It takes a while for you to notice this mag you're reading is The Bark, not Bark. But there's a tiny definite article tucked into the upper curve of the B, though thanks to a font ratio of about 30:1 many readers undoubtedly won't catch it. Why the downplay? Hard to say. After all, this is a periodical with both a mission statement (The Dog Culture Magazine) and a slogan (Dog is my Co-Pilot) crowded onto its cover.
The fact is, that cover shot of Rocky on the July/August issue tells all you need to know: The Bark is about celebrating all matters canine. Of course, there's nothing unusual about a magazine devoted to a specific animal, or to any specialized topic for that matter. What makes The Bark somewhat rare, though, is that even those without a love for furry friends could find something compelling in these pages. Really.
The lengthy "Pet Food Confidential" interview on canine nutrition is a case in point. Who knew that 95 brands of pet food were supplied by the same company? Or that pet food recalls are directly linked to recalls of human food? That's about the section in the book when you realize this isn't all about ringworm and the dangers of parked cars in hot climates. Even the regular features (such as "Dogpatch: News Fit to Nibble") contain interesting tidbits.
While the travel section details trips and even volunteer vacations that certainly would interest dog people, many of these excursions would appeal to non-dog folks as well. And "Wagging the Dog" by Ralph Keyes provides fascinating explanations of the linguistic histories of doggie expressions. Which is only fitting, considering the overall quality of the writing here.
In fact, The Bark seems to have forged a strong connection to the literary world. Consider that in this issue author Rita Mae Brown reveals another facet of her compelling life with an excerpt from a memoir detailing Chaps, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever she received at the age of six. She sums up that relationship thusly: "I can't live without the love of dogs. I don't know how anyone can."
Then there's the Q&A with Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks, which includes details of the dogs she encountered while reporting from Bosnia and Iraq. And Carol Leifer, the comedian who penned several classic "Seinfeld" scripts, contributes "Change is Possible," a moving excerpt from her new book that details Leifer falling in love with a woman -- and then falling in love with her new partner's pets. Finally, on page 81 The Bark trots out the alpha dog of American letters, Mark Twain. His quickie story, "A Dog's Tale," offers an absolutely masterful opening: "My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian." As if all this weren't enough, we even get poetry. And art! Real canine art, no decks of cards or green visors.
While there's definitely stuff in here that would appeal to non-dog lovers, they're not that likely to find it -- unless they're the type who will peruse just about anything in a waiting room. But few pet magazines offer as much.
Ultimately The Bark succeeds in the way of all good magazines -- indeed, all good writing and all good art. I picked up this mag and started flipping pages devoted to other dogs, other dog lovers, other lives. And then I was soon transported back to my own life and the dogs that have enriched it. Especially Gretchen, my sister's beautiful yellow lab who passed away last year and left a gaping hole in many hearts. I pored over the "Smiling Dogs" montage to catch a glimpse of Gretchen in that two-page spread, but no other dog will ever be quite like her.
Gretchen taught me that I, like Rita Mae Brown, also can't live without the love of dogs. The Bark not only gets this, The Bark celebrates it.
Published by: The Bark, Inc.
Frequency: 6 times per year
Web site: www.thebark.com