometimes that work pays off, such as when Georges writes an animal manifesto that mirrors feminist ideals, to the support of many women in her Portland community. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that Beija doesn't continue to get into fights with other dogs, regardless of the amount of planning or repeated attempts to explain her behavior to other dog owners.
Bearing the continued and increasingly complicated responsibility for Beija mirrors Georges' own growing up. She rescued Beija as a gift for a high school boyfriend, a plan that backfired and resulted in a slew of life-changing decisions (moving out at 17 with said boyfriend, moving to Portland, deciding not to go to college). Georges' life in Portland is filled with grand houses overrun with punks, kids looking for a place to crash, and any number of other local misfits. It's a life she clearly thrived in, at least in the beginning as an outsider artist and musician making 'zines, but eventually, it takes its toll and she moves out. The chaotic environment that was so initially exciting and freeing was always a challenge to navigate for Beija. Her fears and anxieties were magnified by the never-ending parade of strangers, understandably, but Beija always remained a true companion for Georges.
When Georges experiences moments of self-recrimination or depression, it's Beija whom she leans on most consistently. A friend who never abandons her, regardless of the instability or chaos of her life, Beija remains a steadfast presence, one that urges Georges to move forward even when it's the most difficult thing to do. Fetch is bookended with scenes from Beija's 15th birthday party. A gathering of hand-picked friends, all aware of Beija's rules and her dislike of children, includes Beija biting a child; it's the perfect encapsulation of their relationship.
What's at the heart of the book is that regardless of any difficulties created by Beija, Georges remains devoted to her, and vice versa. When Beija is diagnosed with cancer, Georges launches a campaign to raise funds for an operation, and though it's successful, ultimately she succumbs to old age and sickness. It's a heartbreaking story, and Georges' devastation is shared by the faithful followers of her 'zines.
That Fetch is able to convey the bond between Georges and Beija so universally is obvious, but what sets it apart is Georges' openness in telling their story. There are plenty of tough moments in this book, either in Georges' personal life or in her struggles to understand Beija, yet there's never any doubt that they belong together. And that's what makes Fetch such a wonderful story; it understands and expresses that singular bond beautifully.