off the leashOff the Leash is about the strange, wonderful, neurotic, and eccentric dog people who gather daily at Amory Park, overlooking Boston. And it’s about Matthew Gilbert’s transformation from dedicated homebody to joyful member of the dog park club: an oddball group of dog people with fur on their jackets and biscuits in their pockets.

Gilbert, the TV critic at the Boston Globe, describes his reluctant journey into the park subculture, as the first-time dog owner of a yellow lab named Toby. Like so many Americans right now, he has been steeped in the virtual, digital world. At the park, though, amid the chaotic energy of dogs and people gathered in packs, he is unprotected by the screen and forced to let go. The dogs go off-leash, and so do the people. There is something eternal and deeply satisfying about both the group experience at the park and the simple pleasure of playing fetch with one’s canine companion in a large, green, open space.

A charmingly written narrative that will appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed watching a puppy scamper through a park, Off the Leash is a paean to dog lovers and their pets everywhere. (description from publisher)

street cat named bobJames is a street musician struggling to make ends meet. Bob is a stray cat looking for somewhere warm to sleep. When James and Bob meet, they forge a never-to-be-forgotten friendship that has been charming readers from Thailand to Turkey. A Street Cat Named Bob is an international sensation, landing on the bestseller list in England for 52 consecutive weeks and selling in 26 countries around the world. Now, James and Bob are ready to share their true story with the U.S. in this tale unlike any you’ve ever read of a cat who possesses some kind of magic.

When street musician James Bowen found an injured cat curled up in the hallway of his apartment building, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London, barely making enough money to feed himself and the last thing he needed was a pet. Yet James couldn’t resist helping the strikingly intelligent but very sick animal, whom he named Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining that he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.

Perfect for fans of Marley & Me and Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat, this instant classic about the power of love between man and animal has taken the world by storm and is guaranteed to be a huge hit with American fans as well. (description from publisher)


soul all living creaturesBased on the author’s twenty-five years of experience as a veterinarian and veterinary behaviorist, The Soul of All Living Creatures delves into the inner lives of animals – from whales, wolves, and leopards to mice, dogs, and cats – and explores the relationships we forge with them.

As an emergency room clinician four years out of veterinary school, Dr. Vint Virga had a life-changing experience: he witnessed the power of simple human contact and compassion to affect the recovery of a dog struggling to survive after being hit by a car. Observing firsthand the remarkably strong connection between humans and animals inspired him to explore the world from the viewpoint of animals and taught him to respect the kinship that connects us. With The Soul of All Living Creatures, Virga draws from his decades in veterinary practice to reveal how, by striving to perceive the world as animals do, we can enrich our own appreciation of life, enhance our character, nurture our relationships, improve our communication with others, reorder our values, and deepen our grasp of spirituality. Virga discerningly illuminates basic traits shared by both humans and animals and makes animal behavior meaningful, relevant, and easy to understand.

Insightful and eloquent, The Soul of All Living Creatures offers an intimate journey into the lives of our fellow creatures and a thought-provoking promise of what we can learn from spending time with them. (description from publisher)

lost catAt turns hilarious and poignant, Lost Cat by Caroline Paul is a treasure – a simple story that reveals multiple truths and makes you laugh out loud.

Caroline Paul was home recovering from a serious accident when her beloved cat Tibby disappeared. Already weepy and depressed from the prolonged recovery, she was devastated. She and her partner Wendy (who provides charming and very funny illustrations) canvassed the neighborhood, posted flyers and finally mourned him as lost when, five weeks later, in strolls Tibby, fat and happy. Caroline was overjoyed – and suspicious. Where had he been all this time? How had her shy, timid cat survived the wilds of the outdoors? Why wasn’t he eating his food, yet remaining fit and healthy? Most of all, did he love someone else more?

Fueled by painkillers and jealousy, Caroline set out to find where Tibby went on his wanderings, seeking answers through GPS, cat cams, animal communication, pet psychics and pet detectives. With self-deprecating humor – and surprisingly moving insights – Caroline tells the story of their quest and what they found along the way – that technology is great but people are better, that bonkers is in the eye of the beholder. That you can never know your cat (or anyone for that matter), but that’s ok, love is better.

Highly recommended to anyone who has loved a cat, or a pet or anyone.

genius of dogsBrian Hare, dog researcher, evolutionary anthropologist, and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center offers revolutionary new insights into dog intelligence and the interior lives of our smartest pets in The Genius of Dogs.

In the past decade, we have learned more about how dogs think than in the last century. Breakthroughs in cognitive science have proven dogs have a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal kingdom. Brian Hare’s stunning discovery is that when dogs domesticated themselves as early as 40,000 years ago they became far more like human infants than their wolf ancestors. Domestication gave dogs a whole new kind of social intelligence. This finding will change the way we think about dogs and dog training – indeed, the revolution has already begun. Hare’s seminal research has led him to work with every kind of dog from the tiniest shelter puppy to the exotic New Guinea singing dog, from his own childhood dog, Oreo, to the most fashionable schnoodle.

The Genius of Dogs is nothing less than the definitive dog book of our time by the researcher who started a revolution. (description from publisher)

This book is written by a dog.  Granted, a very special dog —  a golden retriever named Trixie.  And even though Trixie passed away in 2007, she is still, remarkably, writing books.  Of course, it probably helps that she was owned by bestselling author Dean Koontz, who may still have a little something to do with her success.   In fact, Koontz states that the Trixie  page on his website is one of the most visited features.

Trixie has inspired several books, including A Big Little Life, in which Koontz wrote about his relationship with his beloved pet.  But she’s also inspired some new children’s books, such as I Trixie, Who Is Dog , the rights to which have recently been purchased in order to create a new family comedy show.  But her speciality is definitely books such as Life is Good or Bliss to You, which are written in dog-speak, as is if Trixie is narrating the story.  Though for the most part, this is utterly charming, I’ll warn any ex-English teachers out there (myself included) that dogs apparently do not always use correct syntax.  Still, the book is warm, funny, inspirational and short –you can easily find bliss in one short sitting — making it an ideal gift for dog-lovers come Christmas time.

One other reason to support these books:  since Trixie originally served as a Canine Companions for Independence (before she went to live with Dean and Gerda) all royalties are donated to this organization.

I have found a new series to listen to as I drive around the Quad Cities and beyond.  It is the “Chet and Bernie Series”  from Spencer Quinn who introduces the world to two-legged Bernie, a down in his luck private detective and his four-legged pal Chet—a canine with a penchant for solving mysteries. In an interview with the author on how he decided on this series

Q. How did you come to write Dog on It?
A. My wife said, How about doing something with dogs? The basic building blocks came to me right there at the kitchen table: two detective pals; narration by the four-legged one; and all in the first person, which I’d never tried before in a novel. Plus the most important thing – Chet would not be a talking dog (or be undoggy in any way) but would be a narrating dog. Anything that thinks and has memory must have a narrative going on inside. I went to the office – over the garage, commuting distance fifteen feet – and wrote the first page. Then I wanted to know what happened next.

Chet is a mixed breed law academy dropout. Bernie is a retired police officer trying to be a private detective. Between Bernie’s divorce, Charlie his sone and Susie Sanchez, Bernie’s reporter girlfriend, Chet can’t catch a nap and is always on the alert. Chet has a dry sense of humor, which the reader, Jim Frangoine, does well.

These are wonderful books for those who enjoy the narrator being the four legged kind.

There are three books in teh series so far:  Dog on It, Thereby Hangs a Tail and the newest book, To Fetch a Thief.

Deceptively slim and compact, this short novel really packs a punch. Told from the viewpoint of a house cat, emotions run from poignant to laugh-out-loud funny to bittersweet and sad. Through it all, this little cat delivers some great truths about humans and life with an uncanny eye for the truth.

Foudini, the title character in The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat, starts life as a feral stray, born in a wall. When his mother fails to return one day, his cries alert a passing human who rescues him. Adopted by a young couple, he learns to trust the woman (who he calls “Warm”) and tolerate the man (“Pest”) He also becomes fast friends with the resident dog, Sam. Now the young and foolish kitten Grace has been added to the family and Foudini attempts to fill her in on the important issues of life. Through Foudini’s wise observations, we see the world from a cat’s perspective – fulfilling the basic needs of shelter and food to the more abstract necessities of attachment, friendship and love.

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read – Foudini’s disgust at Warm trying to “talk cat” or Grace’s complete disregard of his lessons are hilarious – yet Foudini remains thoroughly cat-like in his thoughts and reactions. Foudini also faces tragedy and loss and must learn to cope and move on – keep the tissues handy for this section. Beautifully written, this lovely story will stay with you long after you put the book away.

If you’re very lucky, you might run across the audio version of this book. However, it’s only available on cassette, is out-of-print and difficult to find. If you do find it, grab it. It’s narrated by David Hyde Pierce (most famous for playing Niles on the tv show “Frasier”) and is a gem of fine storytelling.

You may already be familiar with Marc Marrone – he has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show many times as a pet expert, giving helpful advice and information all while surrounded by a menagerie of animals. It’s a fascinating sight – birds, bunnies, kittens, gerbils – all adorable, all  in perfect harmony, the living embodiment of a peaceable kingdom. Meanwhile, Marc calmly explains the best way to brush your cat’s teeth, or gives tips on caring for your iguana, while Harry, his giant red Amazon parrot perches on his shoulder.

A Man for All Species is Marc’s story and, while it’s not a guide to keeping pets, you’ll pick up all kinds of fascinating details that will help you enjoy and understand your pet. Marc owns Parrots of the World, one of the largest pet stores in the world, he is one of the largest exporters of ferrets to Japan (where they are wildly popular) and now Europe, exports birds (many of which he has bred and raised himself) all over the world but always makes time for the smallest birds and animals in his care. Cleanliness and their comfort and safety is always his primary concern.

Some of the most interesting sections of the book include his helping Orthodox Jews during Passover (no grain is allowed in the house during Passover so he has developed grain-free food for birds and small pets; also many cannot have an animal in the house during Passover and board their pets with Marc at his store) and his relationship with Martha Stewart – taping live television segments with animals can forge a strong friendship!

Through all the ups and downs and adventures of all sorts, Marc’s love of animals of all kinds remains unwavering and he shares that love and fascination with us in this fun book.

I’m going to cheat a little. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot would be my choice, but I love all four in the “All Creatures” series.

The story begins with the author’s arrival in Yorkshire during the Depression when veterinary jobs were scarce. A city boy, James has to quickly learn how to care for horses and cows in very primitive conditions.

He soon learns to love the beauty of the Dales and his eccentric clients. His tales of caring for beloved pets as well as farm animals can be heartwrenching as the patient doesn’t always survive.

There is plenty of humor in his hilarious descriptions of the Yorkshire dialect, way of life, and diet, as well as his volatile boss Siegfried and Siegfried’s irresponsible yet charming brother Tristan.

Not only are the books laugh-out-loud funny but you come to know the village of Darrowby, James, Siegfried and Tristan so well that you never want to leave the little world that Herriot has created.