homers-odysseyHomer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a closely observed tale of a tiny black kitten who lost his sight early in his life.

Beginning his life as a stray in South Beach, Homer’s eyes became so infected that his eyes had to be removed when he was eventually rescued and treated by a vet. The vet, after many failures, finds Gwen who instantly bonds to Homer, only a few weeks old.

His new owner has her own set of challenges, not only adapting her household physically (eliminating obstacles and clutter and padding sharp corners) but also integrating the  kitten with the two already ensconced feline inhabitants.

The author clearly adores the newest member of the family, but also studies Homer with a scientist’s eye for detail, as she works to understand the needs of her new kitten. She describes how his sense of hearing and touch compensate for his lack of sight.

Parts of the story are heartbreaking but Homer is the very essence of resilience. The author is careful not to attribute human attributes to her cats but obviously admires Homer’s bravery and his will to survive and thrive.

The book, Cooper says,  is written for “those who think that normal and ideal mean the same thing.”  They will come away with an appreciation of the “slightly left of…normal.”

CompetabilityThis is the subtitle of Competability by Amy Shojai. She notes that there has always been much less research about cats and even less about the relationships of cats and dogs living in the same household.

She traces the integration of dogs (first) then cats into human families and how far domestication has gone in each species. Their senses affect their behavior; a fascinating chapter details how the dog’s extreme sense of smell and a cat’s powerful hearing affect how they relate to each other.

She also explains how an action such as rolling over is interpreted completely different by a cat and a dog. (Cats roll over to fight and dogs roll over in submission). Or tail wagging: “The dog approaching with a friendly wag is interpreted by the cat to be ready to attack; and the dog seeing the waving feline tail thinks it’s an invitation to approach and can’t understand why Kitty breaks the rules and slaps his nose.”

This book  helps to bridge the communication gap – the largest being between humans and the canine/feline world…

Soul of a DogDo animals have souls? Jon Katz grapples with this question, which has intrigued philosophers through the ages, in his newest book Soul of a Dog. Katz studies the animals on his Bedlam Farm, especially the dogs but also the sheep and donkeys, Mother the cat, Elvis the Snickers-eating steer, hens and goats. Katz comes to see each of them as unique individuals, capable of great feeling and understanding.

Katz’s stories about animals are a joy to read – humourous, thoughtful, unsentimental. Each animals’ personality shines through without anthromorphization. They are complete as they are, they support their humans and allow them to live their fullest life. There is Rose, the single-minded work dog, Izzy, who visits the local hospice, bringing smiles and peace to troubled minds, Fly the rescue dog who nearly died, and Lenore who is all about love and affection. A keen observer, Katz notes how his animals interact with each other and with humans and finds self-awareness and admirable qualities again and again.

For anyone who has owned a pet or loved an animal, this book is a must-read.

play-deadLounging in the back yard with your pup? Pick up  Play Dead by David Rosenfelt to while away the afternoon. Lawyer Andy Carpenter is a smart aleck, with the redeeming quality of his love for dogs (he used a windfall to found the Tara Foundation – named for his golden retriever).

A trend in mysteries  is the deployment of pets as an integral part of the plot. There’s long been a tradition of cat mysteries (Lilian Jackson Braun and Rita Mae Brown) and now man’s best friend is catching up. Try  The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Carol Lea Benjamin or one of Susan Conant’s many (such as New Leash on Death ). After reading about their crime-solving skills, you may look at your dog with new respect.

animals-make-us-human“Creating the Best Life for Animals” is the subtitle to Animals Make Us Human. Temple Grandin, the author of Animals Make Us Human, is autistic and she feels it has given her a special gift in relating to animals.

She emphasizes the importance of play and seeking activities for all animals. To have a rich life, pets need to use their brains – and they do this by trying to satisfy their intense curiosity and by playing. Owners are responsible for ensuring that they get these opportunities. Especially fascinating is her description of the evolution of the domestic dog from the wolf.

Beware Cesar Millan fans; she has fundamental philosophical differences regarding owner dominance and pack behavior. (She doesn’t think the pack leader theory is useful in most households).

Grandin also cites evidence that cats can be trained – by using rewards, rather than negative reinforcement. (This is true with all pets, but especially cats). Cats are still more on the “wild” end of the continuum of wildness to domesticity. Wild animals just run when punished; they don’t learn anything from being punished, other than to fear the punisher.

Grandin’s theories resonant with all species  (including our own).

pet-projectsThey never snicker behind your back about that unfortunate outfit you wore, or comment on the couple of extra pounds you put on over the holidays; they’re always happy to see you, even if you’ve only been gone 20 minutes. The pets in our lives give so much and ask so little – why not make something special for them?

Pet Projects: the Animal Knits Bible by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne is packed with all kinds of ideas for special gifts for your pets. They run the gamat from practical (dog coats and collars) to fanciful (a tent for your turtle) Dogs get the most attention, but there are toys and pillows for cats, a blanket for your prized horse, even a tiny (adorable) knitted house for your hamster. Most patterns are for knitting or crocheting, but there is also some embroidery and a section on re-purposing old sweaters into dog coats. All of the projects have a touch of humor, for instance there is a rug for your cat except instead of a bearskin, it’s shaped like a mouse-skin as if your mighty hunter had slayed a giant rodent. Or take a look at the “Anti-Firework Dog Balaclava”, a snood-like hat with extra earmuff protection to muffle loud, scary noises.

It’s all charming, adorable and whimsical – much like your favorite four-legged friend.

dog-trainingYet another way libraries can transform your life! What if you need to introduce a couple new dogs to a cat household? It’s critical to have some control over the dogs’ behavior (forget about controlling the cat).

Many will tell you, “Just throw them all together and it’ll work out.” Maybe, but probably not without a lot of needless stress.

The following books will fundamentally change the way you think about training; it’s amazing to witness the transformation in your pets and yourself:

Dog-Friendly Dog Training by Andrea Arden explains in clear language the philosophy of the Reward-Good-Behavior/Ignore-Bad-Behavior method of training.

Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training by Sarah Hodgson then shows you how to do it with well-chosen photographs and concise instructions.

Another wonderful service your library provides is interlibrary loan. Dvds in the PetsIncredible series are great reinforcement to the techniques you’ve read about.  Just ask at the Reference staff for more information.

One frigid winter morning in Spencer Iowa, Vicki Myron opened the public library’s book drop to discover an abandoned kitten. Starving and nearly frozen to death, Myron rescues the kitten and changes both of their lives forever.

Named Dewey Readmore Books, the kitten quickly settles into life at the library. Myron, who eventually becomes the director of Spencer Public Library, takes care of him and becomes his closest pal, but Dewey quickly makes friends with anyone that comes to the library, from the shyest child to the most preoccupied businessman. His story spreads far and wide – Japanese television made a documentary about him and his obituary ran in more than 200 newspapers when he died at age 19. Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World is Myron’s loving tribute to this charming and friendly cat, but it’s also the story of Spencer struggling through difficult economic times, and about Myron who faced several personal and health crisis’. It’s also a love letter to libraries and their place in a community.

Davenport Library had it’s own library cat many years ago, also named Dewey. A stray kitten that walked in the front door at the Annie Wittenmyer Branch (where the doors were often propped open because of lack of air conditioning), our Dewey made himself right at home. We kept him for almost two years, until we found him a forever home where he lived (and ruled) for the rest of his 14 years.