Do 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.
Good Dog. Stay. by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen, is a delightful little book. It’s short, sad and sweet. Of its 82 pages, only 32 of them are text – the rest consists of expressive black and white photographs of adorable dogs gazing back at you with the liquid, loving eyes.
The book is also sad. The author reflects back on the life of her devoted black Labrador Retriever, Beau, who was part of her family for almost fifteen years. And yes, it does deal with the dreaded decision of having to put Beau down as his infirmities multiply and worsen. So keep your Kleenex handy, but your mind open. This is a tribute to all good dogs as well as an uncanny observationof what we humans can learn from our canine friends, fo what they can tell us withoug using words.
The book is also sweet – or bittersweet, to be more precise. It’s heartwarming, even humorous in parts. But the essence of the book is best expressed in its very last sentence, “Sometimes an old dog teaches you new tricks.” Recommended for dog lovers everywhere and perfectly appropriate for reading during these “dog days” of summer.
Lounging 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.
Enzo is a thoughtful and intelligent observer. He has watched a lot of television – especially the Weather Channel and documentaries – and he has paid attention. He understands much more than he is given credit for, but he cannot put his thoughts into words. His greatest regret in life is that he cannot speak and that he does not have opposable thumbs because Enzo is a dog. In The Art of Racing in the Rain he reflects back on his life on the eve of his death.
When Denny picks Enzo from a litter of puppies, an incredible partnership begins. Denny is a semi-professional race car driver and he often describes his work to Enzo especially his skill at racing in wet weather – the balance and anticipation it requires, the blending of thought and action. Soon Eve enters their lives, and then baby Zoe and they are happy until tragedy strikes and the little family must struggle to survive and carry on. Through it all, Enzo is there, observing, offering comfort and companionship and love.
This is a beautiful, poignant story which is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes wrenching. You may be skeptical that a dog as narrator would work, but in fact, Enzo is perfect – wise but always from a dog’s point-of-view, an outsider that can see clearer than the participants. The racing analogies are powerful and effective, but do not dominate the story. You will root for these characters and love them as much as Enzo does, who’s words will stay with you long after you finish the book.
“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).
They 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.
Yet 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.
Getting great pictures of your furry best friend just got easier – Kim Levin shows you all kinds of great tips and tricks on how to photograph your dog in PhoDOGraphy. Plus, the book is just fun to look at – it’s filled with fabulous pictures of all kinds of dogs from sweet and adorable, to kind and noble.
There’s a lot of good, basic photography skills explained here – using available light, framing the shot, choosing interesting settings and backgrounds, stopping action and composition. There’s also a lot of information that is particular to photographing dogs for instance, photographing black dogs so that you don’t lose the facial details and expressions. Tips are also included for photographing two or more dogs together, dogs with their people and dogs with cats. Special consideration is given for photographing puppies (high energy) vs older dogs (more sedate and dignified), and big dogs (need more room to feel comfortable) and small dogs (place them where you can be at their eye level)
Most of all, this book is about capturing the spirit and personality of that important and beloved member of the family, the dog.
Is it hot enough for you? This period, from July 3 to August 11, is traditionally the hottest time of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and is commonly known as the “Dog Days of Summer.” According to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813, this was thought to be an evil time “when the sea boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid . . .” If you can imagine life without air conditioning, some of these conditions would still prevail today!
How did this term originate? Well, in ancient times the star Sirius (also known as the Dog Star) was thought to be the cause of the hot, humid weather because in the summertime the star rose around the same time that the sun did. Their solution was to sacrifice a brown dog, hoping it would “appease the rage of Sirius” (from Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2008).
Fortunately, we longer sacrifice dogs or blame them for the hot weather. In fact, lots of folks really do love their dogs. If you’re looking for a good dog book this summer try one of these:
Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by John Katz
Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan
James Herriot’s Dog Stories by James Herriot
Cesar’s Way: the Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier