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.
If you’re looking for book that will just plain make you feel good, look no further. I’ve just discovered Joyce Stranger, a prolific English author who writes novels about animals. That may sound horribly middle-brow and non-literary, but The Go-Between is surprisingly engaging and unpredictable.
The book focusses on Flyer, a Siamese kitten who loves people. He begins life with one family and ends up with a completely different, though equally loving, owner. Through the force of his personality, determination and will to survive , he influences everyone he meets. He also acts as a catalyst – bringing together neighbors who create a new sense of community.
If you ever need a recommendation for someone who wants a good story, with a little romance, and is completely G-rated, here you go.
Homer’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.”
This 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…
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.
“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.
We all know about the importance of adopting animals from the Humane Society; many of us may have a beloved pet at home right now that we rescued. Many of these animals have been abused or abandoned yet somehow they learn to trust and love again and they’re saved. But did you stop to think about the person that adopted them? They’re saved too, by unconditional love. Saved by Karin Winegar shows us, over and over, that not just the animals are saved – the lives of their human caretakers are changed too.
Most of the stories in Saved begin with sadness – irresponsible people that treat animals as disposable, leaving suffering and pain in their wake. But each story ends on an upbeat note because of the animals that don’t give up and the people who give them a second chance. You’ll meet Chance and Hope, two beautiful Great Pyrenees dogs who were found starving in a ditch, each with a shattered rear leg. Today theses gentle giants bring joy to the residents of a long-term care home in Minnesota. Walt Kuchler finds peace from painful memories when riding the mare he rescued from certain death. A program in Maricopa County, Arizona pairs jail inmates with rescued animals, teaching them responsibility and job skills (many find work as veterinary assistants or on local farms after being released) There’s the story of Cassidy, a stray cat that had been shot twice. At the last minute, veterinary technician Randi Golub spoke up and said she would take him. Today, Cassidy is a certified Pet Partner and regularly visits assisted living homes, bringing purrs and love to lonely residents.
These stories come from all over the country and involve all manner of animals – dogs, cats, horses, birds. The common thread in every story is that love, when given a chance, can heal any hurt.