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The Best & Brightest in the World of Dogs

During the past 25 years, there have been amazing advancements in the dog world. To commemorate them, we set out to find the people behind these accomplishments—the innovators, thinkers and achievers who relished challenges and whose creativity, compassion and commitment helped reshape the world of dogs and our understanding of it. Without further ado, we present our honorees: The Bark’s 100 Best & Brightest.

MENTORS
Teachers on a grand scale, our mentors guide, support and generously share their knowledge. Where would we mentees be without them?

Patricia McConnell combines her love for dogs with a well-grounded scientific understanding of them. For decades, she has spoken and written about the ethological aspects of canine behavior and the importance of applying that scholarship to practical work that helps both dogs and people. She brought a vast knowledge of canine visual signals to a generation of dog trainers and other professionals, and was the first to teach about the signals’ importance for reading dogs, understanding their emotional states and predicting their future behavior. She has always valued understanding people and dogs in order to improve the relationships between them; Trisha truly likes people as much as she likes dogs, and is respectful and kind to members of both species. Despite charges of anthropomorphizing, she maintains that dogs’ emotions are important and can be studied. By discussing the natural behavior of both canines and humans, she has helped dog lovers be closer to their animal companions and communicate more effectively with them. 
—Karen B. London

The gospel of Jean Donaldson—cheerful training with profuse praise and gentle correction—has happily permeated the world of co-pilots like water on a sponge, thanks to her bestselling books, including Culture Clash, Dogs Are from Neptune and Oh Behave!, and the Academy for Dog Trainers—sometimes called Harvard for dog trainers—that she founded and directed for a decade. 

The public gleans practical wisdom from animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman through his bestselling books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much. But his fellow veterinarians look to him as well. The founder and director of Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behavior Clinic, one of the first of its kind in 1986, Dr. Dodman works on the frontier of behavioral pharmacology—conducting groundbreaking studies on the use of medication to tackle knotty behavioral challenges, such as canine compulsive disorders. 

Couldn’t survive without a Gentle Leader? Gratitude goes to R.K. Anderson. The multi-laurelled, multi-degreed veterinarian, epidemiologist, behaviorist, researcher and professor co-invented the tried-and-true headcollar as part of his mission to gently and humanely prevent behavior problems that land dogs and cats in shelters by the millions. Dr. Anderson is also a main mover behind the Animal Behavior Resources Institute, a free, collaborative educational resource with expert videos, podcasts and articles for professionals and their clients. 

Training methods using rewards and a whistle or a click—more formally known as operant conditioning and bridging stimulus—have become so ubiquitous that most of us take them for granted. We tip our cap to the late Marian Breland Bailey, who (along with Keller Breland and Bob Bailey) developed these humane approaches and taught them to others for more than 60 years; thousands sharpened up their skills and became better trainers at the Baileys’ operant-conditioning workshops, a.k.a. “chicken camps.” 

Karen Pryor’s impact on dog nation has a soundtrack —or rather, a sound: click! A pioneer of positive reinforcement training (inspired by the operant conditioning she mastered working with dolphins in the 1960s), Pryor is the founder and leading proponent of clicker training. Today, marking desired behavior with a noisy click (and a treat) isn’t limited to the dog world—the sharp snaps regularly ricochet off zoo enclosures, out in pastures with livestock and even in gyms, signaling “well done” to human athletes. 

Ian Dunbar’s ideas about dog training—that it should be a fun bonding experience—have become so central to the practice, it would be easy to forget someone (Dunbar!) got us thinking this way in the first place. Advocating a hands-off, reward-based approach at his Sirius Dog Training centers, the behaviorist and vet first promulgated the now-accepted-as-gospel notion that teaching good behavior to puppies before six months of age, using positive reinforcement, prevents most future problem behaviors. 

DETECTIVES
In academia or in the field, these scientists and researchers work to unlock the mysteries of the canine genome and pin down the history of domestication.

For more than two decades, Robert K. Wayne has used the powerful tools of genetic analysis to revise and, in some cases, redraw the evolutionary history and relationships of the family Canidae. In constructing that evolutionary tree (or phylogeny), Dr. Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA, his students and postdoctoral fellows have documented the monumental loss of diversity the gray wolf eradication programs of the past three centuries have wrought here and in Europe. In the early 1990s, Dr. Wayne used mitochondrial DNA to clinch the case for the gray wolf as the wild progenitor of the dog, laying to rest that “southern,” or pariah, dogs were descended from jackals, while “northern,” wolf-like breeds came from gray wolves.
A few years later, Dr. Wayne and Carles Vilà, a postdoctoral fellow, proposed that dog and wolf started down their separate evolutionary roads as long ago as 135,000 years, but certainly not much after 40,000 years ago in multiple locations. The dates are still controversial, and others have been proposed, but odds are that the final number will be
close to that put forth by Dr. Wayne and Dr. Vilà. With graduate student Jennifer Leonard, Dr. Wayne also showed that dogs were not domesticated in the New World independently; rather, they appear to have arrived with the earliest people crossing the Bering Land Bridge. More recently, he has worked with Elaine Ostrander and Heidi Parker at the National Institutes of Health to complete a new breed phylogeny, showing interrelationships among breeds and pointing to the Middle East as a center of early separation of wolf from dog.
In conducting his groundbreaking research, Dr. Wayne has also trained many of the people studying the genetics of canid evolution and has been consistently generous in assigning credit where it is due. 
—Mark Derr

While at London’s Natural History Museum, Juliet Clutton-Brock penned many definitive texts on the archaeology of animal domestication, including A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. In her work, Clutton-Brock illuminates our tangled history with dogs (among others), establishing a baseline for understanding the reasons, biological and behavioral impacts, and unexpected consequences of domestication. 

L. David Mech, founder of the International Wolf Center and chair of the IUCN Wolf Specialist Group, has studied wolves and their prey since 1958. His is among the foundation work on canines wild and domestic. 

Mark Neff, a professor at the University of California, Davis, participated in the Dog Genome Project at UC Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow. More recently, he has been working to locate the genes that cause a variety of genetic disorders in domestic dogs. Among his research results is the identification of the gene that causes dwarfism in several breeds, and his findings continue to inform veterinary medicine about the inheritance of many canine diseases. 

On the trail of human and canine cancer, Elaine Ostrander and her group map the genes responsible for cancer susceptibility in both. Earlier, as part of the Dog Genome Project, she searched for the genetic markers that make up the concept of a “breed,” and found that genotyping could be used to assign 99 percent of individual dogs to their correct breeds. 

Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, co-director of the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program at the Broad Institute, maps genes associated with cancer and autoimmune diseases in dogs. Her group developed a SNP chip that has been used to identify the genes for several canine diseases. 

James Serpell, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, is currently involved in researching the relationships between domestic animals—especially dogs—and people. He has also traced the natural history of the human-animal bond, including the processes by which various species have been domesticated. 

Stanley Olsen, a pioneer in the discipline of zooarchaeology, was among the first to search for the origins of the domestic dog; his work laid the foundation for later studies that significantly pushed back his original 8,000 year date. 

Geneticist Jasper Rine and his Dog Genome Project collaborators began with a theory that it was possible to map the chromosomes of the domestic dog and thereby discover the genetic basis of mammalian development and behavior. In his early research on purebred dog behaviors, he crossed a Newfoundland with a Border Collie, two distinct breeds with very different breed typical behaviors, and then bred the offspring to see how these various behaviors were inherited. 

MESSENGERS
Through their words, art and photography, these creative people make tangible the intense and heartfelt connections we have with our dogs.

Mark Derr, journalist and author, set the “fancy” world spinning in 1990 with his Atlantic Monthly article about practices in the show-dog realm. In his seminal book, Dog’s Best Friend, he proved that his range of interests in all things canine extended far beyond that topic. With an investigative reporter’s love for unearthing a scoop balanced by a wide-ranging knowledge of his subject, he is highly regarded by dog aficionados (and a nudge to some). As Bark’s science editor, he has been an invaluable advisor and translator when it comes to the latest research and discoveries. 

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas took a bite out of the bestseller lists with her original examinations of dogs. Fueled by her Husky’s ramblings through civilization, field work with wolves and anthropology training, Thomas described surprising behaviors that in ensuing years have been affirmed in studies. In The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Social Lives of Dogs, Thomas deployed her keen eye and novelist’s sensibility to shed light on the mystery of dogs without erasing their magic. 

Donald McCaig would be notable enough as the author of beloved dog books like Nop’s Trials and Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men. We also celebrate him as an early activist against the homogenizing perils of inbreeding, on behalf of his beloved working sheepdogs. That tale, too, is skillfully rendered in his book, The Dog Wars. He writes with an insight and subtle humor that befits his own Virginia breeding. 

The first year that Caroline Knapp and I were friends, in 1996, we took the dogs on a beach run at Gay Head, on the southwestern tip of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. My Samoyed, Clementine, was not yet two, strong as an ox and full of fire. Caroline’s Shepherd-mix, Lucille, was smaller in stature and calmer in demeanor. We spent the afternoon watching them charge up and down the beach, until a series of sonic booms from a nearby naval airfield shattered our reverie. Clementine took off down the beach at a full run, as wild-eyed as a spooked horse. I got her back long enough to leash her, but she had the sled-dog ability to pull a small car, and I fell in the sand just trying to hang onto her.
“Let me have her,” said Caroline, and took hold of Clemmie’s leash and started running alongside her the half-mile to the car. Lucille, seeming to understand that I was the one with the bad leg, stayed by my side. The larger world knew Caroline Knapp through her narrative voice: the wry intelligence and emotional honesty she brought to all her books, but most belovedly to Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs—the story of the shelter dog named Lucille who changed Caroline’s life. Armed with 20/20 acuity, Pack of Two delivered a kaleidoscopic view of the place of dogs in contemporary America. But because Caroline brought her whole heart to her story, she gave us, as well, the essence of what it means to love a dog.
For the rest of her life—another six years—she was the one person I trusted utterly with my dog. In the real world, the world of pastoral beach walks and terrifying moments, she was as steadfast as any narrative persona could have hinted. And in my interior vision of heaven—wherever Caroline could possibly be, given that she isn’t here—she is surrounded by every dog who ever loved her, including Clementine and Lucille. All of them are trying to get in her lap. 
—Gail Caldwell

Poet Mary Oliver has graced the world with her meditative eye and exquisite language for nearly 50 years, bringing the physical world—dogs not least among it—into sharper focus for the rest of us. Using humor to reconcile the intellectual with the natural, she imparts wisdom through such gems as this line, written from her dog’s perspective: Books? says Percy./I ate one once. It was enough./Let’s go. 

