Rebecca Wallick, a long-time Bark contributing editor, is executive director of McPaws Regional Animal Shelter in McCall, Idaho.
News: Guest Posts
November 22 2013
A Missoula man is living my worst nightmare. My heart goes out to him.
On Sunday, November 17th, Layne Spence took his three family members – Malamutes Rex, Frank and Little Dave – out into the forest near Lolo Pass in Missoula County for some recreation. They drove to a campground that is closed for the winter. Spence was x/c skiing while his dogs did what Malamutes love to do – trot up the road just ahead of him, enjoying the snow. Because it’s hunting season, Spence’s dogs each wore a special collar with lights.
Suddenly, without warning, their peaceful winter outing was destroyed by the sound of gunfire—as reported in the local paper—two quick, muffled shots. Horrified, Spence watched Little Dave’s rear leg explode just yards ahead of him on the road. Yelling “Stop! Stop!” to alert the shooter, Spence stood helplessly on his skis as the camo-wearing hunter quickly fired four more times at Little Dave, with at least one bullet piercing the dog’s neck, killing him. The hunter then came down out of the trees, saying he thought Little Dave was a wolf and asked if he could do anything. Spence did exactly what I would have done—screamed at the guy to leave.
In 2005, my Malamutes Maia and Meadow and I moved to the West Central Mountains of Idaho, a rural ranching and logging area adjacent to the Payette National Forest, just outside the tourist town of McCall. Wild wolves had recently been reintroduced and were gaining a toe hold in the State, over the vocal objections of many Idahoans, including most hunters and ranchers. I had been living in the Seattle area, where strangers were always interested in meeting my girls, rarely showed fear and never thought they were wolves. In Idaho, I discovered the opposite was true: most locals assumed they were wolves, were immediately afraid of them, and only with reassurance from me that they were dogs— very friendly dogs—would they come closer to meet them. One of my new neighbor, a rancher who—like so many there—bought grazing allotments from the forest service and grazed his cattle in the Payette every summer, letting them roam freely, making them possible targets for wolves—assured me that no one would mistake my girls for a wolf, that wolves have longer legs, don’t hold their tails curled up on their backs, etc. I wanted to believe him, but…I couldn’t, based on the fearful reactions the girls kept eliciting. A couple years later, as I was walking my girls on leash up a country lane, this same neighbor stopped his truck beside us. Without preamble, he pointed at Maia, the one who looked most wolf-like, and said, “I shot a wolf that got into my cattle yesterday. It looked just like that one.” He then drove away. I felt threatened and didn’t sleep easy for weeks.
During my time in Idaho—2005 through 2008—wolves were still protected as an endangered species and it was illegal to hunt them, although they could legally be shot if they “worried” livestock or threatened a pet. Despite those protections, I quickly learned that most locals would shoot any wolf they happened to see in the forest, any time of year, the Feds be damned. They bragged about it, or wanting to do it. So I made sure, any time I took my girls hiking or trail running in the forest, they stayed very close to me. During hunting season, I covered them in orange and even then—because I feared they would still be mistaken for wolves—I took them trail running in the only two nearby places where hunting was always illegal, a State park and a ski resort. I referred to their orange vests as “Do Not Hunt Me” vests. In fact, my fear was so great, I embellished the first vests I found (ironically sold by gun manufacturer Winchester to be worn by bird hunting dogs) by adding several lengths of orange flagging tape to their collars. The vests had nothing covering their chests so that head on, my girls could still be mistaken for wolves. Eventually I found bright orange vests made by VizVest that covered virtually their entire chest, backs and sides. I relaxed only slightly.
By 2008, it became clear wolves would lose federal protection and hunting them would be legalized in Idaho. Despite my love of the breed and having at least one Malamute in my life since 1985, I vowed that if I continued to live in Idaho I would not get another because the stress of worrying they’d be shot was too great. When I did add another dog to my family in 2008, I got an Aussie—a ranch breed no hunter would mistake for a wolf.
