Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Following the Dog into a World of Smell
October 7 2016
Back in 2009, Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside of a Dog, made it to the top of every bestseller list. Heralded in this magazine and by others who wanted to learn what it means to be a dog, it delivered on the promise of its subtitle: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. It also introduced many of us to the concept of Umwelt—another’s perception of the world—coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll.
Imagining what it is to be a dog and to enter a dog’s subjective world was, and still is, an entrancing prospect. What better guide to the “inside of a dog” than a comparative cognitive scientist like Horowitz? She writes in a clear vernacular: accessible, erudite, poetic and downright friendly. No wonder her first book became such a sensation.
And now we have her new book, Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, which not only delves deeper into dogs’ amazing sense of smell, but also considers the human olfactory capacity, even if it is rather paltry compared with that of dogs. Truly understanding another species requires that, as ethologist Frans de Waal has explained, “we need to try to step outside our own narrow Umwelt and apply our imagination to theirs.” That is exactly what Horowitz brings to her books.
Similar to recent books such as Being a Beast by Charles Foster (where the author literally lived underground as a badger), or Thomas Thwaites’ excursion into the Umwelt of goats in GoatMan, in Being a Dog, Horowitz learns to polish her own sense of smell. She undertakes this quest not only to better understand what she might be missing, but also, to get a glimmer of how dogs’ noses help them navigate their world. The book begins with a look at the canine nose, which “is rich in a way we humans once knew about, once acted on, but have since neglected.” Following the lead of her two dogs, she puts her “nose to the places the dog nose goes.”
We all love factoids about dogs, and this book delivers a trove of them: Dogs scratch up the ground after they poop in order to transmit their personal message to other dogs; their paw pads have scent glands and digging spreads their odor, broadcasting their signal far and wide (canine social networking in action).
Wagging tails serve a similar purpose, spreading the scent from their anal sacs. They smell when they dream; watch their nostrils twitch. Dogs rarely mark over their own urine postings. Males like to sniff tail areas first, while females prefer to start with faces.
We learn about the physiognomy of their smelling instrument, from nostrils (nares) to olfactory epithelium and vomeronasal organ, or VNO, and up to the brain’s olfactory bulb. When they sniff, they start with either the right or left nostril, depending on what they’re investigating. Unlike other senses, nostrils are ipsilateral, meaning that an odor entering the right nostril goes to the right side of the brain for processing, and one entering the left goes to the left side.
Horowitz takes us on a grand tour of scent-work professionals, from the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Washington’s scat-detection dogs, with stops along the way to visit other working and detection dogs. At the book’s end, she treats her dog Finnegan to classes in nosework, which quickly become what she calls his “Favorite Place on Earth.” Definitely something in which all our dogs would love to partake.
It seems that for most of us, smelling isn’t something we practice much. One of the most remarkable comparisons she draws is the difference in the endowment of olfactory sensory cells (epithelium) between humans and dogs. As she explains, “If his olfactory epithelium were spread out along the outer surface of the dog’s body, it would completely cover it. In humans, ours would about cover a mole on our left shoulder.”
While we have a long way to go to catch up with our dogs, by the book’s end, the author has us tapping into our puny epithelium, sniffing and snuff ling. We thank Alexandra Horowitz for providing this inspiration.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 26 2016
Recently, our dog Lola got a little too personal with a skunk and wound up with a face full of stink. To remove the offensive smell, we very carefully washed her with the go-to formula of 4 cups hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon dish soap—that did the trick. Her leather collar was still pretty smelly, however, so I took another approach for it. After soaking it in warm water with 2 teaspoons baking soda and letting it air dry, I applied Skidmore’s Leather Cream with beeswax to both sides to recondition and soften it up. That not only worked like a charm, it also added a refreshing aroma.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
How many calories does a dog need?
September 24 2016
Keeping dogs healthy is important to us so we’ve created new calorie requirement estimator and food counter apps. We are hoping that these web-apps will come in handy for you to try your hand in cooking for your dogs. You can make all the meals for your dogs, or simply add home cooked meals as a supplement to the manufactured food.
The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)
Screenshot of Bark's DER Calculator
Do keep in mind that these calculations are really only estimates. Also, it is important to note that every dog is truly an individual, and their current weight, activity level, age, intact or neuter, physiological condition and other factors must also be considered. No matter what formula you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and adjusting accordingly. And again, it is good to consult with your vet before making any changes to a dog’s diet.
