Rachel Toor explores life and love with pets and the opposite sex
By MEA ANDREWS of the Missoulian, February 15, 2005
Rachel Toor pokes fun at herself and jokes about never getting another date in her life.
But she doesn’t kid around about the animals she has known and loved.
First came Barkus, a shepherd-collie mix who became, in her childhood mind, a sister. Then came the 1980s and Farrah Fawcett hairstyles, and a mouse named Prudence.
Other beloved pets followed, including Hester the rat, named after Hawthorne’s stigmatized woman; a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Emma, whom she co-parented with an ex-boyfriend; horses; a semi-feral cat named Sam; and Stevie, “a Sicilian, and therefore, by definition, miniature” donkey.
But her best friend, her most wonderful animal, was Hannah, a pointy dog with big ears who came into her life during a drone of a relationship and stayed with her for years of growth, change, disappointment and adventure.
“She is my heart, my soul, the most stable and steadying influence I have known the last seventeen years,” Toor writes in “The Pig and I,” her new memoir. “Hannah is not–has never been–a pet.”
Toor jokes about her future as date material because of the subtitle of “The Pig and I: Why It’s So Easy to Love an Animal and So Hard to Live with a Man.”
“Really, I love men!” she says in protest. “Really, I do.”
And she does. “The Pig and I” follows Toor falling in and out of love with an eclectic string of men and how those human relationships intersected with the animals of her life, from childhood through college and careers, into her 40s. It is a funny and touching tribute to them all, and a warm introduction to a high-achieving woman who tackles her life with confidence and insight.
All of the animals fit nicely into her life. Some of the men were wrong from the start; others lasted a long while and shaped the person she is today.
Two men in particular–Michael and Jonathan–are among her most cherished human friends, members of a group called the “REBs,” to whom her novel is dedicated. REBs is short for Fraternal Brotherhood of Rachel’s Ex-Boyfriends, and at least one REB will be at her signing this week at Fact & Fiction bookstore.
“I was joking with my agent that after this book comes out I’m never going to get another date. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” said Toor last week in her Missoula apartment.
“She turns to me and says, ‘Rachel. It’s true.’ ”
Ah well, sighs Toor. It’s the price of honesty.
“Writing this book sucked in a lot of ways,” she said. “It was hard–very hard… You don’t really want to have to think of your life in this way, you don’t really want to have to think about making the same mistakes over and over again, and then having to dissect them,” she said. “It’s ugly.”
“One of the things that I really learned, and I knew this but hadn’t articulated it, is that the love we feel for our animals is very profound, and in many ways as rich–different, but rich–as we get from humans,” she said.
“Lots of people feel that way about their animals.”
Toor writes for Running Times magazine and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and is a private consultant helping students around the country apply for and get into top colleges and universities.
She is also a marathon runner with shelves of medals, a former admissions counselor at Duke University, author of the 2001 “Admissions Confidential: An Insider’s Account of the Elite College Selection Process,” and a cum laude graduate of Yale University.
She calls herself a “geek” because she loves intellectual discussions and people.
After years working in a national publishing house as a midwife for other writers and their work, she now is concentrating on her own writing. She said she chose Missoula because of its excellent writing program, beautiful scenery and fraternity of serious runners.
Having beloved pets and boyfriends at the same time is not an “either, or” proposition, Toor said. They complement and enrich each other.
“Sometimes you get from an animal something that you are lacking in your own life, and sometimes animals can bring you closer together” with your human partner, she said.
“You have to accept the animals for who and what they are. If they occasionally pee in the house, that’s because they’re an animal and it is OK. But if a man leaves the toilet seat up, you want to kill him.
“For me, I realized it would be a good thing to give the same kind of tolerance I feel toward animals to my partners.”
“The Pig and I” isn’t a trashy tell-all book. Its a classy tell-all book by a literary writer. Toor sizes up herself and her own shortcomings with as much honesty and she does the men in her life.
And her observations about animals will ring true to any pet lover.
The final chapter of the “The Pig and I” pays tribute to Hannah as an old dog, deaf and foggy-visioned, nearing the end of her life as Toor heads toward Missoula and her new graduate program.
Hannah has since died. “The Pig and I” has pictures of all of Toor’s pets, and seeing Hannah in such health is still hard.
“I can’t look at them. In a little while, I’ll be glad to have all that,” she said. “Right now, it’s still too hard.”
“Now, not only am I single, but I’m alone,” said Toor. “I come home and there’s nobody to talk to. It’s the first time in my adult life I’ve been without a pet… I find myself lusting after dogs in the park.”
“Maybe I’ll get another rat,” she muses, only half kidding.
Bottom line, she said, is that “You get your love where you find it.”
“Families are made, as well as being born into. I have this great, rich life, with friends and ex-boyfriends and animals.
“If I don’t ever get another date – if I end up not being partnered – I think that’s really OK.
“What I’ve also learned is that, with the REBs, I really chose well. Even if a romantic relationship doesn’t end up working, you can transform it into a wonderful friendship.”
Reporter Mea Andrews can be reached at 523-5246 or at firstname.lastname@example.org