Inspired by the late, great Earl, MUTTs creator and animal activist Patrick McDonnell is a cartoonist with a message, showing readers the world through the eyes of his animal characters. 

Stanley Coren takes the canine IQ seriously, and has covered the topic in numerous articles and books. His work has done much to popularize the subject of dogs’ intelligence as well as our bond with them. 

As the founding editor of the staunchly independent Whole Dog Journal, Nancy Kerns has been empowering dog owners with intel on dog-friendly training, holistic health care and practical nutrition—i.e., how to read a dog food label—for more than 10 years. 

When Harriet Ritvo, a noted professor at MIT, wrote The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age in 1987, she launched an innovative animal studies curriculum that has inspired similar programs at universities around the globe. 

Nationally syndicated pet columnist Gina Spadafori, author or co-author of a half-dozen top-selling books about animals, was hailed from the floor of the United States Congress for her coverage of the 2007 pet food recall. 

Oh, those fabulous Weimaraners! Though William Wegman is renowned in the art world for his work in a variety of media, it is his photos of his pack of elegant, silvery-grey dogs—dressed in zany costumes and posed in tableaus reflecting his special brand of visual puns—for which he is most widely known. 

Snoopy, everyone’s favorite Beagle and the quintessence of canine cool, sprang from the fertile imagination (and pen) of Charles Schulz, who created him along with the rest of the “Peanuts” crowd. Over a period of nearly 50 years, Schulz drew 18,250 cartoon strips, basing the character of Charlie Brown on himself and memorializing the dog of his adolescence in the character of Spike, Snoopy’s bedraggled, desert-dwelling brother. 

EXPLORERS
Charting the mysteries of the inner dog and searching for the trail to better health, these scholars improve life for canines and humans alike.

For trainers who embrace science and medicine, Karen Overall has been an authoritative voice of reason and research for more than a decade. Dr. Overall’s bestselling textbook, Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, was among the first to provide techniques for the prevention and treatment of behavior problems; some consider it the bible for vets and behavior consultants. After running the behavior clinic at U Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine for more than 12 years, Dr. Overall shifted her focus to study canine behavioral genetics as a research associate in UP’s Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. Her clinical work centers on humane treatment of troubled pets and their distressed people; she focuses on understanding the neurobiology and genetics of canine behavior and cognition, and on developing natural genetic and behavioral canine models wisdom of two decades ago upside down, and undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of dogs from harm. 
—Barbara Robertson

Brian Hare began his academic career by examining the ability of dogs to follow human body language; recently, his lab opened the Duke Canine Cognition Center to further explore the effects of domestication on canine cognition. 

Shirley Johnston, an expert in the field of animal reproduction, oversees the Found Animals Foundation’s Michelson Prize and Grants, established to inspire the development of a low-cost non-surgical sterilization product for dogs and cats. 

Lawrence Myers, who founded the Institute for Biological Detection Systems at Auburn University, was among the first to determine that dogs can detect disease conditions.

Adam Miklosi helped found the Family Dog Research Project at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1994, and he and his group lead the world in the study of canine psychology.

Alexandra Horowitz’s research, which resulted in her book, Inside of a Dog, explores what dogs know and how they know it, adding an important chapter to the study of canine cognition.

It was no surprise to dog lovers when Karen Allen, a social psychologist with SUNY at Buffalo, defined the “pet effect,” or the ability of our dogs to lower our blood pressure and help us cope with stress. 

Larry T. Glickman’s long-term longitudinal study of bloat, undertaken at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, followed more than 1,900 dogs of 11 breeds for five years, and the findings inform treatment of this dangerous condition. 

Ronald D. Schultz is chair of the department of microbiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and one of the world’s leading veterinary vaccine researchers. His study of the science behind vaccine protocols, the harmful effects of unnecessary vaccines, and different types and brands of vaccines, particularly for canine parvovirus, has turned the conventional for human psychiatric illnesses, particularly those involving anxiety, panic and aggression. 

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has studied dogs, wolves and coyotes, finding that these animals have a notion of fair play and a kind of moral sense based upon empathy. Bekoff is also interested in the human-animal relationship, and how this relationship affects the emotional lives of animals. 

Pulling back the curtain on the mysterious social life of dogs, German researcher Dorit Feddersen-Petersen demonstrated that several dog species communicate with each other, and possibly us, using a complex spectrum of barking sounds. 

Vilmos Csányi, author of If Dogs Could Talk, introduced a new approach to the study of ethology, one that relies on analyzing behavior’s genetic architecture. He and the department he founded at Eötovös Loránd University maintain a profound interest in dog-human relationships. 

John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller conducted an extensive study of the inheritance of various behaviors of five breeds at the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor, Maine; all of the dogs were of similar size but very different in their breed-typical behaviors, providing variances that could be measured as the dogs developed. The authors were the first to suggest the concept of “critical periods” in which puppies’ social behavior develops.

Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Laureate and co-founder of the field of ethology, was one of the first theorists to write about dogs. Man Meets Dog (1953) demonstrates that he was a remarkable observer of animals, a lover of dogs in particular, and oftentimes got things wrong. But, since he was the one who, according to Donald McCaig, “started all these debates,” his book remains a classic that deserves to be read (judiciously) for that fact alone. 

TEACHERS
With their deep understanding of what makes dogs tick, these individuals show us how to expand the bond between pilot and co-pilot, bringing harmony to our shared lives.

Since the 2005 debut of trainer Victoria Stilwell’s hit television show, It’s Me or the Dog, her no-nonsense, positive-reinforcement-based approach has endeared her to pet lovers all over the world. Her holistic methods empower families to work together to create lasting solutions to behavioral problems. Stilwell’s acting background and dog-training experience have put her in an ideal position to promote positive methods to both professional and mainstream audiences in more than 30 countries. She’s judged contestants on the television show Greatest American Dog and appeared on numerous talk shows, written for several periodicals, and authored two books: It’s Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet and Fat Dog Slim: How to Have a Healthy, Happy Pet (a third book is in progress). Plans are currently underway for a foundation to raise money for smaller rescues and assistance-dog organizations.
Stilwell’s influence on popular culture has helped create exposure for positive training while providing a media counterbalance to those promoting dominance-based methods. 
—JoAnna Lou

Together, Suzanne Hetts and Dan Estep came up with the concept of behavioral wellness, which emphasizes the need for baselines to determine what is “well” in terms of pets’ behavior. 

Pamela Reid, director of the ASPCA’s Animal Behavior Center, not only lectures on animal behavior and learning theory, she puts it into action to improve human-canine relationships. 

Terry Ryan has been a guru for a generation of trainers. Teaching others how to motivate dogs through games, lecturing, writing and presenting seminars, she is a bright light in support of good relationships between people and their pups. 

Pia Silvani turned her love of teaching people and dogs into an amazing career as an internationally recognized canine coach and one of the training and behavior world’s go-to people. 

For the past 30 years, Wendy Volhard—who is credited with developing the first puppy test and first drive theories—has been teaching people how to communicate effectively with their pets. 

Sophia Yin is a multitalented vet, behaviorist, trainer, lecturer and videographer, with a great knack for imparting knowledge and expertise both to her colleagues—via her textbooks—and to the general public. Her site has invaluable info and fantastic videos. 

Emily Weiss probably never thought of herself as a matchmaker, but to the benefit of many adult dogs in shelters, it’s worked out that way. During a career dedicated to creating positive, humane animal behavior programs, Weiss developed MYM SAFER (Meet Your Match Safety Assessment For Evaluating Rehoming), a test that helps animal-welfare professionals identify potential aggression in dogs as well as opportunities for behavior modification, which ultimately leads to more—and more successful—adoptions through appropriate placement. 

If you want to become fluent in “dog,” start with Dog Language, the seminal work by ethologist Roger Abrantes, widely known for his views on social behavior and its applications to the daily understanding of pet behavior. 

HELPERS
We not only look out for our dogs, our dogs look out for us. These folks help them learn how to do it.

Well ahead of most of his ivory tower peers, Leo K. Bustad, dean of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, perceived the healing power of animals and dedicated himself to establishing the science behind the notion that our dogs and cats make us feel better. As co-founder of the Delta Society, he promoted greater understanding of the human-animal bond, and helped create the gold standard for animal-assisted therapy in health-care settings. 

Joan Esnayra, founder and president of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, works to open people’s eyes to this more subtle form of service; much of her work focuses on assisting veterans suffering from PTSD. 

From the depths of grim personal experience, Sister Pauline Quinn found the inspiration to start the Prison Pet Partnership Program that has helped heal the lives of an untold number of dogs and inmates alike. 

Bonnie Bergin originated the concept of “service dogs,” canines trained to perform essential everyday tasks, such as opening doors and switching on lights, for people with mobility limitations—and then dedicated herself to getting these life-changing dogs to the people who needed them. In 1975, she founded Canine Companions for Independence, the first nonprofit to train and place service dogs. She later established a university of canine studies and spearheaded campaigns to help low-income individuals with disabilities afford assistance dogs. 

Kathy Zubrycki and her late husband, Ted Zubrycki, pioneered the innovative development of “special needs” guide dog training, showing that guide dogs could be successfully trained for blind people with additional disabilities. 

After a puppy spontaneously alerted Mark Ruefenacht to a dangerous drop in his blood sugar, he founded Dogs4Diabetics, which is dedicated to training dogs to detect the subtle scent of life-threatening hypoglycemia. 

Inspired by her son’s cerebral palsy service dog, prosecuting attorney Ellen O’Neill-Stephens introduced canine advocates into Seattle’s criminal courts, and then co-founded Courthouse Dogs to promote the use of dogs to comfort traumatized victims and witnesses. 

Sandi Martin’s flash of brilliance: Children who struggle to read will do better if reading to dogs. The success of her Intermountain Therapy Animals’ Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program spawned a four-pawed literacy revolution. 

For nearly three decades, working-dog trainer and handler Larry Allen has been transforming “problem dogs,” especially Bloodhounds, into happily employed trackers for law enforcement agencies across the country. 

Retired British orthopedic surgeon John Church made the leap from anecdote to science when he and his team undertook the first scientifically robust study that proved dogs can be trained to detect cancer. 

WELLNESS
There are many paths to wellness—here are some of the people who marked the alternative way.