When calculating the calories for ingredients, there are a variety of sources that can be used. I decided to do compute calculations in ounces to make it simpler for myself, and others to use. The ingredients we have included in our chart are the most common ones found in home cooked meals. If there are ingredients missing you can use any of the online calorie sources that we have noted under the chart to add those to your list.
A digital kitchen scale is definitely the easiest when to know how much any ingredient weighs—you need to measure the actual weight, not the volume (such standard measuring cups measure).
When using the slow cooker approach to making dog meals, you will also need to factor in the weight of the water you use in cooking the meals. So if you use 6 cups of water, or 48 ounces, that weight will need to be added to the total weight of the ingredients, to get an accurate calculation how many calories there are in one ounce of the food. Most slow cooker meals are around 20 to 35 calories per ounce.
As Dr. Greg Martinez has noted in his slow cooker recipe, you will need to provide supplementation to most diets (especially those that do not incorporate any manufactured food). Common supplements include calcium (or bone meal) about 1 tsp per pound of food, Vitamin E (2 IU per pound of dog daily), and either sardines in water (one-quarter to one tin twice weekly) or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).
In my investigations into home cooking for your pet I have used a variety of excellent sources that you might also like to consult. Here is a sampling of the books, websites, and services:
Starting with Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s classic Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. His was one of the first guides to home cooking and the ingredient charts are extremely helpful, especially detailing the amount of water to use per dry ingredient, and the cooked yields.
Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD contains many different diet plans, and the special medical conditions that they cover.
Monica Segal offers nutritional consultations and menu planning, that can also include supplementing a kibble based diet. She is the author of 9Kitchen and Your Dog’s Diet. monicasegal.com
Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Veterinary Nutritional Consultations. She as been providing consultations for 20 years. She provides customized recipes for healthy pets, and nutritional consultations for pets with medical conditions. She works directly with pet guardians and with their vets. petdiets.com
Sean Delaney’s Balance It is also a veterinarian nutritional consulting service. His site offers many interesting recipes and diet plans. Balanceit.com, go to the “free balanceit ez tab” to build your own recipes and to understand their nutrient composition. balanceit.com
Mary Straus’ website dogaware.com is a good resource for sample diets (both raw and cooked) and supplements for home prepared meals, as well as general health related topics. dogaware.com
For recipes books:
Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM has an emphasis on ancestral diets, but a lot of valuable information. drkarenbecker.com
Dinner Pawsible by Cathy Alinovi, DVM and Susan Thixton. Has over 60 recipes that will inspire you and entice your pets. drcathyvet.com
Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet by Greg Martinez, DVM will get you started on the slow cooking approach to cooking for your pets. Be sure to watch his youtube channel too, so you can get some great cooking pointers.
Rick Woodford has provided an invaluable service with both his Feed Your Best Friend Better and his new Chow recipe books. His recipes can be used to supplement a kibble or canned food diet or provide healthy menu choices on their own. dogfooddude.com
Other Sources and Textbooks:
Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices (Dogwise) by Linda Case
Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition by Michael Hand, DVM, Craig Thatcher, DVM, Rebecca Remillard, DVM and Philip Roudebush, DVM.
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council.
William Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago this year, was no slouch when it came to mentioning dogs in his work. In fact, adding up the various canine-isms—dog, cur, hound—gives a total of well over 250 appearances. He also was the first writer to use the compound noun “watchdog.” However, Master Will didn’t seem to feel kindly about dogs. More often than not, references were used to bury a character, not praise one. Let’s see how up you are on his works.
Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war. —Julius Caesar
The cat will mew and dog will have his day. —Hamlet
The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me. —King Lear
Bulldogs are adorable, with faces like toads that have been sat on. —A Midsummer Night’s Dream
My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind, So flewed, so sanded; and their heads are hung With ears that sweep away the morning dew. —A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon, Than such a Roman. —Julius Caesar
I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me. —Much Ado About Nothing
I am the dog: no, the dog is himself, and I am the dog— Oh! the dog is me, and I am myself; ay, so, so. —The Two Gentlemen
of Verona Thou callest me a dog before thou hast cause. But since I am a dog, beware my fangs. —The Merchant of Venice When night dogs run, all sorts of deer are chas’d. —The Merry Wives of Windsor
Talks as familiarly of roaring lions as maids of thirteen do of puppy dogs. —King John
News: Guest Posts
Well, it looks like recent research into prehistoric Japanese graves proves, at least, that dogs were indeed our long-time hunting companions. In this fascinating study written by Angela Perri recently published a fascinating study that proves just this. This line of inquiry started when she was a grad student at Durham University in the UK. As David Grimm writes in Science:
“She wanted to get a sense of how dogs may have aided early humans in taking down game, so she did her best to approximate the activity: In 2011, she joined a group of Japanese businessmen on a wild boar hunt in a dense forest near Hiroshima. ‘It was terrifying,’ says Perri, now a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. ‘The boar sound like a train. They’re very aggressive, and they have big tusks. At any moment, one could come charging at you.’”
