Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.
Following her discovery of a small pamphlet about Dogtown, a long-gone Massachusetts hamlet, Anita Diamant set to work creating a deeply imagined story of its life, and its demise. She captures the town’s story in her latest book, The Last Days of Dogtown (Scribner), in which the lives of its few remaining citizens, and the pack of dogs tat lived in their proximity, are perceptively rendered. Recently, Anita was kind enough to indulge a few of Bark’s questions.
YES. Buddy (Miniature Schnauzer from Schnauzer Rescue of NE) is my current canine companion. He is my mood elevator, exercise machine and pal. He is also the “neighborhood dog,” especially beloved by the kids on the block. He is my third dog: first was the Beagle, Bartholemew, them Pom the Poodle. I have written about my love of dogs for publication, too. (See the “Dog and Katz” essay in my collection, Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith.
In your research, did you come across information on dogs of the time—how they lived, how they were regarded?
I didn’t come across anything about the dogs of the 1800s. There were farm dogs, wild dogs, and pet dogs, as there have been for centuries. In all matters canine, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ wonderful book, The Hidden Life of Dogs, was my guide.
What led you to incorporate dogs into the story?
Well, the name of the town was Dogtown. However it should be noted that “dogtown” was kind of a generic and not-very-nice term for a place that was on the skids, especially a rural, “slum.” Someplace that was “going to the dogs” was called a dogtown.
In all of these cases, the loving relationships were not planned by the humans. These were not farmers, who kept working dogs, but very lonely poor people, for whom dogs were a sort of last resort, and for whom the shared affection comes as a surprise, and ultimately, a form of salvation from loneliness. As for the relationship of the dogs to one another, I really, really tried not to anthropomorphize (in honor of Ms. Thomas) though that’s probably not possible for a human.
What lay behind your decision to tell part of the story through Greyling’s eyes?
I suppose I wanted an outside perspective and also to introduce the intelligence of the dog. That was a challenge since, even in that case, I really wanted to avoid “humanizing” the canine. So while she’s intelligent, she’s totally non-judgmental, which is a non-human attribute.
Wiley & Sons, 256 pp., 2010; $21.99
Even the words make those who love dogs cringe: puppy mills, places where living, breathing creatures are treated like machines, where adult female dogs give birth to litter after litter of pups who will be sold through pet stores or to unsuspecting consumers. What happens when their breeding days are over?
If they’re exceptionally fortunate, they share Gracie’s experience: rescue, rehabilitation and adoption. In Saving Gracie, Bradley chronicles the story of a tiny Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was removed—along with more than 300 other small-breed dogs, both adults and puppies—from a ghastly kennel operation by the Chester County (Pa.) SPCA in 2006. Known first as Dog 132, then Wilma, and finally Gracie, the six-year-old was born in and confined to a crate her entire life. She had multiple and persistent health problems but, of more concern, she was emotionally shut down; rescuers wondered if she’d ever recover.
Bradley profiles all the players in this drama, among them, the CCSPCA humane police officers who initiated the rescue; the shelter workers and volunteers who tirelessly fed, bathed and cared for the dogs; the attorneys who tried the case against the kennel owners; and even the kennel owners themselves.
Set within this account is another touching story, that of Linda Jackson, the woman who eventually adopted Gracie. Jackson had always liked animals— cats more than dogs, truth be told—but this adoption galvanized her. She became passionate about not only saving and improving Gracie’s life, but also the lives of puppy mill dogs everywhere.
It’s impossible to read this book without being moved; the picture it paints of both puppy mill conditions and what they do to the dogs who are unfortunate enough to be confined to them is grim, though presented in a non-sensational way. On the other hand, those who advocate for the dogs are utterly inspiring. And the best part is, for Gracie, the story has a happy ending.
Q&A with Karsten Heuer
On a sunny June day in 1998, a man and his dog took the first steps on a walk that would, by the time they finished it, cover 2,200 miles through some of North America’s most thinly populated landscape. Following the path of the grizzly, they and their team tested a dream against reality. In Walking the Big Wild, Karsten Heuer and Webster, his Border Collie, shared a grand—and sometimes terrifying—adventure.