Narda G. Robinson applies rigorous scientific methods to the study of complementary and alternative medicine for small animals; she holds the first endowed position in this field at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Veterinarian Anthony Smith makes saying goodbye gentler for dog and guardian alike through his Rainbow Bridge Veterinary Services, one of the few practices in the world devoted exclusively to providing end-of-life care. 

Ann Martin, author of Foods Pets Die For, was among the first to raise the alarm about the dangers of commercial pet food, and continues to monitor the industry today. 

The work of the late European herbalist Juliette de Baïracli Levy was the foundation upon which many later holistic practitioners built; her book, The Complete Herbal Book for the Dog, originally published in 1947, is still in print. (Read more about de Baïracli Levy in Eleanor K. Sommer's profile for Bark, Apr/May 2010)

Barbara Fougere’s Pet Lover’s Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats fortifies the bookshelves of guardians with an interest in natural healing by providing a straightforward alternative therapy reference for layfolk. 

Carvel Tiekert founded the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association in 1982 and is the heart of this organization, which explores and supports alternative and complementary approaches to veterinary healthcare. 

Allen M. Schoen is one of the pioneers in holistic medicine; his writings and influential speaking have brought complementary and alternative veterinary medicine to the hearts and minds of practitioners everywhere. 

Cheryl Schwartz was among the first to use Traditional Chinese Medicine in the care of companion animals; her book, Four Paws, Five Directions, spread the word and made it accessible to everyone. 

Tellington TTouch—need we say more? Linda Tellington-Jones is an expert in rubbing dogs (and other animals) the right way, and shares her techniques worldwide, much to the delight of dogs everywhere. 

Back in the age of kibble, Ian Billinghurst took his bible of Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (known as BARF) directly to the people. In Give Your Dog a Bone, the Australian veterinary surgeon repudiated grain-based, commercially produced dog foods and advocated a diet based on what wild dogs eat, including plenty of raw, meaty bones. While BARF has detractors, there’s no doubt it shifted the entire dog food paradigm toward better nutrition. 

Well before most Americans would consider acupuncture for themselves, holistic health care icon Ihor Basko was seeing good results using the ancient Chinese technique on arthritic and pain-racked dogs. Since the 1970s, he has been a leading light for expanding treatment and prevention options for animals with alternative therapies, including acupuncture, herbs and minerals, dietary therapy, homeopathy, and massage. Dr. Basko is a founder and current president of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association. 

A veterinarian with a PhD in immunology, Richard Pitcairn was a pioneer in the field of holistic pet care and raw feeding, both of which gained their current prominence largely due to his seminal book, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, published in 1982 and now in its third edition. He challenged the orthodoxy of the day that dogs and cats can only thrive on commercially formulated diets, and gave his readers an overview of the entire field of alternative medicine as it could apply to their family pets, from acupuncture to Chinese and western herbs, and chiropractic to homeopathy. He was among the first voices to question the then-common practice of routine annual immunization for dogs and cats, pointing out that such protocols could be risky and were probably unnecessary —wisdom that is now altogether conventional. Today, holistic veterinarians have their own medical association, the AHVMA, and even otherwise conventional veterinarians often recommend homemade diets and practice acupuncture. It’s a changed world, and one that might not have happened without Pitcairn’s early influence. 
—Christie Keith

ADVOCATES
On the street, in offices and in courtrooms, they work to save lives, protect animals from harm and find them forever homes.

As founder of what is now the No-Kill Movement, Rich Avanzino changed how Americans view shelter animals. In his 22 years leading San Francisco SPCA, Avanzino demonstrated that shelters could be transformed from death camps for discards to adoption centers for pets whose worst sin was choosing their people badly. Now heading Maddie’s Fund, Avanzino anticipates the day when supply and demand balance, and a no-kill nation is achieved. 

Kate Hurley, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at University of California, Davis, heads one of the very few dedicated programs of this type in the U.S. 

Motivated by a New Year’s resolution to save one dog a month, Betsy Saul and her husband created Petfinder.com in 1996; in the years since, the free website has helped more than 13 million dogs, cats and other critters land in good homes. 

Lawyer, author and no-kill activist Nathan Winograd is the voice of America’s displaced pets and the conscience of the animal sheltering industry. Uncompromising and committed, he heads the No-Kill Advocacy Center. 

Since 2004, vegan Wayne Pacelle has built HSUS into a public policy powerhouse; his organization now has investigation, litigation and campaign teams. He has broadened HSUS’s scope beyond companion animals, and was the force behind California’s overwhelming passage of Prop. 2. HSUS has also recently teamed up with Maddie’s
Fund to develop the Shelter Pet Project. 

A high-profile and articulate voice for companion and farm animals from the highlands of his native England to his home in Minneapolis, Michael W. Fox takes a broad view of the world in which our humanity and the rights of animals are intimately interconnected. The professor/bioethicist/veterinarian has been a leader in the movement to foster the ethical treatment of animals since 1967, including nearly three decades at HSUS. 

An expert in the human-canine bond, Randall Lockwood gave everybody a reason to care about cruelty to animals. His groundbreaking research identified links between pet- and domestic abuse, and demonstrated that early animal cruelty predicts later violence against people. As an officer of ASPCA, he has advanced the forensic techniques and training of cruelty investigators and, on the brighter side, promoted humane education. 

To honor his cherished Miniature Schnauzer, software mogul Dave Duffield endowed Maddie’s Fund with $300 million to promote a no-kill nation and end euthanasia as a form of population control. Big fund, great goal. 

Randy Grim and canine sidekick Quentin, a gas chamber survivor, patrol the streets of East St. Louis, seeking new prospects for his Stray Rescue; 5,000 abused, abandoned dogs owe him their lives—we owe him our gratitude. 

Ed Sayres directed PetSmart Charities and led SF/SPCA before becoming ASPCA president in 2003; though ASPCA played a key role in the Michael Vick investigation, it thereafter declined to associate with his public rehabilitation. 

Singer, dancer, actress, and animal activist Gretchen Wyler had a big voice and a big presence, which she used to help animals by establishing her own Hollywood nonprofit animal protection group, the Ark Trust, Inc., and developing and promoting the Genesis Awards. 

Bob Baker has a well-earned reputation as one of the country’s top animal welfare investigators. Now associated with the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Initiatives effort, he is a key player in the ongoing battle to combat the cruelties of puppy mills and large-scale commercial breeding operations. 

Credit Tiny, Doris Day’s loyal companion during her Ohio teens, with forging her lifelong bond with canines. Still America’s all-time favorite actress, she has used her ample supply of good will to do well by animals through lobbying via the Doris Day Animal League, now part of HSUS, and funding projects like Spay Day and assistance to seniors seeking to keep their pets via the free-standing Doris Day Animal Foundation. Good dog, Tiny!

From humble counterculture origins, Michael Mountain and a group of about 25 animal-loving friends laid the foundation for what is today a vast animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, and the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society that supports it, giving life to their simple mission: “No more homeless pets.” The continuing campaign by that name gathers momentum in the effort to achieve a no-kill nation.
In the 1970s, the founders started taking in strays at their Arizona ranch; by 1986, they were able to purchase land north of Kanab that was once the backdrop for countless movie and television westerns. Renaming it Angel Canyon, they parlayed it into a home for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which includes Dogtown, Kittyville and places for livestock animals. During a year of post-Katrina rescue work, Best Friends rehomed or reunited some 4,000 animals with their people. Best Friends magazine, which Mountain edited, changed the tone of rescue and adoption from gloom and gore to a more upbeat message of joy and progress.
Mountain, now 58, recently stepped down to focus, he writes, on “building a global, grassroots community of people who care about animals, wildlife and the natural world.” 
—Tom Cushing

Veterinarian Elliot Katz founded the animal rights group In Defense of Animals in 1983. For the past 25 years, he has campaigned against puppy mills, saved research lab canines from the needle and convinced many to call themselves “guardians.” 

Nedim Buyukmihci, antivivisection vet and co-founder of Animal Place Sanctuary and Education Center, challenged the conservative status quo of his profession when he spoke out against the use of live animals in vet school training labs. 

Game show host Bob Barker knows the media’s value and its uses. A vegetarian, he has fought pet overpopulation, promoted anti-cruelty legislation and donated $1 million each to five top law schools to fund the teaching of animal law. 

Writer, humorist and humanitarian Cleveland Amory was fiercely dedicated to the cause of animal welfare. An early HSUS board member, he later created the Fund for Animals, for which he served as unpaid director until his death. 

Take a dash of showmanship, add entrepreneurial savvy and Buddhist monk–level commitment and you get Mike Arms, adoption promoter extraordinaire. Going strong after four million animals, he recently founded the “Home for the Holidays” adoptathon. 

At the helm of the Morris Animal Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit organization funding research studies to protect, treat and cure animals, Patricia Olson wields a mighty big carrot for good. But that’s not all. Dr. Olson’s legacy includes establishing programs that foster the human-animal bond and address pet overpopulation, including co-founding the National Council on Pet Population and Policy, a coalition of organizations working to reduce the number of animals euthanized simply because they are homeless. 

HEALERS
Bringing their high-level skills to improve the well-being of our canine companions, these men and women put compassion into action.

There are plenty of veterinary guidebooks out there, but it took Nancy Kay to compile one with essential and lasting lessons on how to be an effective advocate for your dog’s health-care needs. Speaking for Spot, Dr. Kay’s primer on everything from how to know if your pet is sick and finding the right vet, to knowing when to say goodbye, not only empowers guardians but also operates as a touchstone for many veterinarians. 

Douglas Slatter literally wrote the books on small animal surgery. His Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology and Textbook of Small Animal Surgery have been used and referenced by thousands of vets. 

We know that dogs’ knees blow out all too easily. What we didn’t know was that a good fix wasn’t available until the 1990s, when Barclay Slocum developed and patented the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO). 

The compassionate care of companion animals has been greatly enhanced by the work of trailblazer Robin Downing, a leading voice in veterinary pain management and advocate of a preemptive approach to the control of pain. 

Before Cynda Crawford (along with Edward Dubovi from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University and others) identified the canine influenza virus—a.k.a. H3N8—it was thought that dogs weren’t susceptible to the flu. 

A controversial figure, W. Jean Dodds has nonetheless persisted in questioning many “established truths” of veterinary medicine, pushing the envelope on vaccine safety and efficacy and the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease. She also established and runs Hemopet, a canine blood bank. In the on-going Rabies Challenge Project, she is researching the period of efficacy of rabies vaccines. 