But the biggest takeaway she got was just how impressive the dogs were during this hunt. Not only did the 5 Bloodhounds and Shiba Inus help to track down the prey, but they also warned the humans when the boars were nearby.
That got Perri interested in investigating Japanese research papers for anything about dogs and the Jōmon culture—hunter-gatherers from 16,000 to 2,400 year ago. They lived in the northern islands with a cold climate filled with large terrestrial megafauna of the Pleistocene, like Naumann’s elephants and Yabe’s giant deer. But during the Holocene, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, there was a climatic warming displacing the larger animals with smaller, quicker ungulates like sika deer and wild boar. As Perri notes in the Antiquity paper, “This environmental shift … led to the creation of new exploitation niches for Jōmon foragers, including important variations in plant availability, coastal resources and terrestrial prey species.”
Perri’s research has involved studying dogs as “hunting technology,” and as she noted, “A hunting partnership between dogs and humans has long been postulated in the archaeological literature, with some researchers suggesting that such a collaborative alliance was the basis for the initial domestication of dogs. She points out that, “Dogs are an important, and in some cases indispensable, hunting aid for many modern forager groups, as they probably were for foragers in prehistory.” And explains that, “Injured deer often run, leading hunters on long chases, and wild boar can be aggressive and quickly learn to evade capture. Hunting dogs mitigate these factors by tracking blood trails, forcing game into vulnerable positions (e.g. in water) and holding prey until the hunter can make the final kill.”
Perri was familiar with the significance that dogs had with many ancient cultures, and how the ethnographic record has confirmed their importance and the revered status many of the dogs obtained, which often was displayed in the manner they were buried in “remarkably human-esque ways, often with grave goods and markers.”
She performed a comprehensive survey of Japanese archaeological literature, and found that the Honshu Jōmon did bury their canine hunting partners in shell middens, same as they did with humans. And found over 110 canine burials from 39 archaeological sites. “They were treating their dogs the same way they treated their human hunters.” And, “Like people, the dogs (which may have resembled Shiba Inus) were placed singly and appear to have been arranged in particular postures. ‘They looked like they curled up and went to sleep,’ Perri notes. Some had suffered what appeared to be hunting injuries—broken legs and teeth—and many of their bones had healed, suggesting people had taken care of them. Some were also found with grave goods, like shell bracelets and deer antlers.” Their ages ranged from newborn to over 12 years old. While the prehistoric puppies weren’t certainly valued as hunters, she noted that “the ethnographic record shows that puppies in hunter-gatherer groups are often valued for their potential as future hunting partners.”
Along with the burials themselves, Perri found that the “importance of hunting dogs in this region is also demonstrated by the numerous dog-shaped clay figures (dogu), including a set that features a dog barking at three wild boar.” Or, “One Yayoi representation of dogs is found on a ceremonial bronze bell (dotaku) depicting a number of scenes, one of which is a boar surrounded by a hunter and a pack of dogs.” As shown here:
A 2500-year-old bronze bell depicting a Jōmon hunt with dogs. Image courtesy of Tokyo National Museum (http://www.tnm.jp/)
Perri concludes that while dogs were an integral part of the ancestral forest hunting culture, once an agricultural subsistence culture took over, the dog burials stopped as well.
As Grimm noted in his article and quotting Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, “it may be a disparity in loyalty. “Humans were a bit of a fair-weather friend—we were not as reliable as they were,” she laughs. “We could do to be a little more doglike.” We couldn’t agree with that sentiment more.
News: Guest Posts
Hoping to increase adoption rates
Antioch High School (in Northern California) is pairing up their cross country team with dogs from the Antioch Animal Shelter. This past Thursday they launched a practice session of their Panther Tails Program. The group of student athletes ran the one-mile from their school to the shelter to pick up their four-legged teammates and then continued for another 3 miles along the historic downtown area.