Trying to understand everyone’s perspective, I asked lots of questions—of locals, hunters, fish and game experts. Here’s my opinion, based on those conversations and living with the issue in a far-too-intimate way: Hunters out to kill wolves do so based on myth and fear. Their motivation is far different than the typical game hunter. Wolf hunters aren’t hunting for food, or even a trophy (although there are some really sad people out there who consider wolves a trophy animal and pose proudly next to one they’ve killed). An ethical elk or deer hunter will aim carefully to take the game with one shot; they don’t want the animal to suffer, nor do they want to follow a wounded animal over rough terrain to finally kill it. Many give thanks to the animal for the food it will provide. But a wolf hunter? They want wolves to suffer, they want to exterminate the species all over again. Wolf hunters seem motivated by an intense, almost irrational hatred borne of fear, believing wolf actively seek to kill humans. When I was building my house in Idaho, a concrete contractor told me with a straight face that the wolves the Feds were forcing on Idaho would come down onto school playgrounds and snatch children. (When I asked my 80-something father, who as a Kansas farm boy grew up hunting, why people were so afraid of wolves, he replied with his usual insight, “I guess they still believe in fairy tales.”) Add to that fear a strong anger based on the misguided belief that wolves are decimating elk populations, making it harder for hunters to find them. (This hunter complaint is common, despite research in Yellowstone showing that reintroducing wolves improves overall herd health, and reduced elk populations allow aspen trees decimated by the elk to thrive once again, returning the entire ecosystem to balance.)
Mix misinformation (myth), fear and anger and you have a combustible combination leading to rash, irresponsible shootings like the one that killed Little Dave.
I moved back to western Washington in early 2009. By then, wolves were delisted and states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were eagerly issuing hunting tags for them or planning to do so. Idaho’s governor boasted he wanted the first tag. The blood lust for wolves was palpable, and for me, sickening. Locals complained how the wolves didn’t belong in Idaho, saying they weren’t even “native” which totally ignored their extermination decades earlier. Rumors spreading around town of the evils perpetrated by wolves grew to fantastic proportions. As one sympathetic dog-loving friend said to me, “It’s like religion. They believe what they want to believe and can’t be persuaded they might be wrong.” It was clear to me that tragedies like that suffered by Little Dave and Layne Spence were waiting to happen in any state allowing wolf hunting.
Even more tragic for Mr. Spence? There’s nothing the State of Montana—the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department nor local Missoula County law enforcement—can or will do. Apparently the shooter had a tag for wolf hunting, the season in Montana for wolves in all winter long (September 15 – March 15), and the killing occurred in an area where hunting was legal. (If Montana is like Idaho, legal hunting territory is pretty much everywhere outside city limits.)
However, Mr. Spence may have a civil cause of action against the hunter for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional trauma—seeing his beloved pet shot and killed on a public road—depending on Montana’s statutory and common law. I hope he finds an animal law attorney and pursues it, because these sorts of cases, whether won or lost in the early rounds, can slowly change laws and people’s perceptions of what’s okay and what isn’t. When the pets we take onto public lands with us are afforded the same protections from harm that we are, others will be more careful. There are better, safer ways to “manage” wolf populations than issuing cheap hunting tags to people whose hatred and fear turns them into vigilante exterminators, overcoming their ability to hunt safely.
Read the original article in The Missoulian on November 19th, which has since posted several follow-up articles.
News: Guest Posts
October 18 2013
Ellie is now nearly eleven years old. She still loves going to work every day and has no plans to retire. “She loves coming to work with me, and just seems to be getting better and better at her job,” says Page Ulrey, a King County Deputy Prosecutor and Ellie’s handler.
Ellie is the first facility dog who was trained specifically for use by a prosecuting attorney’s office, to assist victims of crime during witness interviews and courtroom testimony. I first wrote about Ellie, and Jeeter—the facility dog who helped get the idea going in Seattle, Wash.—in 2007. While Page prosecutes cases involving elder and vulnerable adult abuse, Ellie continues to help with a wide variety of cases within the office. Ellie has been working almost nine years now, and in that time has attended a trial every few months, perhaps as many as forty total. She’s had a huge, beneficial impact on how many victims of crime experience the legal system.