You’d think being a renowned veterinary cardiologist and discovering the cause and cure for a fatal heart disease in cats would be enough for one lifetime. Not for Paul D. Pion. In 1991, Dr. Pion began building bridges among notoriously competitive vets through the Veterinary Information Network. With more than 42,000 participating colleagues, scores of databases, message boards, conference rooms, et cetera, et cetera, VIN is considered by many to be the most comprehensive online resource for and by veterinarians. 

When he wrote Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, leading gastroenterologist Donald Strombeck created a first-of-its kind volume on alternatives to commercial pet food and made canine nutrition understandable to the general public. m

The experience, common sense and insider knowledge that made Marion Nestle the go-to expert on dietary policy for humans reached the dog dish with her compelling investigation of the 2007 recalls in Pet Food Politics. 

Clarence Rawlings led a team of researchers at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine in adapting minimally invasive surgical techniques for use with companion animals, reducing traditional surgical complications and improving outcomes. 

EXEMPLARS
Each one standing for many, these individuals and thousands like them manifest a spirit that inspires people to go beyond the ordinary on behalf of dogs.

Animal Law
As science demonstrates continuities between humans and other species, law professor Steven Wise addresses their legal implications. In groundbreaking books, he challenges the “animals as property” notion and argues for incremental recognition of their separate interests. 

Katrina Rescuers
On the front lines of animal welfare since 1980, Jeff Dorson has been known to risk his life undercover. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he and the Louisiana Humane Society he helped create rescued some 1,700 pets from the floodwaters. 

Therapy Dogs–9/11
When Rachel McPherson began producing a therapy dog documentary, she fell in love with her subject, turned off the cameras and created The Good Dog Foundation instead. McPherson’s nonprofit promotes these furry miracle workers, as well as providing training, certification and support. After 9/11, Good Dog teams came to the aid of families of victims, survivors and rescue workers. Based on that model, Good Dog created a disaster response course, and was deployed for families in need in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 

Volunteers
Jana Brunner has a passion for shelter pets and volunteers as many as 40 hours a week to the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, taking photos to post on Petfinder.com, designing and managing their website, creating promotional materials, organizing offsite adoption events and supporting HSGKC financially. She’s been at this for 14 years, and her efforts have saved thousands. 

Dog Sports
Retired biology professor Charles L. “Bud” Kramer shook up the AKC’s Obedience regime—unchanged since 1937—by originating the livelier, freestyle Rally Obedience, as a club-sanctioned answer to the Agility boom.

Search and Rescue
Retired teacher Wilma Melville founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which has exponentially increased the supply of FEMA-certified SAR dogs, many of whom were themselves rescued from shelters. 

International Humane
Gwen Davis isn’t afraid to tackle the big issues. After earning her DVM from the Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine, she founded the Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society to offer low-cost sterilization and rescue stray dogs. 

Dog Park Activists
We join the dogs of Redmond, Wash., in a bark-out to Judy Trockel, a resolute voice in the grassroots group Serve Our Dog Areas, which fought to retain Marymoor Park’s off-leash dog area and is its steward today.

And to shelter staffers everywhere: You are all the best & brightest. Thank you for the work you do and the lives you save.

Honorable Mentions

Limiting ourselves to 100 meant that we were not able to call out many worthy individuals. Read on to discover more hard-working and dedicated folks who have made life-time commitments to the well being of dogs and other animals. 

Colin Allen teaches at Indiana University, and is known for his extensive research and writings on animal behavior and cognition.

Cora Bailey founded the Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), which provides low-cost veterinary services to impoverished communities around the globe.

Lynda Barry is an American cartoonist and author best known to dog lovers for her weekly comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek.

Joseph Bartges is a renowned professor of animal health and medicine, with a special focus on bladder and kidney stones in canines. 

Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, now leads the movement for an American College of Animal Welfare.

Marty Becker gets the word out on animal health as a contributor to Good Morning America and the resident vet on The Dr. Oz Show.

Ed Beltran explores the use of natural and homeopathic animal treatments at Blair Animal Hospital in Ottowa.
 

Phil Bergman, one of the nation’s leading veterinary oncologists, developed a vaccine for canine melanoma in partnership with colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Merial.

 

Dennis Chew, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, studies kidney function in animals, including methods to slow the progression of renal disease and interventions that can improve and extend quality of life for dogs and cats with chronic renal problems. 
 

Dogs romp in hundreds of Billy Collins’ poems; Collins served two years as the American Poet Laureate.

Pam Constable founded the Afghan Stray Animal League, which fights for the welfare of strays in Afghanistan.

Alexander de Lahunta pioneered the containment of contagious disease in animals and is highly regarded as a scientist, diagnostician, educator, and mentor.

 

Thanks in large part to Christine Dorchak, co-founder of Grey2K USA, and her associates, legislation banning dog racing in Massachusetts was finally passed in 2008.

 

National Book Award–winning poet and memoirist, Mark Doty is the author of Dog Years, in which he bears witness to the unbounded joy dogs bring even in times of personal calamity.

Advocating for animals, Geordie Duckler heads up the Animal Law Practice, one of the few in the nation focusing on this particular speciality.

Donna Duford is not only an internationally known trainer and behavior counselor, she’s also among the early practitioners of canine musical freestyle, or “dog dancing.”

 

Long-time animal- and political activist Ed Duvin’s landmark article, “In the Name of Mercy,” sounded a wake-up call to the shelter community.

 

Ed Eames,  co-founder of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, was a tireless worker for the rights of the visually impaired and their canine assistants. 

 

Dogs are among Elliot Erwitt’s favorite subjects; his iconic black-and-white photographs capture them with both humor and dignity.

Australian Barbara Fougere is known for her advances in the field of herbal medicine for pets; her book, Pet Lovers’ Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, is a staple on dog-lovers’ bookshelves.

Al Franken, media personality and U.S. senator for Minnesota, made it his first priority to push a bill through the Senate to increase the number of service dogs available for veterans.

Artist Lucian Freud has been called one of the greatest figurative painters of our time; he often features pets and their owners in his work.

Behaviorist Susan Friedman has pioneered efforts to train pet animals through “facilitation rather than force.” 

 

Marjorie Garber, who teaches at Harvard University, considers dogs’ place in American culture; her book, Dog Love, demonstrates the ways dog stories have found a spot in our ongoing folklore.

Susan Garrett developed the “Say Yes” dog training philosophy, allowing dogs and owners to achieve their goals without physical or verbal correction.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Urs Giger studies hereditary and hematological disorders in small animals, as well as variations in the dog genome.

Bob Goldstein developed the “Breed Specific Healing Protocol,” using knowledge of breeds to create individualized holistic treatments for dogs.

Marty Goldstein is considered one of the foremost experts in alternative veterinary medicine, integrating both holistic and conventional techniques in his treatments.

Temple Grandin is a highly respected advocate for humane treatment of livestock and a keen observer of the relationships people have with animals, dogs among them. She has written several books on the subject, including Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human.

Among her other accomplishments, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Carol Guzy recorded the plight of animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and gives generously of her talents to help humane groups, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area.

Jemima Harrison directed the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, revealing dangerous breeding practices in the show dog community.

Lynette and Benjamin Hart are known for their collaborations on animal behavior and their books about the pet-human connection.

 

California State Senator Tom Hayden and UCLA professor Taimie Bryant fought for state legislation, colloquially known as the Hayden Law, to prevent shelters from killing savable animals.

In her crusade to change the way animlas were trained, Vicki Hearne wrote about their capacity for achievement and moral understanding. 

 

Johnny Hoskins is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the authority on geriatric medicine for cats and dogs.

David Jaggar and Marvin Cain founded the International Veterinary Acupuncture Association, which promotes the highest standards for animal acupuncture worldwide.

Roy Kabat developed methods of training guide dogs for the deaf, building the framework for what eventually became Dogs for the Deaf.

 

Juliane Kaminski studies the evolution of social cognition in various mammal species at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at Leipzig, Germany. Kaminski has found that domestic dogs have sophisticated cognitive abilities, which include “fast mapping” and enhanced sensitivity to the perceptions of humans.

 

Chand Khanna is changing the face of cancer research by integrating research of pet animal cancer into the study of human cancer treatment. 

 

Expert trainer Brian Kilcommons, along with partner Sarah Wilson, has developed intuitive training methods based on a patient, friendly relationship between owner and dog.

Trish King, director of Marin Humane Society Behavior & Training Department, is nationally recognized as an extraordinary teacher, writer and speaker. 

 

Biologist and ethologist Erich Klinghammer founded Wolf Park with a noble mission: education, research and conservation.

Jim Kutsch, president of the The Seeing Eye, is also a graduate of the prestigious guide-dog school, a first in the school’s history.

Baseball’s Tony La Russa and his wife, Elaine, co-founded the Animal Rescue Foundation, which not only helps individual animals but also sponsors comprehensive outreach programs and events to help educate the public about the value of animal lives. 

 

Al Legendre has investigated the spread and prevention of cancer and infectious diseases in cats and dogs, receiving numerous awards for his work. 

Steve Mardsen practices naturopathic treatment and acupuncture in effective ways, combating the most serious of animal cases with alternative medicine.

Kong Company president Joe Markham developed the rubber, snowman-shaped Kong toy loved (and chewed) by millions of dogs.

 

Jeffrey Masson, a trained Freudian analyst and prolific writer, has authored many books that give us insight into the emotional lives of animals. 


Katrina Mealey is on the cutting edge of genetic research in dogs, studying how genetic determinants effect how different breeds respond to drug therapy.

Shawn Messonnier is a popular speaker and author on the subject of holistic animal wellness and animal behavior, as well as the host of his own SIRIUS radio show.

Myrna Milani studies and writes about the deeper psychological effects of relationships between humans and pets. 

 

The name of Pat Miller’s training group, Peaceable Paws, neatly sums up her commitment to positive reinforcement methods. Spreading the word via workshops, apprentice programs, books and articles, and more, she’s a positive force for harmony between people and their dogs.

Jamie Mondiano, a veterinarian and molecular biologist, is advancing research on canine hemangiosarcoma, or blood-vessel tumors.

 

Willie Morris gave us My Dog Skip, a powerful story of a dog’s unquestioning love.

Gregory Ogilvie, director of the California Veterinary Specialist’s Angel Care Cancer Center, has done important and comprehensive work on the nutritional needs of dogs with cancer.

Carl Osborne’s research and clinical interests focus on urinary disorders and renal failure in small animals.

