Bark magazine sends up riotous Howl

When the husband-and-wife team who run Bark magazine came out with their first collection of essays about dogs, they didn’t have to wait long for an audience. Dog is My Copilot was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and that same afternoon the book climbed out of oblivion to reach number three on Amazon’s list of daily best-sellers.

Four years later, an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 books have been sold, making it among the first of a recent spate of dog titles to thrill publishers. Another one, Marley & Me: A Dog Like No Other (2005), was so successful, with more than 2.5 million books sold thus far, it has guaranteed the world will never run short of new dog books. (See DogTime’s recommended dog gift books.)

“People like to see themselves reflected in what they’re reading,” says Kawczynska, in explaining the broad appeal of dog books. “They like to read stories that focus on the incredible bond between human and dog, and they can’t get enough of it when it’s well written.”

Dog people have their say

Kawcynzka and Woo’s most recent book is betting that same winning formula will propel sales of their newest book. Howl, a collection of the best contemporary dog wit, debuted in October and contributors include Al Franken, Margaret Cho, Erica Jong, and other well-respected comics and writers with a soft spot for dogs. “These are all dog people,” says Kawcznska, “not dog writers.” But none of them had any trouble writing about what she calls their “daily muse.”

“Dogs are important part of people’s lives,” she says, “You generally don’t share your day to day life with a human. It’s your dog who stays with you. It’s your dog who won’t interrupt your train of thought.”

Celebrating 10 years of dog

About one quarter of the essays originally appeared in Bark, the award-winning Berkeley, California- based magazine started by Kawcynska and Woo 10 years ago. In January, Bark starts a year long review of the most important dog-related issues to emerge over the past decade, among them that more people than ever are taking the time to train their dogs, cook for them, and take them on outings rather than leave them at home–none of which would surprise today’s rapidly growing population of dog enthusiasts.

Kawcynska and Woo, who’ve been married 15 years, joined that crowd when they adopted Nellie, a spaniel mix, and it took almost no time for her to completely change their lives. She inspired Kawcynska, who was working as an economic consultant, and Woo, a designer at Autodesk, to start an advocacy newsletter on off-leash recreation and responsible dog ownership. Out of that modest start, Bark was born.

Nellie, whose photogenic mug adorned several Bark magazine covers as well as Dog is My Copilot, recently died at age 13. Kawcynska and Woo decided the best cure for their grief was to get another dog. So they adopted a puppy they named Lola from a rescue group in Yuba, California, and she has become one of the office dogs, along with Lenny, their aging terrier mix.

Better networking through dogs

It’s not easy running an independent magazine in today’s ever consolidating publishing world. But they believe there’ll always be a market for a good magazine about dogs. “The market will continue to grow regardless of the economy,” says Woo, “because people love their dogs. That never wavers.”

“For most people,” Kawcynska adds, “social networking isn’t enough. They need something to take them out of themselves and into the world. Dogs give us the key to do this by joining us in the exploration of who we are. And dogs are so sociable they get us to talk to one other.”

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