Bark: You mention in the book that Webster was your “model for resolve.” Aside from bears, bugs, and burrs, what sorts hazards did he contend with? Did you find that you’d anticipated and prepared for most of them, or did you have to improvise as you traveled?
Karsten Heuer: The rivers in northern British Columbia were tough. No trails meant no bridges, and the water tumbling through the rapids was usually glacial melt. But Webster swam them with great courage. He got tangled up with a porcupine one day (which wasn’t pretty), and his paws got sore during a particularly rough section of sharp limestone (we protected his feet with makeshift booties until the going got softer), but other than that, he was self-sustaining. Oh, except for the time I felt sorry for him shivering in a cold rainstorm (sleet was more like it). I cut a piece of red nylon into a temporary raincoat for him. It worked but he looked ridiculous and he knew it. A sheepish sheepdog. And then sure enough, a few corners later, we ran into a pack of wolves! Talk about having your wild ancestors look down their noses at you. He was pretty embarrassed.
Bark: Had you and Webster done any sort of endurance hiking together before you started your walk to the Yukon?
KH: No, but once you added up all the things his co-owner (whom I’ve always shared him with) and I had put him through, I knew if he hadn’t abandoned me by then, he never would: being tipped out of a canoe and swimming whitewater rapids … strapped to my chest as we rappelled down a 1,500-foot cliff. The list goes on.
Bark: Did this trek affect your relationship with Webster?
KH: Well, 2,200 miles is a long way to travel with companion. We had our trying moments (Webster loved the goose-down sleeping bag and was reluctant to give it up if he got in the tent first). We were very close before leaving, but the trip certainly deepened that bond. We shared some pretty special moments and some pretty scary ones as well—everything from swimming rivers and staving off a charging bear to just drinking in the view from a mountaintop while he lay looking in the same direction with his chin on my knee. And although I probably didn’t show him much he wouldn’t have otherwise seen, he certainly pointed out a lot of things to me. When he froze in that I-see-a-cat crouch, there was always something looking back at us through the trees: a moose, a deer, even a couple of bears.
Bark: Is it possible to make any overall observations about the behavior of a domestic dog (or at least, about a Border Collie) in the wilderness?
KH: I’m always cautious answering these sorts of questions because, as we all know, no two dogs are alike. Having said that, I think it’s extremely important to have a very well-trained dog if you’re thinking of having them off-leash in wild areas. Otherwise they can do a lot of damage (disturbing or even killing ground-nesting birds, for example), or get you into problems (like chasing a bear and then having that bear turn and chase your dog right back to you). When Webster wasn’t on the leash he was always on a heel.
Bark: The encounters with wolves were particularly interesting. At the time, did you have an emotional, or a purely pragmatic, response?
KH: That’s the wonderful thing about meeting wild animals: it’s ALWAYS emotional. We can’t help it; those emotions are hardwired into us from our days of roaming the savannah and interacting with animals every waking moment of every day. It wasn’t that long ago that we were living in caves, chasing after and running from wild animals in great acts of survival. And come to think of it, it wasn’t that long ago that all the Websters of the world branched off from wolves. I’m convinced this is why we love—even need—to have pets. They reintroduce what was such a big part of our behavioral history into our everyday, modern lives.
Bark: As you made your way north, to what degree were you surprised by what you found—literally—on the ground, as opposed to what you saw on maps?
KH: Well, as you know, the intent of the 2,200-mile-long walk was to assess the plausibility of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), which proposes to connect existing reserves along the Rockies with wildlife corridors. I was literally trying to look at the proposal from the perspective of a wolf or grizzly bear or any of the other wide-ranging animals it’s meant to benefit. So I left with questions like: How pristine or developed are these proposed corridors? How many barriers already exist (busy highways, urban development, clearcut areas, open pit mines, etc)? How much restoration would be required?