Rod Page is the founding director of the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at Cornell University, where he studies cancer diagnosis and prevention for the benefit of all species.  

 

Donald F. Patterson is on the forefront of canine genetics and disease research, creating the Canine Genetic Disease Information System database for use by veterinarians. 

 

Untold numbers of animals have benefited from Michael Pavletic’s skills as a reconstructive plastic surgeon and from the techniques he has developed for rebuilding and restoring function.

Niels C. Pederson is an international authority on immunological disorders in small animals, and advocates for less pet vaccination.

 

Agility maven Monica Percival started Clean Run, a weekly newsletter about the sport of dog agility that has expanded into a magazine and a full line of products.
 

Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds, co-founders of BAD RAP, are among the leaders in Pit Bull rescue; the group’s outreach and training programs have made a life-or-death difference for hundreds of dogs.

Jane Russenberger, an expert in dog training and behavior, has served as senior director of breeding and placement for Guiding Eyes for the Blind for more than 20 years.

 

Michael Sapp founded Paws for a Cause, a national organization that trains assistance dogs for the disabled and hearing impaired. 

 

Peter Savolainen, a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, studies dog mitochondrial DNA; he has posited that domestic dogs were domesticated 16,000 years ago in Southern China.

 

Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher and Princeton professor, sparks controversy with his views on animal ethics and his support of the animal liberation movement. 



Sue Sternberg, an expert on dog aggression, created the Assess-a-Pet, an innovative (and controversial) method of evaluating temperament of dogs in shelters.

 

Sheila Styron, former president of Guide Dog Users, successfully campaigned to allow guide dogs to travel to Hawaii without a quarantine period. 

 

Stephen Withrow established the Colorado State Animal Cancer Center, the largest of its type in the world, which works to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pet animals. 

 

Thanks to Charlene and Larry Woodward, the dog world has Dogwise, a one-stop shop for books, DVDs, hand-selected toys, foods, supplements and other useful goods. 

 

Susan Wynn is famous for her work in pet nutrition counseling, as well as her four books on the integration of holistic medicine into traditional veterinary practices. 

 

 

 

 

Culture: DogPatch
Nellie McKay’s Dog Song

It isn’t often a musician finds herself compared to both Doris Day and Eminem. But Nellie McKay, a 19-year-old singer/songwriter born in London and raised in Harlem, draws such comparisons. It also isn’t often that songs are inspired in part by dogs named after Joey Buttafuoco. But McKay wrote such a song.

"The Dog Song", a bouncy piano-driven number that recalls Tin Pan Alley, is one of 18 songs on McKay’s first album, a double-CD set entitled Get Away from Me. The song came to McKay (pronounced Mick-eye) while walking through New York City as dawn broke and dog-walkers filled the sidewalk. She was reminded of Joey, a mangy-eared mutt that appeared on the doorstep of her childhood home one New Year’s Day morning. “I was so, so, so fond of Joey,” McKay recalls, “He was wonderful, even though he peed all over my mother that first day.” She already had the melody of "The Dog Song" in her head; the remaining pieces began falling into place that morning.
 

McKay grew up in a home that cares about animals. Her mother helped found Voices for Animals, an advocacy group that, among other things, protests the use of animals in circuses. And the liner notes on the back of Get Away from Me include the following statement: “Nellie McKay is a proud supporter of PETA.” But she doesn’t just support them—she once volunteered as an intern at a PETA office. “There were dogs everywhere,” she says with a laugh, “You had to step over a little gate every time you walked into a room!”

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Temple Grandin
Thinking in pictures provides insight into the world of animals

Temple Grandin’s professional resume is impressive: BS, MS and PhD degrees; dozens of awards and professional papers; author, editor and subject of books and videos; and currently associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Dr. Grandin is also autistic, which she credits for her ability to understand how animals see, think and feel. We talk with her about her riveting book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (co-written with Catherine Johnson, PhD). 

Claudia Kawczynska: You liken animals to autistic savants. How are animals similar to autistic people?

Temple Grandin: First of all, autistic people don’t think in language, we think in pictures. During my thinking process I have no words in my head at all, just pictures. So if you say the word “teapot,” I start to see teapots, like a teapot slide show of teapots. Animals don’t think in language; they are visual thinkers too. When you think in pictures, it has to be specific in order to form concepts.

Like when I was a little kid—in order to figure out that a dog was different from a cat, I used to sort animals out by size: horses are big, dogs came up to my waist and cats were smaller. But then our next-door neighbors bought a Dachshund—now, there was a dog the same size as a cat! What I figured out was that all dogs—no matter how big or small—had the same nose. I picked out a visual feature that every single dog has that none of the cats had.

People with autism also have tremendous memory and tend to think in details. You probably have seen the Rain Man kind of memory, where people with autism can memorize big parts of a phone book [and] can memorize maps and do number calculations. So let’s look at some of the things that animals do that would be savant-like—let’s take bird migration. Look at Canada geese or other migrating birds. They just have to be shown the route once by the other birds, and they remember the rest. There is no person that could do that.

 

CK: You point out another difference: Animals don’t have defense mechanisms, such as denial.

TG: It is the same with autistic people—one of the things that blows my mind about normal humans is [their capacity for] denial. When I see that something isn’t going to work, I say so, but when I do, I am accused of being negative! I also think that animals don’t have an unconscious and thus don’t have defense mechanisms. You never see a dog act as if a dangerous situation is safe.

 

CK: What does it mean to be detail-oriented rather than a generalist?

TG: Visual thinkers of any species, animal or human, are detailed-oriented. They see everything and they react to everything. The big difference between animals and people is that animals and autistic people don’t see their ideas of things, they see the actual things themselves. We see the details that make up the world—normal people blur all those details together into their general concept of the world.

Animals will have place-specific fears. I knew a dog that was hit by a car, and you would think that he would be afraid of cars after that. No, he was afraid of that one spot in the road where he got hit. Because that is what he was looking at the time he was hit. [It was as though] he saw a picture of that spot and would think, “Unh-unh, I’m not going there.”

 

CK: Do animals have consciousness?

TG: Of course animals have consciousness. The reason that researchers might not think they do is that they can’t imagine thinking without language. But I remember when I was in college, I read that the caveman could not have invented tools without language. I kept saying that is a bunch of BS, because when I design things, I do not use language. I test run equipment in my mind; I can see it in my mind.

 

CK: You take a rather firm stance on single-trait breeding, citing “rapist roosters” and “needle-nose Collies” as examples of the unintended consequences of this kind of breeding.

TG: I started out in farm animals, and I saw this a lot in farm animals. I saw horrible problems. Like in the pigs who were bred for rapid growth and leanness—they got pigs that were so nervous they were about to jump out of their skin, pigs who had heart attacks and fell over. I don’t think that they thought that breeding for any single trait would result in such hypercrazy pigs.

With domestic animals, we are the main engine of evolution. We’re constantly changing the body of an animal, but we are also changing them emotionally, too. Physical and emotional traits are linked in unexpected ways. If you overselect for a single trait, you are going to wreck your animal. I don’t care what the trait is.

Purebred dogs are bred mainly for appearance, to meet a standard that is heavily tilted toward physical criteria, not emotional or behavioral. One of the reasons that I think mutts are more emotionally stable is that no one is practicing single-trait selective breeding with them. I think that any time you selectively breed for one trait, eventually you wind up with neurological problems; in dogs, it’s likely to be aggression.

 

CK: Could you talk a little about both the part of the brain that Dr. Jaak Panksepp calls the SEEKING circuit and oxytocin, the so-called love hormone?

TG: Researchers used to think that the reason drugs like cocaine feel good and are addictive is that they raise dopamine levels, the main neurotransmitter associated with the SEEKING circuit. But researchers see things differently now—instead of dopamine being a pleasure chemical, they now think that what is being stimulated is the SEEKING system in the brain—not any pleasure center.

What feel good and what are stimulated are curiosity/interest/anticipation circuits. Just like when a dog is about to be fed—that dinnertime wag-and-smile, one of the happiest moments of a dog’s day. This part of the brain starts firing when the animal sees a sign that food might be nearby, but stops firing when the animal actually sees the food—this helps the animal search for food, but eating the food is something else! It’s the search—the seeking—itself that feels good.

Oxytocin in females and vasopressin in males are hormones related to estrogen and testosterone. [The levels of] both shoot up in brains during sex, and oxytocin levels rise right before a female gives birth. They aren’t just “sex” hormones, they are “love” hormones, too. Oxytocin is important to all social activities, and is essential to social memory—it’s the hormone that lets animals remember each other; it is also the maternal hormone. I think that dogs have fairly high oxytocin levels—they are highly social animals. A dog’s oxytocin level rises when his owner pets him and, in turn, petting a dog raises a human’s oxytocin levels, too. I don’t think anyone has researched it yet, but I think that dogs make humans into nicer people and better parents.

 

CK: The battle is still raging over the issue of animals and cognition. What is your position on that?

TG: I like the way Marion Stamp Dawkins [a researcher at Oxford] defines thinking in animals. She says that true cognition happens when an animal solves a problem under novel conditions. While no one has ever seen a dog make a tool, dogs can definitely problem-solve in novel situations. There are so many cases of this in guide dogs and search-and-rescue dogs.

And then there are Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s breakthrough studies with Alex [the African Grey parrot], which should make researchers think twice. She added the defining touch to social modeling theory. Basically, it was how she taught Alex. Two people sat in front of the parrot, and one of them would have a cheese puff and would say to the other, “You want the puff?” and the other would say, “I want the puff.” The first person would then give it to him. They did this right in front of the parrot. Back and forth. So then one day, the parrot said “puff” and was given the puff. He finds out that language relates to the object. Then he sees the action.

The moral of Dr. Pepperberg’s story, and the reason she finally succeeded where others had failed, was that she was the first person to consider that maybe it was the researchers’ fault that birds weren’t learning anything, not the birds’. She went beyond classical behaviorism and operant conditioning; she tried a different branch of behaviorism called social modeling theory. It is the way real people and real animals learn in the real world.

Just think of wolves. How could they learn to hunt if they didn’t observe it? The ultimate goal is to get food, but how to find the food? You have to first learn that it is food. They don’t know that the prey is food. Hunting is a predatory instinct, but you have to learn what you eat, and you learn that from Mother. You learn from observation.

Culture: DogPatch
Neko Case’s Pet Causes
Singing sensation puts her voice where her heart is

Neko Case grew up surrounded by more animals than people, and her love and respect for non-humans is reflected in both her life and her music—more so than ever on Middle Cyclone, which debuted at number three on the U.S. album sales chart in March.

