To start with, both the dogs are dead. Musashi and Lila, the title pooch of Lauren Slater's The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals (Beacon Press), have crossed the rainbow bridge. The desired goat has yet to be obtained, likewise the horse. But Lauren Slater remains connected to animals, if not necessarily the ones profiled in her new collection of essays. That's okay, though.

The book "is not primarily about dogs, and you can make the case that it's not even really about animals," she says, on the phone from her Harvard, Mass, home. "It's about being human in relation to the non-human citizens of this earth. It never ceases to amaze me that we're surrounded by these non-human consciousnesses. Even my chickens — they are all conscious."

Slater, a psychologist as well as a formidable and poetic prose stylist, has written at length about mental illness and her family's dysfunction in books like Welcome to My Country and Prozac Diary. It seems natural, then, to ask if there's a connection.

"I worry that my love for animals is some kind of pathology," she acknowledges. "Some kind of pathological stain left on me by the family I grew up in. I don't know. I don't feel like I am afraid of human connection. I have friends. I like people. I love certain people. But at the same time, I prefer to spend a lot of time by myself. I could go for days without talking to people and be perfectly content as long as I have my animals. But I have two children. I'm a mother. . . . If I didn't have a family, if I didn't have kids pulling me back into the regular realm of the human, though, I don't know where I'd go."

LAUREN SLATER :: Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St, Brookline :: November 27 @ 7 pm :: Free ::

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