To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about what I would find. I expected bad news. But fortunately, by the end, I was more hopeful for the proposed reserve network than when I left. I used fresh grizzly bear sign—their tracks, scat, rub trees and, in some cases the animals themselves—as a measure of the wildness of the areas I was walking through. I assumed if there was recent sign of grizzlies, the area was intact. Well, the walk took 188 days to complete and by the time I tallied up my notes, I realized I’d seen fresh signs of grizz 160 days. That’s 85 percent of the time!
Bark: And how did the trek change your internal landscape (or did it)?
KH: It gave me hope for wildness in this part of North America, and it gave me confidence in myself. There were a lot of doubts at the beginning, and the scope of the trip was overwhelming, but bit by bit, day by day, I covered 2,200 very mountainous miles, hundreds of which without the benefit of trails.
Bark: In the ’70s, one of the iconic aphorisms of the woman’s movement was “the personal is political.” Could it also be appropriate to environmental issues?
KH: I like to think so. Again, this trip proved very empowering on a personal level. And not just in terms of increasing my confidence. By the end I had proved to myself that one person (and his dog) can make a difference. Very few people had heard about Y2Y or the principles behind it before we left. We reached millions of people during the trip—thousands directly via presentations in communities, and the masses through National Geographic, Backpacker Magazine, NBC, ABC, NPR and hundreds of other media outlets during the trip. And if you’ve read the book, you’ll know we stirred up a good dose of opposition from industry interests too!
Bark: Humans seem to have a tendency to either demonize or romanticize what some call “charismatic megafauna” and others call “sexy beasts”—bears, wolves, mountain lions. What kind of impact do you think that has on the way we react to them, and the energy we put into protecting/supporting them and their habitat requirements?
KH: All the animals you list are powerful symbols that remind us we aren’t in control of everything—that we could, hypothetically, be killed and eaten. It’s a humbling sensation to be standing in front of a bear that’s popping its jaws and thrashing the ground and you have no idea what it’s going to do next. You feel helpless. Some people demonize them because of that threat. But I think having that threat in our lives is a good thing. We should celebrate it. It brings humility and balance to a modern society that is pretty devoid of both those qualities.
Bark: In one of your journal entries, you said “fear engages.” Has that sense stayed with you, or have you been back long enough for it to have faded?
KH: Fear does engage. It dusts off the senses that have been buried—that we’ve had to turn off—in our cities, towns and on our billboard-lined highways. We can’t possibly be perceptive anymore—if we absorbed every sight, smell and sound in our ad-induced, white-noise culture, we’d be overwhelmed all the time. So we quickly learn to shut off our wild senses.
I’ve tried to retain that “sharp” frame of mind—call it “wildness” if you want—as much as possible since being back. I do it by making sure I have plenty of quiet time in places where I can just sit and absorb every detail around me. It’s usually somewhere in nature, anything from remote wilderness to an overgrown vacant lot in a city neighborhood. Anywhere you can watch butterflies drift in an afternoon breeze.
Bark: What’s the current status of Y2Y?
KH: The 180 conservation groups, scientists, professors and others that make up the Y2Y network have been busy over the past few years mapping the 1.5-million-square-mile region in three layers: terrestrial, aquatic and avian habitats (land, water and birds). Then they superimposed all three layers, and the areas that came out the “darkest” (where overlap was greatest) became the priorities for conservation for the next 5 years.
Tools such as private land conservation easements, highway crossing structures, road removal and public land designation as wildlife movement/conservation areas are now being employed to make this a reality. Piece by piece, the puzzle is getting put together. I only hope it happens soon enough. There are a lot of human activities that threaten to cut off many of the corridors, and those threats are only intensifying each day we continue down this crazy economic path, whose ideology mimics the cancer cell (infinite growth).
Bark: Y2Y is a very big and “out of the box” vision. Are you hopeful that vast and entrenched bureaucracies of all stripes can work together to do what needs to be done?