 

“My parents were gone all the time and I was an only child, so it was me and dogs, cats, goats, whatever,” the big-voiced alternative country artist says of her youth. “And we often lived in the middle of nowhere, so I was just friends with them. I felt a lot of empathy for them and they for me.”

Nature and animal themes run throughout Middle Cyclone, Case’s sixth and most successful studio album. A prime example is lead single “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” in which she sings about caged animals getting revenge of their keepers. Earlier this year, Case and her label, Anti-Records, used the song as a fundraiser and donated to Best Friends Animal Society every time the song was posted on a blog or added to an iLike user’s online profile. The campaign raised approximately $4,000 in about six weeks.

Case also donated “Star Witness” to a two-disc compilation titled Giving Animals a Voice Through Music: Best Friends Animal Society 25th Anniversary Collection. Proceeds from album sales support the society’s campaign to stop puppy mills. Best Friends is close to Case’s heart, since her four dogs came from pounds and shelters.

“Somebody might think one thing about dogs but, when you give them a little bit of love, they just blossom and become something totally different,” the 38-year-old says. “They all have so much potential in them.

“Throwing them away is just the saddest thing ever. Dogs give a very specific kind of love that is really necessary. I think that we’re companion species with each other. I think humans need dogs and dogs need humans.”

Case’s previous dog, Lloyd, died of cancer and left a gaping hole in her life, which she filled with a Chow/Shepherd named Liza and three ex-racing Greyhounds: Swan-Y, Guy and Travis, who recently lost a leg to cancer but is still full of vim and vigor.

“I would have had more dogs when I had Lloyd, but he wanted to be the only dog, and I had to respect that,” Case explains. “My new crowd of dogs love having other dogs—they’re hilarious.”

Case, who’s a member of pop group The New Pornographers as well as a solo artist, is on the road touring in support of her albums for long stretches of time, but she says she has trusted friends who take care of the dogs in her absence.

“I don’t even know if they notice I’m gone. They get so much attention and they’re so loved. They get excited and love me when I come home, but they love everyone else, too. They’re not one-people dogs. I like that they feel comfortable enough to give themselves to other people to share.”

For all things Neko, visit her here.

Culture: DogPatch
Blessed Are the Animals
A cathedral’s must-attend event—dogs are welcomed

Twice a year, the 18-foot-tall bronze doors of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City swing wide. The 106-year-old Episcopalian cathedral, which is also the seat of the Archdiocese of New York, offers daily religious services and hosts artists-in-residence as well as concerts, dances and readings year-round. But the magisterial main doors, three tons each, are only thrown open on Easter Sunday and for St. John the Divine’s most popular event, the Blessing of the Animals, on the feast day of St. Francis (the Sunday closest to October 4).
 

The ceremony fills the nave with people accompanied by dogs, cats and birds as well as more exotic creatures. (I once lived near the cathedral and can testify that the sight of more than a thousand people with their dogs, cats, snakes, fish and parakeets—plus an elephant, a camel, a pony, a pair of llamas and a cow, all standing in line for church on Sunday—is something to behold!) “There’s never any fighting,” says the Reverend Canon Alan Dennis, who believes the animals instinctively know they’re safe.
 

The procession into the church is unforgettable. After the humans and their animal companions are seated, the large and exotic animals enter through the great doors. The cathedral has even hosted a giraffe; the main vault is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty off her base—plenty of room for a giraffe.
 

St. Francis’s prayer, Canticle of the Sun, is read, in which Francis invokes Brother Sun and Sister Moon as evidence of the creator's grace. Dancers in white wave banners, the voices of the St. Francis Day Festival Choir rise and soar, and parishioners stand holding hands or raising their arms to the sounds of Paul Winter’s New Age composition, Missa Gaia, interwoven with the haunting cries of whale, wolf and loon. This is a modern spiritual event with deep and venerable roots.
 

Canon Dennis says he had one of life’s mystical experiences when, during a blessing, he stood next to a bald eagle. “The eagle was this far away from me,” says Dennis, gesturing with his hand a foot away from his head. “Well, I know you aren’t supposed to look into an eagle’s eyes, that that will make them attack, but I figured, the handler has him, so I looked. It was one of the most profound moments in my life. It was like looking into the universe.”

Although people begin lining up with their pets around seven in the morning, the service is so popular that many aren’t able to get in. To make sure no animal is missed, the members of the laity and the clergy rove, spending time outside blessing animals. “It’s the most wondrous thing,” says Dennis. “People will tell us the stories of their animals, and I’ll ask them what blessing they want. Maybe the dog’s having behavioral problems, so they’ll ask that I bless the dog and ask that they be a good dog.” Pro-animal and pro-environmental groups set up stalls, and dancers and musicians perform. It’s one of the Upper West Side’s most popular street fairs—children love the event.
 

The exotic animals come from a theatrical company, and the farm animals are from Green Chimneys, a 61-year-old school in upstate New York that uses animals, including therapy dogs, to help children with learning and emotional problems. “Everyone loves our llamas, Java and Lily,” says Green Chimneys staffer Deborah Bernstein, “but my favorite is Lucy the goose.”
 

Students from Green Chimneys, participants in the school’s “Farm on the Moo-ve” program, a project that takes Green Chimneys’ animals into the community, are also part of the procession. Children bring animals to nursing homes, community centers and schools to demonstrate their care and as outreach. Participation in Farm on the Moo-ve is a great honor; students work hard to be allowed to join, and their success as animal handlers (and people) is a tribute to their personal growth.
 

Farm on the Moo-ve is only part of Green Chimneys’ mission to use animals to help children. Students too shy or lacking enough confidence in their skills to read aloud to a person often lose their shyness when reading to a Golden Retriever. Deborah Bernstein recalls how, when the school had two artic foxes, children with ADD who couldn’t sit still more than a few minutes would wait patiently in silence for half an hour to see the foxes creep out of their dens. “The positive behaviors they learn with animals move into their interactions with humans,” says Bernstein, whose daughter attends the school and has a close attachment to the Green Chimney’s pet rats.
 

The cathedral initiated the Blessing of the Animals in 1985. A few years earlier, they had commissioned artist-in-residence Paul Winter to write a modern ecclesiastical mass based on medieval traditions. The result was Missa Gaia, an environmentally inspired mass to the Earth. Winter had been mixing environmental sounds with jazz for years, but the Missa Gaia, which debuted at the cathedral in 1981, was radical in its vision of combining spirituality with environmental themes in a piece of Christian music.
 

Although the Episcopal Church does not formally recognize Francis as the patron saint of the environment, he plays that role for many, so the Feast of St. Francis seemed a natural time to perform the piece. Four years later, the cathedral added the Blessing of the Animals service, bringing an ancient tradition to a modern, pet-loving city.
 

“I remember at one point during a sermon” says Paul Winter, laughing. “The priest went, ‘And the Lord said…’ and there was a pause, and from the back came a big Woof!”
 

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, N.Y.
 

Culture: DogPatch
Every Adoption is a Miracle
Why comedian Carol Leifer loves shelter dogs

Maybe you know Carol Leifer from her guest appearances on Oprah, Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show. Or perhaps you recognize her as the comedic writer and producer of television classics such as The Larry Sanders Show, Saturday Night Live and, most famously, Seinfeld.

How about Carol Leifer, dog lover and animal activist? In her new memoir, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win, Leifer talks about her love for rescue dogs, and the place her five Chihuahuas and two Terrier mixes hold in her heart.

“Every adoption is a miracle, because you’re taking something dark and horrible and making it light again,” Leifer says in a phone interview from her home in Santa Monica. She first saw her two older Chihuahuas, Cagney and Lacey, both 15, at a shelter, where she learned they were scheduled to be euthanized the next day. “When I called my partner, Lori Wolf, she said, ‘Absolutely not, we already have five dogs!’” But Leifer used her approaching birthday as a way to convince Wolf to agree to fostering the dogs until they could deliver them to Best Friends’ Utah animal sanctuary. “The dogs were jaded from having been in a shelter for so long—they had this “whatever” attitude,” Leifer recalled.

Once in Leifer’s home, though, the dogs morphed into frisky little puppies, and it wasn’t long before Leifer and Wolf failed Fostering 101. “We had to keep them,” she sighs. “I especially love the fact that they didn’t die as seniors in that shelter and are having a happy life, however brief it may be.”

Does Leifer subscribe to the theory that rescue dogs know they’ve been saved and are therefore grateful? “Completely!” she agrees. “You get any shelter dog or cat in your car and you can immediately see the change—they know something really good just happened.”

Another one of her passions is the fight to stop puppy mills. During protests, she often brings Albert, one of her adopted strays, to illustrate that potential dog owners don’t have to rely on pet stores for an adorable dog. “People think Albert is a designer dog because he’s very chichi and so damned cute, but he’s just a Terrier mix,” Leifer says, clearly amused. “When people see that you can get a dog like Albert at a shelter, they’re more likely to adopt.”

And it must be asked: Which does the comedian find funnier, humans or canines? “Oh, dogs!” she quips without missing a beat. “Only a dog can lick his privates and not feel the need to post it on YouTube.”
 

Culture: DogPatch
Show Time with Bill Berloni
Broadway’s premier animal advocate and trainer tells all

For Bill Berloni, every year is the year of the dog—and the rat and the lamb and the cat and the pig. Beginning in 1976 with the extraordinary musical, Annie, for which, as a young aspiring actor, he found and trained a shelter dog to play Sandy, Berloni has spent more than 30 years working with some of the best in the business. When it comes to show-stopping animal actors, he’s likely to have trained them. In his new book, Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars, he shares his passion for animals, especially those of the pup persuasion. He spoke to Bark recently after a rehearsal for the upcoming Legally Blonde road tour, for which he’s training four brand-new dogs to make their stage debuts.

Bark: You started your animal-training career by finding Sandy at a shelter. Are you still working with shelter dogs?
Bill Berloni: Absolutely. When I was asked to find the original Sandy, they told me to go to a shelter because that was the cheapest place to find a dog. I had never been in one before, and I remember that as I looked at the conditions there, and all the dogs, I was so moved. I made a promise to myself: If I ever grow up and get another dog, I’m going to get it from a shelter. That was 32 years ago, and every dog I’ve ever trained has come from an animal shelter or rescue group. The dogs give me such joy, and I’ve had a wonderful life as a result.

