‘Rubyfruit Jungle’ author featured at First Person

We love animals here at PGN, but Rita Mae Brown’s affection for all creatures great and small puts us to shame. Just go ahead and ask her about the menagerie she lives with.

“[There are] 75 foxhounds, 19 bassets, 40 horses. Many are retirees and rescues,” she said. “There are barn cats. In the house, there’s about seven cats and the same number of dogs. Many of the dogs have been dropped and had medical problems I’ve had to fix. You’ve got a couple limping around. They’re perfectly happy but they’ve been damaged in some way and people haven’t wanted them.”

The author, best known for her groundbreaking and semi-autobiographical debut novel “Rubyfruit Jungle,” will speak about her life and participate in a book signing as part of the First Person Arts Festival Nov. 7.

Her latest book, “Animal Magnetism,” is a memoir about the wisdom she has gleaned over time from various animals. And, given the volume of animals running through her life, it’s a wonder the book isn’t bigger than it is.

Brown said she felt the time was right to pen “Animal Magnetism.”

“In a sense, every book you write takes your whole life to write it,” she said. “I just started thinking about all these incredible creatures that have guided me and starting thinking maybe I’d better put this down while I still can.”

One thing is apparent from the start of “Animal Magnetism” — Brown puts a lot of stock in the instincts of animals.

“You can judge somebody’s character by how your animals respond to them,” she said. “If your cat or dog or horse doesn’t like somebody, you’d better back off. They can smell emotional states. A dog has 100-million scent receptors in its nose. You have six million. That person could be giving off an odor that you don’t detect but the dog knows it’s not right, whether it’s incipient violence or some kind of emotional disturbance. They know. Dogs know crazy people as well as evil people in many ways, at least pertaining to you and how that person is responding to you.”

OK. But what if the animal is crazy?

Brown has an explanation for that.

“You can usually tell if an animal has been abused. But there are bloodlines — just like there are in people — that carry certain diseases, whether they be diseases of the mind or diseases of the body. Some bloodlines will have conditions and the animal will exhibit it.”

It’s also no secret that she prefers the company of animals over humans.

“They don’t have barriers between them and reality,” she said. “We do. We have an ideological system set: Deny reality or try to pervert it. Case in point: There have always been homosexual liaisons in higher vertebrates. It has been denied for centuries. It’s right in front of you. Animals don’t have that problem.”

Brown is so in tune with animals, especially one in particular, that she has co-authored a series of mystery novels with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. Actually, co-authored is a strong word, as the member of that Brown partnership who doesn’t go in a litter box pointed out.

“Actually, she takes all the credit,” she said. “I’m just a typist. I just do whatever she tells me.”

Sneaky Pie wasn’t available for comment.

Given her intense love for animals, it might surprise some that Brown is an avid foxhunter. She said she has no problem resolving her love of animals with fox-hunting.

“It intensifies it. You have one of the greatest hunt clubs 17 miles from Philadelphia,” she said, referring to The Radnor Hunt and Pony Club. “It’s a great old hunt club. But you don’t kill the fox. So we don’t have that problem, which I’m sure would upset some people. I’m one of them. I don’t want to kill it. I can’t think of anything more exciting or anything that gives you a deeper appreciation of nature.”

OK, but doesn’t getting chased by a bunch of dogs stress the fox out a little?

Brown, who is way more in tune with the animals than we are, said the fox is having fun and pretty much running the whole show.

“You never get the damn thing. It’s too smart. It always gets away from you. They have a canine mind so the fox knows if the scenting conditions are good. It knows what its chances are. People don’t live in nature anymore so they don’t realize how incredibly cunning and creative this animal is.”

First Person Arts Festival hosts a book event featuring Brown from 4-5 p.m. Nov. 7 at Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St. For more information, visit www.firstpersonarts.org or www.ritamaebrown.com.

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].