The program was the brainchild of the school’s community liaison, Trine Gallegos to foster student community spirit and the adoption of shelter dogs.
She was inspired by another school who was doing this and saw their post on Facebook. She brought the idea to cross-country coach Lisa Cuza and principal Louie Rocha, and they quickly signed on. The students themselves were so excited with the idea that they got their release forms signed in what seemed like record time.
So on Thursday (Sept 15) six shelter dogs, volunteers, the head coach, and the runners, set off for their trial run. The dogs sported black and gold bandannas to show “their panther pride.” Everything went smoothly and the students and dogs had great fun. It all worked out so well that next week they’ll be running with 10 dogs!
Let’s hope that not only did these pups get the much needed exercise and time out of the shelter, but the community will cheer on their Panther team by rushing to the shelter and adopting these amazing dogs. Plus, hopefully this idea will spread further—so pass along this great idea to your local shelter or high school.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 14 2016
Dog parks have come a really long way in the past 20 years. Once deemed a mild curiosity (and perhaps an irritant) by most city and county park departments, they are now at the top of the list of community “must-haves.” Since 2007, their numbers have grown by 80 percent, according to a recent report from the Trust for Public Lands, which surveyed the nation’s 100 largest city park systems.
As noted in their report, 2016 City Park Facts, “Nearly every big city now has at least one dedicated dog park, often with a name that reflects the creativity and exuberance of the movement. Fort Worth pups play at Fort Woof, Memphis pets frolic at Overton Bark, Dallas dogs run at My Best Friend’s Park and Atlanta pooches scamper at Freedom Barkway.”
As we all know, we’re hooked on dogs and love our outdoor R&R time with them, watching them make new friends as we share the latest with other dog folks. Park planners and advocates are catching on; as Peter Harnik, who led the study noted, “Americans love dogs, and parks increasingly reflect that fact as people want places to get outside and take their dogs with them.”
According to the report, the top five dog-park cities are Henderson, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Madison, Wisc.
We have to hand it to all those “exuberant” dog park advocates: our hard work has paid off.
Dog's Life: Humane
September 7 2016
Little Allie has a true Cinderella tale. I first encountered her at a former landfill-turnedpark along San Francisco Bay’s eastern shoreline. Lola, our Pointer spotted her; I just heard warning barks, then saw a flash of white fur. The next two mornings, same thing. Curious, I contacted Mary Barnsdale, a friend who heads that park’s dog user group, and learned that they had been hearing stories about this elusive stray going back almost six months, but no one had been able to pinpoint a location. Now we knew where to find her!
Animal Control, stretched thin, didn’t have the personnel to corral her, so Mary turned to Jill Posener of Paw Fund to see if she could humanely trap the little dog, and I gladly volunteered to help. The first two tries came up short, but on the third day, we went out at the crack of dawn, set the traps with hot fried chicken—Jill’s go-to lure for hungry dogs—and bingo, we got her!
Albany PD officer Justin Kurland helped us ferry Allie in the capture crate to the parking lot. He, too, was thrilled; he had often seen her when out on park patrol, but she always eluded him. (For more about Allie’s rescue, see thebark.com/allie.) It’s amazing to consider how much intelligence and resourcefulness it took for such a young, small dog to survive on her own. Since there’s nothing in the way of food or fresh water at this park, her feat is even more impressive.
After a brief stint at the Berkeley shelter, Jill fostered Allie, got her ready for an adoption event and, in short order, found her the perfect match: Mary Lou Salcedo, a retired senior. As Mary Lou told us, “Allie gives me so much happiness after I lost my Bichon at the age of 16. Now I found my new companion.” Mary Lou has the time, patience and tender love that Allie deserves.
We are overjoyed to show her off on the cover in a photo taken a scant three weeks after her capture. The photo was taken by Mo Saito, who recently set up his Doghouse Photos studio near our office. A former London fashion photographer, Mo made a turn dogward in this country. He has a masterful skill, which he put to good use in getting this shot —while Allie wasn’t fearful, she was rather busy exploring the studio. Thankfully, Mary Lou’s friend, Chase Wilson, a San Francisco firefighter and ardent dog lover who’s been invaluable with Allie’s training, came along to help wrangle her. We think you’ll agree that she, Mo and Mary Lou did the trick.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
September 7 2016
In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Frans de Waal presents a fascinating history of the study of animal behavior and cognition. De Waal, who says his love of animals dates to his childhood, is a worldrenowned primatologist and ethologist and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. We asked him to shift gears and give us his take on the canine mind.