Ellie—and other courthouse dogs like her—had to do some convincing along the way. As in other states where facility dogs have been introduced into criminal courtroom proceedings, defense counsel and/or judges in counties across Washington State have often objected when a facility dog accompanies a victim or witness to the stand for testimony. This is especially true the first few times a facility dog is used. Some cases, after a conviction at the trial court level, are appealed in part on the basis that the dog created a bias in favor of the prosecutor’s witness and case, interfering with the defendant’s right to due process. In Washington, most of those cases ended in the state’s appellate level courts with convictions affirmed and the use of the facility dog approved.
Now, however, the Washington State Supreme Court has weighed in. After an appellate court affirmed a conviction and the use of Ellie to comfort a victim while testifying, the case was appealed again to the state’s highest court. The Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision September 26, 2013—State v. Dye— making it clear that the use of facility dogs in the courtroom should be allowed so long as certain facts are established and precautions are followed.
What makes State v. Dye an especially strong case for the use of facility dogs is that the defendant’s counsel made several common objections to the use of Ellie at trial—preserving the issues for appeal—so that the Supreme Court could address them in detail. The victim in the case, though 56 years old, was a developmentally delayed man who functioned at a mental age of six to twelve years. When interviewed by defense counsel prior to trial, Ellie comforted him. Page, as prosecutor at trial, laid the foundation for using Ellie to assist the victim because he felt anxious about testifying, much like any child would. Ellie accompanied the victim to the witness stand. Not only did defense counsel object to Ellie, saying her presence with the victim was extremely prejudicial to the defendant, but also because the prosecutor on the case was Page—Ellie’s handler—who could possibly signal Ellie in some way. And finally, defense counsel objected on the basis that the defendant and even defense counsel might have allergies to dogs, or be intimidated by the dog.
The Supreme Court said that trial judges may exercise their discretion in allowing a special measure such as a facility dog to accompany vulnerable witnesses. The analysis is the same in situations when child witnesses are allowed to take a doll or teddy bear with them to the witness stand. There should be a showing by the prosecutor that the witness would have difficulty testifying without the special measure. The trial judge can then determine whether the special measure would unduly prejudice the defendant.
The Supreme Court noted that Ellie’s behavior in the courtroom was never disruptive; she never left the witness’s side; and she never made any gesture (growling, lunging) toward the defendant that would cause a jury to consider him dangerous or untrustworthy. And finally, the trial judge instructed the jury to not make any assumptions based on Ellie’s presence.
The allergy objection has been a common one in the early stages of using facility dogs like Ellie in courtrooms. In the Dye case, the judge offered to allow the defendant to prove such an allergy with a note from his doctor, and if proven, make accommodations for him. The defendant never produced such a note and the objection was overruled. The Supreme Court approved this approach.
Both the Washington Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to allow Ellie to assist the victim while testifying. A concurring opinion to the Supreme Court decision did voice some concerns, however. Justice McCloud felt that because Ellie was such a powerful symbol in the courtroom— “…her mere presence conveyed a deeply reassuring, yet silent, message of comfort, security and support”—that in the interest of fairness to the defendant, the trial judge might consider additional steps, for example allowing a facility dog to accompany the defendant’s key witness to the stand, to balance things out. Defense counsel didn’t seek such balancing steps, so no error occurred at the trial level. Justice McCloud was also concerned that a simple instruction to the jury to not draw any conclusions from Ellie’s presence was insufficient, that it’s well known that jurors often fail to follow a court’s instructions. “[T]he presumption that jurors follow instructions is especially inapplicable where the challenged procedure—here, the presence of the adorable dog Ellie—is a procedure that works only because it provides such powerful symbolism.”
There is still room for novel objections to the use of facility dogs in the courtroom. Those objections will wind their way through the appeals process. It’s all part of how our legal system sorts through these concerns and comes to the best possible solutions. Page isn’t worried. Ellie, and facility dogs in general, have become a common sight in King County’s courtrooms; most of the judges have become quite comfortable with their use. I’m sure that’s the case in many other jurisdictions across the country as well, and will become more common in the future.
As for defendants also having access to facility dogs in the courtroom, as suggested by Justice McCloud? “I think that's fair,” said Page. “Although I don't think the prosecutor's office is under any obligation to supply defense with a dog.”
State v. Dye, No. 87929-0, published September 29, 2013, can be found at:
Courthouse Dogs Foundation (www.courthousedogs.com) - promoting justice with compassion through the use of professionally trained facility dogs to provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system.
For the first report on courtroom dogs by Rebecca Wallick see, or for previous update .
Dog's Life: Travel
July 24 2013
If you and your dog enjoy off-leash parks, traveling and outdoor activities, dog camp is for you!
Good socialization and play skills make dog camp more fun for everyone. Your dog should enjoy playing with — or at least be neutral toward — other dogs and people. Young dogs should be able to read cues from other dogs and older dogs should be able to tolerate jostling by faster, younger dogs. Small dogs should be comfortable around big dogs. All dogs should be willing to share toys, and possibly cabin space.
Solid, basic obedience skills — sit, stay, coming when called — are critical for off-leash games, heavy-duty play, hikes, swimming and other activities. Good manners help everyone relax.
Research dog camps to determine which best meets your vacation goals. Some focus on competitive agility and obedience, others on off-leash games and hiking, and some are quite rustic. Then, sign up and give dog camp a whirl!
It’s all here. The classic summer camp experience you remember from childhood — swimming, hiking, boating, rustic cabins, campfire songs and lots of socializing — tailored to four-footed guests. That means days packed with agility, flyball, Rally-O, lure coursing, dock diving, clicker training, freestyle, even painting, not to mention well-earned naps. Two-footed campers can bone up on animal communication, Tellington TTouch, canine massage and much more. Each camp has its own flavor, style and emphasis, but here are a few favorites: Camp Dogwood, Ingleside, Ill.; Camp Gone to the Dogs, Stowe and Marlboro, Vt.; Camp Unleashed, Asheville, N.C., Berkshires, Mass., and Sequoia, Calif.; Camp Winnaribbun, Stateline, Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Canine Club Getaway, Lake George, N.Y.; Dog Scouts of America, St. Helen, Mich.; Happy Tails Daycamp for Dogs, Fennville, Mich.; and Maian Meadows Dog Camp, Lake Wenatchee, Wash.
News: Guest Posts
Yes, If a Proposed Amtrak Bill Passes!
May 22 2013
Wouldn’t it be nice to travel with your canine companion on Amtrak, just as passengers with pets on airplanes are allowed to do?
A bi-partisan bill has been submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives that would start the process of allowing dogs and cats to travel on Amtrak.
Short and sweet, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013—co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)—would require Amtrak to submit a proposal for allowing pets on at least one car of each passenger train. Just as with airline travel, the bill requires Amtrak’s plan to allow pets to travel as carry-on luggage in a passenger car, in a pet kennel that meets Amtrak’s stowage size requirements, with passengers traveling less than 750 miles. The bill also requires Amtrak to provide a proposal for pets to be carried as cargo, which—while not as pleasant for the pet as riding in the passenger car—would allow larger animals to travel by train without many of the risks of traveling as cargo on an airliner.
Each sponsor of the bill confesses self-interest in seeing the bill become law. Denham’s dog Lily regularly travels with him to and from California. Cohen considers pets to be family members who should be allowed to travel with their owners on trains, rather than left at home.
Let your representative and congressperson know you support this bill.
News: Guest Posts
March 28 2013
A much-commented New York Times article explores the singular pain and responsibility that comes with end-of-life decisions for our pets. How much effort, and how much money do you spend to extend their lives? All of the diagnostic tools and treatment options available today make these questions inevitable and also much more difficult to answer. Cancer can be treated with chemo and radiation, even amputation. Nearly every medical specialty for humans has its counterpart in veterinary medicine—cardiology; neurology; oncology; surgery—including hospice care for the end of life. We don’t like to talk about the expense involved with the treatment options we’re offered, but financial resources for our entire family (including our other pets) are impacted by the choices we make.