KH: One thing that I see time and time again is how inspired people get when they hear about Y2Y. Just think: we can choose to keep all the native mammals in this vast sweep of mountains that were here when Lewis and Clark made their legendary expedition across the US. How many places in the world have that kind of opportunity?
I think when people—no matter their position in a bureaucracy or government—realize that what we’re talking about is keeping what already exists and not restoring a massive area, they get comfortable with the idea. And when they realize it isn’t a huge national park proposal but, instead, a way for wildlife and human communities to coexist into the future, they warm up to it even more. Who doesn’t want wildlife?
The challenge is to embrace that four-letter word we humans love to shy away from: P-L-A-N. Without good planning, we’re going to lose every existing wildlife corridor. Death by a thousand cuts is how it will happen. A highway gets widened. A gas station gets built. A mill opens up and the loggers go into the woods in all directions. I’m not saying we can’t develop. What I’m saying is we need to develop with a roadmap of how we’re going to do it AND keep wildlife. Otherwise we won’t.
For the whole story, read Walking the Big Wild: From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear’s Trail by Karsten Heuer, published by The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA.
Originally published as “Incredible Journey.”
Each time a dog taps a leather Poochie-Bells doggie doorbell, she’s helping people in southern Africa improve their lives. On a visit to Botswana a few years ago, Poochie-Bells’ owner Cheryl Pedersen made friends with the folks at the Tsienyane Leathercraft Village. Today, village workers hand-cut and dye leather straps exclusively for Poochie-Bells, and in return, receive much-needed income to support their community.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kits make it simple to treat them right.
Have a pup party coming up? For those special occasions (or everyday pleasures), here are more ways to treat your dog well and economically. These companies have taken the worry out of getting it right by assembling dry human-grade ingredients in ready-to-mix packages. Just add liquids, mix and bake. Another handy helper: Cookie cutters come with the biscuit mixes.
MA SNAX BISCUIT & CAKE KITS
Wellness: Healthy Living
Bee stings, choking, ticks—it’s a cruel world out there. Be prepared!
The Pet Emergency Pocket Guide describes how to deal with a bee or wasp sting. Locate the site and remove stinger (scrape, don’t squeeze). Wrap ice cubes in a towel and apply to the area to alleviate pain and swelling. Benadryl or dephenhydramine liquid may help; call your local vet emergency clinic to confirm medication and dosage. Make a paste of baking soda and apply directly to the sting. (Informed, $16.95)
Here’s how to do a canine Heimlich maneuver, from The Worst-Case Scenario Pocket Guide: Dogs. Place your arms around the dog’s waist, clasp your hands together behind the last rib and compress the stomach, pushing up five times rapidly. Sweep his mouth with your fingers to see if the object was dislodged. If not, strike him firmly between the shoulder blades with the flat of your hand and then do another five abdominal compressions. Alternate backslapping and compressions until the object is knocked free. Be aware that even an unconscious dog may bite reflexively, so be careful when sweeping the mouth. And don’t slap his back so hard that you injure him. (Chronicle Books, $7.95)
Vet Nancy Kay, of Speaking for Spot fame, tells us how to spin a tick, a trick she recently learned from Jessica, a vet nurse who works with her. Wearing a plastic glove, lightly place your index finger on the tick and rotate it in small, steady circles. Within approximately 20 seconds, the tick, completely intact, will detach itself from your dog—who will think he’s getting a massage.
Atria Books, 306 pp., 2009; $25
Look sharp, dog-loving mystery fans. There’s a new PI (private investigator to the uninitiated) team in town: Bernie Little and his sidekick Chet. Bernie’s personal life is in shambles—a bitter ex-wife, more bills than money, an aging car—and his background is hinted at rather than explained; he was once a policeman, it seems. Bernie plays the ukulele; loves Hawaiian shirt prints; misses his son, whom he only sees on assigned weekends; and still has friends on the force who drop over with beer and ribs. Likewise, the geographical setting is left vague, though the Southwest is suggested.
The story is told by Chet, whose background is equally sketchy; he was once in training as a police dog, but was knocked off this career path by an unfortunate incident, which Chet never quite describes. Narration from the dog’s point of view is hard to do without slipping into preciousness, but Quinn avoids this pitfall. In fact, Chet’s perspective is the highlight of the story. That may be because his dialogue sounds like what we imagine our own dog’s to be: “She took another tissue, blew her nose. Her nose was tiny, useless, so different from mine, but I couldn’t help wondering: What would that be like, blowing it? All of a sudden, my own nose got twitchy. Cynthia and Bernie went on for a while ...but I wasn’t really listening, caught up in all these strange feelings in my nose.”
Part of Chet’s charm is that, indeed, his attention is so easily (and frequently) diverted. In this debut, the duo is on the trail of a missing teenager whose divorced parents take very different positions on what needs to be done to find her, and even as Chet is being abducted by the bad guys, his thoughts stray: “My mind wandered over to Bernie. Did I mention his smell? The very nicest of any human I’d ever come across—actually, a bit doglike in some ways. Yes, that good. Nothing like mine, of course. Mine is the best…a mix of old leather, salt and pepper, mink coats…”
The stage is set for more Bernie & Chet mysteries, and this one ends with a cliffhanger: Chet’s groomer discovers an ominous lump on his back, and leaves Bernie a note about it when she drops Chet off at home; in a melee, the note is knocked loose and slips behind the recycling bin. Will Bernie find it? Is the lump serious? We definitely hope not.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Distinctive gardens put visitors in the frame
Columbus, Ohio, is the home of two unusual and beautiful gardens, each of which takes well-known art from flat to three-dimensional in unique ways. At the Topiary Park on the grounds of the former Ohio School for the Deaf, sculptor James T. Mason designed, created and installed the metal frames and yew trees that are trimmed into a living representation of Georges Seurat’s famous Post-Impressionist painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The only topiary garden in existence based on a work of art, it includes 54 people, boats, dogs, a monkey, a cat and a pond reminiscent of the River Seine; the largest figure is 12 feet tall.
Less than two miles away from the Topiary Park is Thurber House, former residence of hometown favorite and New Yorker humorist James Thurber. Today, the house is a literary center and museum of Thurber materials. Thanks to a garden-loving benefactor, men, women, children and dogs can enjoy the Thurber Centennial Reading Garden, with its dogwoods, bayberries, vibernum and flowers—and larger-than-life-size Thurber dogs, created by sculptor Dale Johnston. Four of the dogs frolic amidst the greenery, while in the center of the garden, a fifth dog perches on top of a fountain .
Note: Both of these garden destinations are for people only.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tom McNulty, the author of "Clean Like a Man," shares the joy of living the spotless life
“Carry your supplies with you; say no to knickknacks; and for food spills, nothing beats a hungry dog.” Author Tom McNulty cuts to the chase in his recently released, no-nonsense book, Clean Like a Man. His experience in creating advertising and motivational campaigns for high-profile companies comes through in this readable and entertaining “how-to” look at the world of domestic hygiene. Tom, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife and his dog Coco, recently took time to be interviewed by Bark.
Bark: Your book is so inspiring that after reading it, we turned two mattresses and vacuumed about a pound of dog hair from under our refrigerator. What provoked you to write it?
Tom McNulty: Men are trained to change tires, not sheets. Housecleaning intimidates us because it’s an unknown; either we don’t know where to start or we clean with the wrong tools and chimp-like methods. There was no basic-training manual on housekeeping for guys, just cleaning books that went off on tangents like feng shui, silverware polishing, and flower-arranging. CLAM tells males what they need to know—no more and no less—spelling out the fundamentals in guy-friendly language, with lots of time-saving tips.
B: One of the things we particularly liked about the book is that you include pet-specific cleaning problems and solutions, and you’re pretty matter-of-fact about them. Does this come from long experience in living with dogs?