Bark: Konrad Lorenz (co-founder of your field) wrote Man Meets Dog in 1954. And while it is still one of the best, if slightly flawed, books on canine behavior, why did it take so long for ethologists, and other researchers, to to study dog behavior?
Frans de Waal: Dogs were (and are) considered imperfect subjects of study because they are “unnatural.” Many ethologists, including Lorenz, feel that natural behavior under naturalistic conditions is what we should focus on, and the dog is a product of artificial breeding. Lorenz liked all animals, however, and so couldn’t resist describing his dog stories, and we should all be grateful.
Clearly, the dog is a mammal with many typical mammalian tendencies, so now scientists are finally seeing that the fact that they are domesticated also has advantages. For example, they are eager to work with us, they are generally not dangerous, they are smart, they have empathy. Lots of great things can be done with them. And they are easier to work with than other large mammals, such as apes and dolphins.
Bk: Can you give an example of how other species, including dogs, demonstrate empathy?
FdW: American psychologist Carolyn Zahn-Waxler sought to determine at what age children begin to comfort family members who sobbed or cried “ouch.” It turns out that children do so at one year of age. In the same study, Zahn-Waxler accidentally discovered that household dogs react similarly. Appearing as upset as the children by the distress-faking family members, the dogs hovered over them, putting their heads in their laps with what looked like great concern. This work has recently been repeated in different studies, more focused on the dogs themselves, and it is clear that these animals show empathic concern for humans.
The ancestor of the dog, the wolf, probably behaves the same. If “man is wolf to man,” as Thomas Hobbes liked to say, we should take this in the best possible way, including a tendency to comfort the whimpering and help the needy. This insight, of course, would undermine much of political philosophy based on Hobbes’ dog-eat-dog view of nature.
Bk: Do you think human bias has played a part in some of the canine cognitive studies?
FdW: At first, dogs were rated as more intelligent than even apes and wolves because they followed the direction of human pointing (at a bucket with food), whereas apes and wolves ignored human directions. Then it was found that wolves raised in a human home will act more like dogs, following human pointing, suggesting that the earlier failures with wolves were probably due to lack of bonding and attention. The same probably applies to the apes. Now, dogs are seen not just as smart but rather, as finely in tune with the species that bred them.
They have a special bond with us, as also reflected in the oxytocin studies, which show that human-dog contact increases this “cuddle” hormone in both. The dog is perhaps the only animal that performs at its peak when tested by humans, whereas many other animals are not so into us, hence need to be tested in different ways. This is yet more proof that cognitive testing of animals always needs to take into account what kind of animal we are dealing with: we need to find the most species-appropriate way.
Bk: In contrast to behaviorism’s reward/ punishment model, ethology views animals as “seeking, wanting and striving.” Why do you feel the latter is a more productive way to look at animals?
FdW: The behaviorists (followers of B. F. Skinner) totally overlooked natural animal tendencies. Trying to explain all behavior on the basis of reward and punishment, they could not explain why you can train a dog to fetch, but not a rabbit or a goat.
Predators are obsessed with small moving objects, which we see every day in our dogs as well as cats. Their interest sets up a learning situation where they are going to absorb many lessons about how to catch these moving objects, how to trick them, how to outsmart them. Dogs eagerly learn all of those things.
Reward and punishment are only small parts of the story; their natural hunting instinct is, in fact, the driver of the process. This is where behaviorism failed. It had some good ideas, many of them applicable to animal training, but its perspective was far too narrow as it lacked attention to natural tendencies and the evolution of behavior.
Bk: Why do you think Darwin used dogs to illustrate emotional continuity?
FdW: Darwin was a dog lover, and he knew that to get his message across about the continuity between human and animal emotions, the dog would be the easiest way to communicate. Darwin mostly worked on the expression of emotions (it’s hard to know what animals feel, but we can at least document how they signal various states, such as fear, submission, anger, affection). Of course, the dog is very expressive with its postures, facial expressions, tail-wagging, growling and so on. Darwin knew that most people could relate to all of this, and would have more trouble if he described other species that people have less exposure to.
Bk: In terms of an evolutionary advantage, how important is it for a species to have self-awareness, or theory of mind?