The same questions we must answer for ourselves—health care directives regarding heroic measures, do-not-resuscitate orders, what a quality life looks and feels like—should be answered with regard to our pets, at least in a general way before we’re sitting in the vet’s exam room and are asked “What do you want to do?” There are no easy answers, no one-size-fits-all. Ultimately, we as pet guardians must decide what’s best for them, what they would want, and what maximizes their quality of life.
Reading the article and the comments it generated are a good way to start your own discussion.
Dozer setting the pace
March 19 2013
Dozer is dog who’s just gotta run. A young Goldendoodle full of energy and mischief, Dozer decided to join a Maryland half-marathon, mid-race. He simply couldn’t resist tagging along as two thousand runners passed right in front of his yard.
The joy in Dozer’s face as he paces himself with the runners is obvious and contagious. As he nears the finish line, you can see his paws are muddy – he must have found his own water station, probably a stream. Not only did Dozer have fun, so did the runners who ran beside him, and his story inspired people to donate to a worthy cause.
A runner like Dozer completely changed my own life with dogs.
I had recently graduated from law school and was living in a small, rural town in eastern Washington. It was autumn 1984 and I was dog-less for the first time in my life. One morning, running with a friend on country roads a couple miles outside town, a Siberian husky suddenly appeared beside us, joining us. Fearing he would get lost, I said rather sternly, “Go home!” The dog ignored me. He trotted alongside us with an easy, relaxed stride for a few miles, smiling as only a happy dog can. He didn’t seek attention from us. He just wanted to run, and we were running. It was that simple. I was impressed with his beauty and athleticism. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he changed direction and disappeared.
I felt sad he was gone – it was a joy to have him join us – but didn’t think much more about it.
Until a week later, when he suddenly reappeared and accompanied us on another morning run. I happily welcomed him. “Hey Buddy, how are you?” He remained aloof, easily trotting beside us but not coming close for a pet. I longed to see if he had a tag, but didn’t want to spook him. This time, he followed us all the way home, right onto my porch, where he let me stroke his soft, thick fur. By now, I’d fallen in love with him. Until that moment, I’d not thought of a dog as a runner. I’d grown up with small dogs. Now, I wanted a canine running companion in my life. If this husky didn’t have a family, I wanted him. But by the time I had showered and returned to the porch to check on him, he was gone.
I never saw him again. Yet he left an indelible impression on my heart. I’ve had a least one road and trail running dog in my life since 1985. I believe there’s a special bond developed when human and canine trot alongside each other, doing what their bodies were designed to do, endorphins coursing.
Here’s to Dozer and all our dogs who remind to go outside and play.
News: Guest Posts
Charming huckster or disturbing stereotype?
March 13 2013
In an effort to sell a new line of products—the “Wild Collection”—Old Spice has created a character they’re calling Mr. Wolfdog.
Mr. Wolfdog, a wolf, is supposed to know a lot about the wild as well as marketing. He wears a clunky metal collar that translates his vocalizations into English. He sits at a desk, covered with Old Spice products and other decorations.
Mr. Wolfdog has the head of a real canine (hard to tell if it’s a dog, a wolf, or a hybrid) and a puppet body, so that he appears to be sitting at his desk, arms moving, like a human.
The style is cheesy, a riff on Mad Men’s bygone era of marketing that includes touches like a 10-key calculator and an ancient intercom system on the desk, as well as Mr. Wolfdog’s complete disdain for his assistants.
In fact, Mr. Wolfdog eats his assistants.
Yes, wolves are the epitome of wild. I get that. The target male audience for Old Spice products—the original cologne debuted in 1937—probably doesn’t include many wolf-huggers. But that doesn’t justify a high profile company that has hit some home runs with prior ad campaigns perpetuating a myth that contributed to the eradication of wolves across the West and continues to confound their successful reintroduction today.