B: What catches your eye when you’re looking for a dog?
BB: When I went in search of the original Sandy, I was looking for a sandy-colored mutt of no distinguishable breed. In Sandy, I found a dog who had been abused and was very frightened. Being somewhat young and gullible, I thought, I have to rescue that dog! He came a long way to get past that fear.
Now when I go to shelters, I see dogs who are just hangin’ out, in spite of the environment, and those are the dogs I gravitate toward. If they can deal with the stress of the shelter, then they’ll be able to deal with the orchestra, the lights, the crowds. I also test for aggression. Obviously, if a dog has an aggression trigger that can be easily tripped, it would be irresponsible to put him in a situation where it could be tripped. So, basically, I look for the ability to deal with stress and a low threshold of aggression to humans.

B: What happens to “show dogs” after the show’s over?
BB: They’re always welcome to stay with us. We have a fenced four-acre farm and a 3,000 square foot home; half of the downstairs is dogland. The dogs live with us—they don’t have kennels. When you have a pack of dogs, they either love the running outside, barking at the horses, jumping in the pond, digging holes—or they hang out inside. Not all dogs like it, though. A seven-pound Chihuahua doesn’t enjoy getting trampled by 15 dogs. So there are some cases when I feel that if I can find a dog a better situation, I will. When you make a commitment to an animal, it’s life-long. If living with us isn’t making the dog happy, we find him or her a good situation.

B: Tell us about an average day for one of your working dogs.
BB: Our job as trainers and handlers is to keep them healthy and happy. When a show is running, we keep them really quiet and calm throughout the day. We take them out, feed them a morning meal—again, just keep things quiet and calm until it’s time to go to the theater. We’re usually walking through the stage door about an hour before the show. Dogs are social creatures, so when we get there, we visit all the dressing rooms and greet the performers. Then we do the show and come home. They have their evening meal, and we all go to sleep.

The routine’s a little different during rehearsals. This is the time during which we’re desensitizing them to the noise and activity of the theater, teaching them to go onstage for the first time. We’re usually there eight hours a day. In my experience, dogs in this situation have about a 20-minute learning window, so the rest of the time is desensitization. Somewhere in that eight-hour day, we go through the training.

B: Do animal actors carry union cards?
BB: There are no unions for animals, and it’s a huge bone of contention for me. For example, humans get air-conditioning, animals go outside. To get air-conditioning, I have to negotiate. Also, when producers don’t pay, unions have legal teams and bonds to draw from. I have the courts. And it’s impossible to sue large companies. So I’ve learned how to protect my animals.

B: Film or live—which is more of a challenge?
BB: Movies are easier than theater. For a movie, I can stand behind the camera or the actor and give the dog a silent command; we get it right once and go home. In the theater, I can’t give commands from the wings. If, for example, you’re watching Annie and you see Sandy look toward the wings and then do something, it’s clear he’s not listening to the characters on stage. So in the theater, we train the actors to be handlers. When you see my dogs on stage, you see them running to people they love, executing the commands, getting rewarded and then coming offstage to me. The dogs will do anything for me, but in live theater, they also have to do anything for someone else, and that’s an interesting dynamic. You really need well-balanced dogs to do that.

B: Is it hard to train the actors?
BB: It can be challenging, but most of the time, I work with people who love animals—Bernadette Peters, Andrea McArdle, Sarah Jessica Parker.

B: Speaking of Sarah Jessica Parker—do you think she took what she learned as one of the early “Annies” working with Sandy to her later role as a dog in Sylvia?
BB: Absolutely. When Sarah started in Annie, she had never been around dogs; she was from a large family—eight kids—and they moved around a lot, so they always had cats. Sandy was her first dog. She learned quickly how to work with him, and got very good at it. I went to see her in Sylvia, and afterward, went backstage. I said to her “You stole some of that stuff from Sandy, didn’t you?” and she freely admitted it. She really loved Sandy.

B: We know you use positive reinforcement in your training. Is applause reinforcing for dogs?
BB: Not at all. Applause is a great positive reinforcer for humans, but to dogs, it’s just an annoying noise that sort of buzzes in their ears. One of the things we teach them to do is to ignore that noise, and it really doesn’t take them long to learn how to do that. Of course, teaching them to ignore the noise made by 3,000 people who scream when they enter can be a challenge. You can’t really prepare them for it before opening night. But what you can do is get them so connected with what they’re doing—essentially, build the bond between the dogs and the actors—that when that sound happens, the dog looks to his person for direction.

B: Over the years, have you had any improv moments onstage?
BB: There have been instances where someone wasn’t paying attention, or miscued a dog, and the dog has walked offstage. But usually, if everyone’s doing their jobs, there are no problems. Still, things happen. For example, when actors come onstage, they often get entrance applause. Annie had been running for about a year, and every night, Sandy had gotten his entrance applause. It was a rainy midweek night, the audience was wet and tired, and when Sandy came onstage, no one applauded. He stopped and looked at the audience. Andrea called him: “Come here, boy! Come here!” But he stood there looking out at the crowd. All of a sudden, the audience started to laugh, and then they started to laugh harder, and he just stood there looking at them. And then he got his applause, and he went on to Andrea. They thought he was soliciting the applause, but my take was that, for 300 performances, he’d heard that noise when he went onstage and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t happening.

Another bit of improv involved the Bulldog in Legally Blonde. When Legally Blonde opened in San Francisco a couple of years ago, there was one scene for her in the first act, and it got a tremendous audience response. So before we went to New York, the creators of the show decided to write another scene for her in the second act—she’d go onstage and play with a toy. It came time for our first preview in New York, our first audience, and she was in the wings waiting to get her toy. She was so excited, she was almost vibrating. When she was cued, she ran out onstage, got her toy, sat down and threw up. In Bull breeds, this is a sign of happiness, so I knew she was looking forward to doing the new scene. After that, she never threw up again.

B: Of all the productions you’ve taken part in, does one stand out as more challenging than the rest?
BB: Prior to Annie, there had never been a character written for an animal—there had never been an animal in a play upon whom the action depended. There had been animals used as props—walked in on-leash or carried on—but nobody ever thought you could train an animal to do something every night that conveys a story. There we were in 1976, I’m 19 years old, we’ve got young composers, and no one told us you couldn’t do that. So they wrote a character for a dog named Sandy, and I was able to deliver that performance. Since then, every show that’s written tries to push that envelope. When we did Annie, just having a dog come out on stage and do a couple of simple behaviors was revolutionary. Fast forward, and it’s like...You want Bruiser to do what? Bark how many times? Most of shows I get are trying to come up with an animal behavior that’s never been done before.

B: Do you prefer to work with female or male dogs?
BB: Fortunately, gender doesn’t matter to the character; as I’ve said to directors, if the audience is looking at the dog’s genitals, I think there’s something wrong with the play. What I’ve found over the years is that canines are very sexist—dominant males, submissive females. Generally, females are easier to train because they’re willing to be less dominant, but they’re less courageous—they roll over for anyone. I use mostly males—I’ll get a male dog and I’ll butt heads with him. It’ll take a while for him to learn who’s in charge, but once he understands that, he’s unflappable. Whereas the females, they give it up real easy, and generally, they’re more easily spooked.

B: When the dogs aren’t working, do they seem to miss the routine?
BB: I don’t find it on their days off. Where we see it have the most effect is when the show is over. Here are social creatures who go to theater every night and get loved up by 30 to 40 people. They do behaviors, get treats and have one-on-one time with me. When the show closes, they come home and they’re one of 16 or 17 dogs within our family. They get used to all that wonderful positive reinforcement, and then they come home to us and we can’t give them enough. But they settle in.

They go back to being regular dogs. I think that’s very important. When news crews come to my house, I think they’re expecting an agility course, or trainers making them do tricks. When the dogs aren’t working, they interact with one another and with us. We don’t train them on a daily basis until we have a job for them. We interact with them, make sure they follow the rules, but they go back to being dogs.

B: What’s new on the horizon?
BB: It’s been somewhat of an extraordinary year for me—people are calling it the year of the dog on the road. As a performer, you’re blessed to have a hit show once a year. We’re now opening the national tour of Legally Blonde; in two weeks, we’ll go to Florida to open the touring company of Wizard of Oz, and then after that, we go back up to North Carolina to reopen the national tour of Annie. Most of the theatres in U.S. have booked three shows that have my animals in them. Chances are that anyone attending the theatre will be seeing one (or more) of our rescued dogs onstage.

What’s even better is that the publicity around each show gives us the opportunity to do outreach on behalf of shelter and rescue dogs. Selling shows can be a hard thing, but it’s easy to sell human-interest stories, and I do it because it promotes animal welfare. The shows sell my book, and 20 percent of the proceeds from the book go to the Sandy Fund at the Humane Society of New York. Even the programs mention the source of the animal performers and encourage people to adopt. There are great animals at local shelters who need homes—adopt from a shelter or rescue group and you may find your own star.
 

Culture: DogPatch
Video: Why We Love Cats and Dogs
PBS's Nature ponders furry soul mates, best friends and surrogate children

If you turn to Nature for images of hyenas glimpsed through night goggles and God's eye views of great wildebeest migrations, you might be surprised on Sunday night, when the featured animals will be dog and cat lovers. "Why We Love Cats and Dogs" provides a serious and moving glimpse of the remarkable bonds we forge with our companion animals. Curl up with your furry buddy and discover the lengths to which other folks will go for their best friends. (Premieres Sunday, 2/15/09, at 8/7 p.m. central on most PBS stations.)

 

 

Culture: Stories & Lit
An Emotional Rescue
Katrina puppy shows couple the way back.

My husband and I live in an exclusive gated community.

We’ve recently taken up residence here, but it’s not where I envisioned we’d be at this point of our lives, him just months into his 50th year and me hot on his heels. For our gated community is a 20-by-14 rectangle with a metal gate on one doorway, an uncooperative wooden gate on another, and an old Playskool plastic fence on the third. Inside is our eat-in kitchen, and our new puppy.

We have friends enjoying gated communities luxuriously designed to encourage couples’ recreational time together—on Kiawah Island, off the coast of Miami, in the Bahamas. They have golf courses, salty oceans and fresh breezes. Outside the sliding glass door of our gated community here in Massachusetts, we have the puppy’s potty spot, way too much rain and snow, and science-defying breezes that render our entire yard downwind from that aforementioned potty spot.

Are you nuts? friends wanted to know. You’ll be looking at colleges next year with your son; why are you tying yourselves down now with a dog?