TM: I’ve loved and lived with dogs for many years. They’re biological creatures—they shed, go to the bathroom, and get sick. Unfortunately, they sometimes do this stuff indoors. So knowing how to get fur off a white sofa or treat a urine stain in the carpet come with the territory of living with a canine. I’ve done it all, because, hey … what are friends for?
B: We understand that your dog Coco has an “irrational fear of vacuum cleaners.” How do the two of you deal with that?
TM: Coco copes, mostly by just “leaving the area.” My theory is that vacuum motors create a sound that only canines can hear, similar to a “silent” dog whistle. She’s also afraid of cameras, lighters, and loud noises. I think this goes back to her puppy days. I got her when she was four months old, and who knows what she went through. She was from a bad neighborhood—I’m sure she was in a gang, the kind that doesn’t let Poodles join.
B: Since dogs—in theory, at least—spend most of their time closer to the floor and fixtures than we do, we’re always on the lookout for less-toxic cleaning products. You mention a couple in the book (white vinegar and baking soda); could you recommend others?
TM: I recently received an e-mail claiming that certain cleaning solutions with formulas similar to antifreeze can be harmful to dogs, but I’ve never heard anything else about it. It may be an urban legend; they’d probably have to drink them to do any damage to themselves. But if the label says a product can be harmful to you, you know it can hurt your dog, too. Use common sense. If you’re really serious about this, there’s a product line called Method that claims to be less toxic and more environmentally friendly, both of which are great!
TM: For dog hair on carpets, it’s a toss-up: both uprights and canisters will do the job. On stairs and upholstery, the canister’s “power nozzle”—the extendable hose with the twirling brush on the end—is better because it’s lighter, and a hand-held vacuum like the Dirt Devil works well too. To get dog hair off furniture and stairway carpeting, I’ve also used a terrycloth towel to rub it all to one spot, and then I just pick up the resulting furball.
B: Since we seem to be focusing on dog hair, may we enquire about Coco’s? Long? Short? Double-coated?
TM: Coco has mid-length fur and tends to shed, especially in warm weather. Brushing her frequently helps prevent major vacuuming.
B: Do you find that living with a dog gives you more opportunities to practice your cleaning techniques? If so, are there any stories you’d like to share?
TM: I’ll try to be tasteful. Several months ago, I think Coco either had a major case of dog-flu or ate several pounds of laxatives. It required me to call in professional carpet cleaners, and even they failed to remove the stains. The best general advice is to get to any stain on carpeting as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the tougher it’ll be to remove.
B: Finally, how did you get started on this road to pragmatic tidiness?
TM: When I was 10, my mother required me to make my bed every morning. That triggered my MacGyver gene—the trait that drives guys to built better mousetraps, or, in my case, find ways to clean the house faster. Shortcuts rule. Tips and tricks rock. Thanks, Mom!
North Carolina student takes inspiration from A Dog’s Life
Last Christmas, 11-year-old Mark Federman received A Dog’s Life: Autobiography of a Stray, by Ann M. Martin, as a gift. His foster mother, Cristina Skillin-Federman, thought he’d like it because “he really loves animals.”
Fast forward to this year, when, as part of NPR’s “In Character” series, fifth-graders at his school (Isaac Dickson Elementary in Ashville, N.C.) wrote about imaginary characters they most admired, and recorded their essays at the local public radio station. When it came time for Mark to select his imaginary character, he knew exactly who to chose: Squirrel, the narrator of A Dog’s Life. www.scholastic.com/dogslife/ As a puppy, Squirrel had been separated from her mother and brother; over the years, she had known longing and abandonment as well as comfort and kindness, and in the book, she tells how she found her way.
Mark entered the North Carolina social service system four years ago, and in that time, had been in nine foster homes. And, like Squirrel’s, Mark’s story has a happy ending. The Federmans have adopted both Mark and his younger brother, and are in the process of adopting his older brother as well.
Read more about it and listen to Mark read his essay.
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