Adding to my concern is another ad in the new campaign. It’s called “Irresistible.” An elegant man descends the stairs into an opulent party room with…a wolf growing out of each shoulder. I guess he’s a man-wolf hybrid. The man never speaks. The wolves, however, snarl and threaten a pretty woman who says she’s afraid, then intrigued, then drives off with the man and the wolves. “I never had a chance,” she says. I guess because they man-wolf smells so good, with his “wild” scent by Old Spice.
[“Irresistible” ad video on YouTube]
I asked some friends with dogs for their reaction to the Mr. Wolfdog ad.
From Tina: “Ooookay. Wow. At first I thought it was just really, really stupid. Then it got to the part where the wolf just can't resist the urge to eat his staff members. When so much has been done to get people to understand that wild animals (especially the highly feared ones like wolves, bears, sharks, snakes) are NOT living for the day that they can consume a human being, what Old Spice is doing is very wrong.”
From Shelle: “I thought it was stupid, revolting and couldn't figure out what the hell they are trying to say. I hated it. The poor dog looked hot and uncomfortable. The copy was nonsensical. Did I say I hated it? Where's the sexy black dude. Loved him.”
Shelle is referring, of course, to Isaiah Mustafa, who gained sudden fame in February 2010 as the bare-chested actor in the popular “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” advertising campaign for Old Spice. Women who buy Old Spice products for their men were the target audience, and the ads worked.
My informal poll shows males responding slightly more favorably to the Mr. Wolfdog ad than females, although none of them liked it.
What do you think? Love it or hate it?
News: Guest Posts
Overcoming fear, Learning to trust again
March 12 2013
Many dogs, rescued from the trauma and abuse of puppy mills or hoarders, need lots of extra TLC before they're ready for their forever homes.
Lacking social skills, having lived with fear, pain, and hunger, some remain overwhelmingly fearful even after being removed from their deplorable conditions and given physical, medical and emotional support. Their psychic wounds can cause them to cower, retreat from a loving touch, pee submissively, even growl or bite to keep humans and other animals away.
Such behaviors, while understandable, make them a challenge for shelters already overwhelmed with dogs needing homes. Fearful dogs often become part of a revolving door problem, being returned to shelters by adopting families ill-equipped to deal with the behaviors. Or worse, they may be euthanized because they can't be placed.
ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has created a flagship program that will attempt to fill the gap between rescue and placement for the most severely traumatized dogs, the fearful ones. The ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. opens this week.
"For some animals, the reality is that after a lifetime of neglect and abuse, the rescue is just the beginning of their journey to recovery," said Dr. Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team. "The ASPCA recognized the need for a rehabilitation center that will provide rescued dogs customized behavior treatment and more time to recover, increasing the likelihood that they will be adopted. We partnered with St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center and identified the unique opportunity to utilize their space and collaborate with their behavior and care experts for the rehabilitation of victims of cruelty and neglect."
To start, dogs rescued from animal cruelty investigations will be eligible. To help reduce these dogs' fears and anxieties, the rehabilitation team will gently introduce them to unfamiliar sounds, objects, living spaces and real-life situations that a normally socialized dog handles with aplomb, but can induce trauma and extreme stress in this special population of dogs.
The ASPCA has funded this project for two years. The work done at the Center will become part of a research project, studying and evaluating methods for rehabilitating undersocialized, fearful dogs. The findings will be shared with animal welfare organizations and other researchers nationwide with the goal of helping shelters and rescue organizations rehabilitate abused and fearful dogs coming into their own facilities.
Science and storytelling make compelling reading
February 11 2013
In Merle’s Door, Ted Kerasote explored the canine-human bond–its when, how and why. Readers learned how wolves likely joined humans in a symbiotic relationship that enriched both, ultimately leading to the rich diversity of dog breeds we have today. Kerasote also explored animal consciousness—how allowing dogs to be free-thinking enriches their lives and partnerships with us.