I wondered that myself. My husband and I were in striking distance of the life I’d seen in those television ads—attractive smiling couples with silver hair, feeding each other strawberries on a picnic blanket, hitting the open road in new cars, kissing and embracing over sparkling jewelry. All that freedom, that space to do whatever we want; why toss it away in a furry brown-eyed moment?

Because we didn’t need more space. We needed less. Independent spirits, my husband and I had maintained perhaps too much space throughout our married life. We’d lost each other in it. While we were working and parenting, and generally “getting ahead,” that space had devoured our easy sense of camaraderie, our safe harbor in each other’s presence, our once very present desire to simply be together.

Our at-home conversations had been streamlined to alluring one-liners thrown out in passing: “You need to break down the boxes for recycling,” “Why haven’t you talked to the accountant?” and “When are you going to do that dark wash?” Not exactly Tracy-Hepburn material. Yet I didn’t question our undying love for each other. We’d just gotten into a rut, taking care of the business of life and not taking time for the fun of it.

Enter one yellow Lab “mixed with something small.” But not because I’d figured out I needed her yet. She arrived because I was still taking care of business, upholding my end of an old, off-handed agreement. My husband, for the first time in our 19 years of married life, would not be traveling regularly for work. In fact, he’d be working from home, and at some point over the years, he had gotten me to agree that if he was ever home to help take care of a dog—yeah, right—we could get one.

I was cornered, period.

Our puppy began, before we’d even met her, by bringing my husband and I together in social accord; we could offer this small help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She and her brother and mother had been picked up off the streets in Louisiana a few months after the destruction. Spending a couple of weeks in a shelter there, she and her brother then traveled on a transport truck making stops all along the way north, to finally be delivered at the very last stop—a foster mother with a Golden Retriever rescue group in Augusta, Maine. Here is where we met her, became instantly besotted, signed the papers and brought her home.

With the very first wag of her wand of a tail, Abby began to shrink the spaces between my husband and me. Into our production-oriented lives had exploded this antithesis of business, on four wobbly legs.

My husband and I suddenly discovered that we wanted to talk all the time—about her. There had never been a cuter puppy; her rambunctious silliness was, of course, irresistible. We began joining each other in the kitchen at odd moments throughout the day to sprawl out on the floor between the gates with our new four-legged family member. And every time we joined her, Abby would wiggle her little cuddly body back and forth so hard, eyes brown and liquid—and then, in ecstasy, collapse against our legs, shove her moist nose into our hands, give us licks, and as soon as we sat down, tumble into our laps. Anything just to be close. Crazy, wonderful animal love.

Animosities had to crumble in the face of such pure and joyful adoration as Abby offered. My husband and I found it impossible to maintain our pattern, not always happy, of space and distance. We began doing more and more together, the three of us, just for fun—taking walks in the nearby field, sitting back with lawn chairs and a tasty bone to watch our son’s baseball games, clambering over the rocks at a friend’s ocean-front home to enjoy a swim. Prancing and pouncing and dog-paddling, this canine Tinkerbelle began to magically guide us … back together? I think it’s forward, together.

In shelter vernacular, our little female is called, not a rescued pup, but a rescue pup. How appropriate. For my husband and I didn’t just rescue her; she clearly rescued us, and she continues to make sure we stay rescued, every single day. Our gated community won’t show up in any glossy brochures—the now-wrinkled curtains wrapped high over the rods so she can’t chew them; the plants removed to expose bare corners; the wooden floor displaying fresh scratches, dirt, dog hair and a smelly chew bone—but it’s the only one we want to come home to.
 

Culture: DogPatch
Dog Star
Susan Orlean’s quest for the truth about Rin Tin Tin

What Susan Orlean knew about Rin Tin Tin in 2005 wouldn’t fill a sticky note. What she learned when she embarked on a story about Hollywood animal stars and their trainers for The New Yorker magazine is now filling a book. Rin Tin Tin: His True Story sprang naturally from that assignment, says the New York–based writer, discussing how she happened onto her forthcoming “biography” of the canine actor. “It was kind of accidental—one of the better ways to get onto any project.”

As with her best-seller, The Orchid Thief, Orlean has a knack for bumping into good ideas. She is known for overturning the quiet little story that might have simmered away unnoticed—the obsessive subculture of orchid-collectors, how Americans spend their Saturday nights, the life of a female matador. She has also co-authored a cookbook for dogs. So what captured her interest in such a tried-and-true subject as a pop culture star with a fan club?

Orlean attributes it to the discovery, one surprise at a time, that her assumptions about Rin Tin Tin—whom she knew only from a ’50s kids’ show—were wrong. “I thought Rin Tin Tin was just a TV figure, and had no idea he was a real dog with a real life and a real history. Every bit of reporting I did continued to surprise me on that score.”

The heroic German Shepherd, who starred in 26 movies before his death in 1932, has become more enigmatic with the years. “There are many refuted histories of Rin Tin Tin, many versions of who and what he was,” she says. What didn’t vary, from the original dog to each of his successors, was “a fixation on the character as something almost magical.” Orlean recognized in his human entourage the same “monomania” she’d encountered in the plant enthusiasts she met while working on The Orchid Thief. She became intrigued by Rin Tin Tin’s magnetism, which inspired not only his handlers, but generations of admiring fans. Was it the animal himself, or something he represented, which was also embodied in his string of successors—perhaps the enduring loyalty of an intelligent canine?

So began her three-year quest to untangle his legacy.

Her subject’s almost one-hundred-year history kept Orlean busy traveling—but the travel was “through time more than through places,” she says. Hours spent sifting through archival material made this “a very different project for me,” says the author, who is known for her intensive, in-the-moment reporting. “I did a fair amount of historical research on Orchid Thief, but never in this concentration. The main source has been all the history, the records, all the notes—more than a person.”

Lucky for Orlean, Lee Duncan, the American serviceman who brought the original Rin Tin Tin home after World War I, kept lots of notes, including carbon copies of many of his letters. “I feel in my own way I’ve gotten to know him,” Orlean says. “All the flotsam and jetsam of his life.”

Duncan found Rin Tin Tin as a pup in 1918, in a bombed-out kennel in France. He named him after a puppet called Rin Tin Tin that French children gave to American soldiers for good luck. When the war ended, the pup returned home with him to Los Angeles, where Duncan later taught him tricks that included scaling a wall nearly 12 feet high. As the story goes, his owner believed he was destined for fame.

When Duncan’s protégé successfully filled in for an unwilling wolf in the 1922 movie The Man from Hell’s River, Hollywood producers took notice. The dark-hued Shepherd would be cast as a wolf or wolf-hybrid many times after that. With his starring role in the 1923 silent film Where the North Begins, “Rinty” earned a new nickname, “the mortgage lifter,” as he rescued Warner Brothers from bankruptcy.

From 1930 to 1955, his character was heard in three different radio series, beginning with The Wonder Dog, in which he performed his own sound effects. With his death, his son, Rin Tin Tin, Jr., took over, also appearing in several short films in the 1930s. In 1947, Rin Tin Tin III starred in The Return of Rin Tin Tin, while Duncan’s Rin Tin Tin IV appeared in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, an ABC television series that ran from 1954 to 1959.

His financial success inspired imitators from other studios. “There were dozens and dozens of German Shepherds making movies in the ’20s and ’30s,” Orlean says. This copycat trend reflected “the way people consumed culture from many fewer outlets back then.” Rin Tin Tin: His True Story will cover all of the dogs—every German Shepherd actor surrounding his legacy. “He was a “huge profit machine,” she notes.

The profits didn’t end with his death in 1932 at the age of 14. Nor did the colorful stories. Of the many colliding versions of his life’s events, Orlean finds the one about his death most striking. (One of the most-cited tales has the celebrity dog cradled in the arms of actress Jean Harlow.) “There are what seems like a million stories of how and where the original Rin Tin Tin died. They get quite dramatic and extreme, and the truth is probably much more ordinary.”

As one of the first canine actors, Rin Tin Tin was considered remarkable. By today’s standards, his skills might seem less so due to developments in training techniques that have led to more believable performances. However, in her book, Silent Stars, Jeanine Basinger devotes a chapter to Rin Tin Tin that suggests otherwise: “The astonishing thing about watching Rin Tin Tin is that you begin to agree that this dog could act,” she writes.

But animal acting was hardly what it is today, with agencies in place and even a “Dog Actors Guild” with a database, searchable by breed, where those with aspiring canine actors post resumes. Another development is the American Humane Association’s involvement in monitoring the welfare of animals during the production of films and television programs. The AHA assumed this role in 1940 with the creation of its Film and Television Unit; acceptable movies and television programs now receive the “No animals were harmed” credit at the end.

The original Rin Tin Tin, though “hardly a model of breeding,” Orlean observes, was saved from genetic oblivion after the death of Lee Duncan in 1960. Earlier, endorsement, breeder Jannettia Brodsgaard had purchased several direct descendants from Duncan in an effort to maintain the line. After her death in 1988, her granddaughter continued the lineage at “El Rancho Rin Tin Tin” in Latexo, Texas.

Rin Tin Tin’s descendants are also trained as service dogs to assist special needs children. Ironically, the breed is being dropped by one major guide dog training school in favor of Retrievers, and has also been targeted in some places for breed bans for being “overly aggressive.” The Shepherd has “more connotations than many other breeds,” notes Orlean. These are, of course, undeserved stereotypes. But Orlean considers it all part of what makes Rin Tin Tin fascinating. “Collies are straightforward. They don’t have as many complexities as the German Shepherd.” And, she adds, “Labs don’t have that kind of history.”

As a child, she was obsessed with German Shepherds—“there was hardly a kid alive who didn’t want one.” But today, she says, “My taste in dogs has changed.” While we are talking by cell phone, her breed of choice bounds out of the bushes and frightens her. “It could’ve been a bear!” But in fact, it’s just a dog—Cooper, her handsome red-and-white Welsh Springer Spaniel.

Has Orlean managed to find the “true” story of Rin Tin Tin?

“I think the true story is that there is no true story, ever,” she says. “There is a story that I think is closest to what really happened, but I think much of what I’ve learned from working on this book, and much of what it’s about, is the frail and faulty nature of memory, and that truth isn’t an absolute.”

What endures is the ideal—and the longing.

“Rin Tin Tin was the ultimate in terms of embodying steadfastness, wisdom and devotion. That’s a pure emotion that people wouldn’t be able to embody, so he represents something even better than human.”

 

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