Short Leash:
A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance

short leash

When I opened the delightful cover and began my walk through the seasons with Gary and Barney, I entered sacred space. I will long remember this beautifully told story, one that so captured my attention, my emotions, and my sense of reverence for its layered splendor of language, place, reflection, and images. Short Leash is a treasure.” – Mary Jo Doig, April 2015

Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance, takes the reader on a walk in the park that becomes an extraordinary journey spanning three decades, one continent and a world of possibilities.

2014 winner: Two Silver Nautilus Awards
2014 winner: Eric Hoffer Award for Memoir
2015 winner: Sarton Women’s Award for Memoir


October, 1991
Savannah, Georgia

Forty-five pounds of muscle and fur pulled me down a dark road with no sidewalks, no lights and barely any shoulder to speak of. The dog was a stray I had found three days before, a smelly, exuberant hulk of a pup who had captured my heart the moment I saw him. I paused for a moment and reeled the cord in just enough to keep us in the beam of my husband’s flashlight. The dog stopped straining and walked by my side. “Good boy, Barney”, I said, even though I was pretty sure he had no idea that “Barney” was his name.

We walked into the night, past the ranch-style houses, past the sewer ditch filled with singing frogs, around the bend where the road curved and the shoulder widened. Once again, the dog pulled ahead, testing the limits of the retractable leash. I pressed the button to stop the cord from reeling out, but just as my thumb hit the lever, the plastic coiling unit fell out of my hands and bounced against the pavement. The reel began spinning like a maniac, gobbling the cord faster and faster until it reached Barney’s heels, startling him so much that after a sharp yelp of surprise, he took off like a rocket. I ran after him, but he ran faster, terrified of the plastic monster clattering behind him like a string of Chinese firecrackers.

I could hear Curt laughing behind us. “It’s not funny,” I shouted back at him. Maybe it would be if I wasn’t so terrified of the dog getting hit by a car
Finally, I got close enough to step on the bouncing unit. Scooping it in my hands, I pulled on the line of cord, reeling Barney in like a big fish. The rest of the night I kept the leash locked in tight, afraid of what would happen if I let it go.

You cannot reason with a dog. I wish I could have told him that the faster you run, the louder it gets; that it’s nothing – really – only a square of plastic containing a cord, but you can’t explain such things to a scared animal. Or a scared person. Nothing is more terrifying than the ringing steps of an invisible pursuer.

How loud is a ghost? Let me tell you. As loud as a firecracker. As loud as tin cans tied to a dog’s tail. Louder than a scream. As loud as time and memory can make it.


“Janice Gary achieves a remarkable feat, taking the reader on a vast inward journey toward freedom from the effects of real trauma in her youth as she walks her dog in a public park. With Barney by her side, she faces her deepest fears and discovers the grace of the natural world, the power of love and the potency of her own strengths. There were innumerable times when I was just knocked over by this book. This is a stunningly beautiful story told by a gifted writer.”
-Meredith Hall, author of The New York Times bestseller Without a Map
“Sometimes redemption comes in the form of a rambunctious four-legged creature. Such is the case with Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance. In this beautifully written book, the author’s beloved dog Barney tugs and ultimately drags his emotionally damaged human companion through parks and paths to an inner place of strength, joy and freedom from her painful past.”
-Mira Bartók, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir The Memory Palace.
“Short Leash is about finding the courage to hope despite what happened in the past and what will happen to those you love in the future. It’s about discovering that it’s never too late to grow out of pain and into strength. The writing is beautiful. Plus, there is the dog. Reading this made me snuggle mine for a very long time.”
-Susan Kushner Resnick, author of You Saved Me, Too
“Gary’s book reminds me not only what dogs bring to our lives — their warmth, strength and acceptance of the imperfect humans they live with – but of what words are for. The words in Short Leash leap off the page, carving Barney, his imperfect human and their extraordinary landscape deep into my memory. Luminously spiritual, unflinchingly honest, this book re-makes its genre into a profound meditation.”
-Louise Bernikow, author of Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed A Bad Woman and Bark if You Love Me.
“Short Leash isn’t quite a dog book even though the cover and title relates to a big, lovable black Lab named Barney. Instead, it’s a impossibly beautiful portrait of two damaged souls and how they lean on one another to heal, hurt, and find their way back to happiness after unspeakable tragedy.Through it all, Gary writes with a sure-hand, crafting beautiful, rhapsodic passages that span every emotion.”
-Craig Manning, Independent


review of short leash from zenshin florence caplow, a soto zen priest, and co-editor of the hidden lamp: stories from twenty-five centuries of awakened women.
janice gary interview with richard gilbert, award-winning author, journalist and otterbein university faculty member.