FdW: These capacities require large brains. In terms of recognizing oneself in the mirror or understanding what others know, the champion species are apes, dolphins, elephants and perhaps also the corvids (crow family). This doesn’t mean that dogs lack them. They probably have similar understanding, but not as fully expressed.
The more complex the societies of a species, the more demands there are on cognition, and perhaps canines do not need social understanding at the level of an ape or dolphin. I feel we need to judge animals on what they are good at and what they need to know to survive. In this regard, canines have lots of specialized skills, often related to their sense of smell, their pursuit of prey, their need for tight cooperation and so on. This is where we should test them out, and probably find remarkable skills.
Bk: Clearly, emotions are important to the understanding of behavior; how do they relate to and inform one another?
FdW: In my book, I left emotions out on purpose because I felt it would muddle things. But there can be no studies of cognition without attention to the emotions, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand. In our famous capuchin monkey experiment with the grape and the cucumber, for example, you can see not only that the monkeys judge what they get relative to what others get, but also their strong emotional response. You cannot study the one and ignore the other.
New Points of View of Shelter Dogs
September 2 2016
Two new books, both well-investigated works, merit your attention. The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene is a fascinating, absorbing and inspirational read about the power of love to help those in need, while The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin introduces an out-of-thebox idea involving a rating system that just might change how we get our dogs. Both are out just in time to make it to the top of your summer must-read list.
Greene’s book is an examination of the power of the bond between dogs and children with disabilities, but its purview extends much further. The two-time National Book Award nominee interweaves personal stories of children, their families and a few unforgettable dogs with current research and scientific findings on the cognitive and emotional lives of dogs and the human/ canine bond. The main story revolves around a remarkable woman, Karen Shirk, and the service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, that she founded in 1998. It was the first organization to train skilled service dogs with public access for young children.
We learn how Shirk’s own experience —developing myasthenia gravis as a young adult and being saved by a dog —motivated and inspired her to become a leading advocate for service dogs for young children with disabilities. 4 Paws trains dogs for highly specialized work, including seizure alert, mobility assistance and autism assistance; the goal is to never exclude a child “because a disability did not fit in a box.”
Greene profiles some of the families who have been benefited profoundly by graduates of this program; their compelling and uplifting stories pull on your heartstrings. Just how this connection between a dog and a child is established, and what motivates dogs to bond so deeply to their young charges speaks volumes for the intensity of crossspecies attachment.
Some of these dogs are truly are underdogs, adopted from shelters and trained in a nearby prison-based program. In a chapter called “Prison Dogs,” we have a good example of how adroitly Greene blends congruent storylines— those of the families and their children with, in this case, stories of the importance of the dogs to the inmates, along with overviews of research into “why humans feel happier in the presence of dogs.” Greene is a gifted and caring storyteller, and she gives her subjects the intelligence and warmth they deserve. This all makes for absorbing, pleasurable and inspirational reading.
In Kavin’s Dog Merchants, subtitled Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers, she investigates the various channels through which dogs are purchased—keeping in mind that there are differences of scale between those who broker commercial puppy sales and those who provide shelter/rescue adoptions. Both, however, involve financial transactions. Her basic premise is that we as buyers need to be aware of our marketplace choices. Through crowdsourcing our views, she says, we might be able to make a difference. “We need to be conscious consumers when it comes to our dogs. None of us likes to think of our beloved dog as a product, but legally and financially, that is what dogs are.”
In the first half of the book, she takes us behind the scenes of the commercial dog world, from dog auctions to dog shows like Westminster (of which she is no great fan), breeders and the largescale brokers who provide overpriced puppies to pet stores. The second half focuses on rescuers and shelters, and what makes some of them more successful than others. The book also has a very useful chapter with questions that ought to be asked of breeders or shelters before getting a dog.
Kavin has developed a companion website, dogmerchants.com, that has listings for thousands of breeders and rescuers/shelters, and is now taking reviews and your suggestions. Might this change the way dogs are marketed? Will negative reviews actually expose those breeders or other “dog merchants” and have an impact on the way they do business? Will it hold them to account? Will it promote those who receive positive reviews? Kavin is definitely putting a lot of effort into weeding out the bad and “making the world a better place for dogs.” We can only hope that this works. While we might have questions about how the comments on the site are being vetted, we do applaud her for both it and her book.
See our Q&A with Kavin and read an excerpt from Dog Merchants, plus read an excerpt from The Underdogs.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc