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A Book Review of Susan Morse’s “The Dog Stays in the Picture”

Mary Dell Harrington, one half of the Grown and Flown team, writes about one of her favorite things – dogs!

On that late afternoon last August after we dropped off our youngest child at her freshman dorm, my husband and I returned home as empty nesters. Having dogs (in our case two) but no children under our roof made it easy to relate to Susan Morse’s newly published memoir, The Dog Stays in the Picture (Open Road, 9/14.) I discovered Susan when her book was listed as an example of a growing genre of empty nest writing in The New York Times article, “The Empty Nest Book Hatchery.”

A Book Review of Susan Morse’s: The Dog Stays in the Picture

Sharon Greenthal, co-founder of Midlife Boulevard and blogger at EmptyHouse, Full Mind was also included along with the blog I co-author with Lisa Heffernan, Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest. To say we were thrilled to be part of the story is a huge understatement!

In her book, Morse credits her rescued greyhound, Lilly, with providing similar canine company. It is Lilly, and not her three off-to-college kids, who shines in the story, making this book one that any dog-lover would enjoy.

Morse’s book title refers to Lilly’s steady presence in her household despite constant changes. After she joins the family in 2009, Lilly watches while twin boys, high school seniors, apply to college. They graduate, leave for school, one transfers, the eldest child, a daughter, begins her career. As her children grow increasingly independent, Morse laments “At least Lilly needs me, even if her constant shadowing has been a bit tiresome, More and more, I’m coming to understand the use of pets as a subconscious substitute for children.”


The Dog Stays in the Picture also alludes to the family profession: Morse, before staying home to raise their children, worked as an actress. She and her husband, actor David Morse, have enjoyed a three decades-long marriage, despite work that requires him to travel for long stretches of time. Having a family dog was always a comfort but when Lilly joined the pack, she brought additional challenges.  As Morse explains, “For a Greyhound rescued off the track, everything is a first, and it’s overwhelming.  Lilly has no reference point for the simplest things.”


The memoir offers a detailed glimpse into life with a dog rescued from a miserable early life, and, in closing, Morse gushes about her love of the breed: “I’ll adopt again because I can’t help myself.  Greyhounds are simply so heart-stoppingly wonderful: loyal, gentle, smart, graceful, clean, quiet, funny, and, of course – fast. “ She provides the web address for “The Greyhound Project” for anyone wishing to consider the same.


With her tender description of Lilly, as she transforms from skittish to settled, Susan Morse offers readers a chance to learn about their wonderful qualities as companions, for inhabitants of empty nests or those full to the brim.

Grown and Flown

Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest reflects on the arc of parenting with an emphasis on 15-25 year olds. Lisa Endlich Heffernan is an author and wrote a NYT Business Bestseller following a Wall Street career. After working in media, Mary Dell Harrington became a school and hospital volunteer. Counting all five of their kids, they have 93 years of parenting experience. They’ve been working moms and stay-at-home moms and have shepherded their children in and out of elementary, middle and high school. With their youngest now seniors in high school, they have the empty nest in sight.

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