Readers of Merle’s Door flooded Kerasote with letters about their own dogs and the relationships they shared. Many also mentioned that their dogs had died far too young, often from cancer, and asked why some breeds seem to be more prone to certain health issues than others. These intimate revelations and immediate questions prompted Kerasote to write his most recent book, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Because we take such joy in the bond, we want to maximize our canine companions’ health and life spans, allowing that bond to flourish as long as possible. Kerasote is no exception. After Merle’s death, he went on a quest, not just for a puppy, but more importantly to readers, for answers to two basic questions: why do dogs die so young, and what can we do about it?
Pukka’s Promise picks up where Merle’s Door ended, and is similar in style—heartfelt stories of life with his new dog Pukka (and the other freeroaming dogs of Kelly, Wyo.) mixed seamlessly with detailed reporting on cutting-edge research into canine health. The book is dense with information, insights and investigations into matters that affect the health and longevity of our four-legged co-pilots. It’s also full of the personal, evocative stories of the human-canine bond that made Merle’s Door a national bestseller.
Kerasote takes nothing as gospel and nothing for granted. He challenges current dog breed standards and breeding practices, and the clubs that promote them. He questions veterinary-care dogma, especially when it comes to what we feed our dogs, how we vaccinate them and how we regulate their reproduction. He digs deep into veterinary literature and writings of progressive thinkers in veterinary medicine, talks to animal-welfare advocates, and provides historical context for the current trend of breeding for looks over function and health. In the process, he offers some rays of hope for positive changes in breed standards.
Digging deeper, he also chases down the truth behind the hype when it comes to topics like food choices, toxic toys, too-frequent vaccination schedules and spay/neuter. In some instances— for example, dog toys—he pays for lab tests to find out what something is really made of. He asks experts uncomfortable questions and parses true wisdom from traditional thinking. In a heartwrenching section, motivated by his desire to fully understand the challenges shelters face, Kerasote takes us with him into an animal shelter as unwanted dogs are euthanized.
Throughout Pukka’s Promise, we peek over Kerasote’s shoulder as Pukka grows and learns about the world and as Kerasote applies what he learns—from choosing Pukka’s breeder and deciding how many diseases to vaccinate him against (and when) to what to feed him, among other things. Glimpses of Pukka’s charmed life are interwoven with vast amounts of important information based on the latest research, all of which is presented in a very accessible and engaging way, one that encourages you to draw your own conclusions and make the best choices for you and your dog. By distilling years of in-depth research on a wide array of canine health topics into a provocative, thought-provoking book, Kerasote has done us all a huge favor.
Q&A with Ted Kerasote, author of Merle’s Door
January 31 2013
In 1991, while rafting Utah’s San Juan River, award-winning writer Ted Kerasote came upon the dog he would later immortalize in Merle’s Door. According to Kerasote, Merle, an adolescent stray who had been surviving on his own in the high desert, told him, You need a dog, and I’m it. It didn’t take Kerasote long to agree with him. Heartbroken after Merle died in 2004, Kerasote vowed to do all he could to ensure that his next dog— Pukka—would enjoy a long and healthy life from the very beginning. His quest began before Pukka was born— researching genetics and how to choose healthy parents, finding a breeder willing to rethink standard early vaccinations—and continued after Pukka came home, delving into quality-of-life concerns for all dogs, such as food, birth control and routine health care. Pukka’s Promise is the culmination of Kerasote’s extensive research. Bark contributing editor Rebecca Wallick recently spoke with Kerasote about some of his experiences and observations.
Bark: On your quest for longer-lived dogs, what were some of the more encouraging things you learned?
B: What did you find that disturbed you?
B: If someone wants a dog of a particular breed, what should they think about?
B: Of all aspects of canine care and companionship, are there things you feel are happening too slowly?
B: You spent a lot of time at shelters, investigating what makes some successful in becoming no-kill, while others can’t seem to reach that goal. What do you think makes the difference?
B: In Pukka’s Promise, you take on some big players in the dog world—breeders, veterinarians, dog-food and toy manufacturers. Are you concerned about their reactions?
B: What is the big take-away you want readers to get from Pukka’s Promise?
For the full interview, see The Bark, Issue 73, Feb–Apr 2013.
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