One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper)
In Amy Sutherland’s thoroughly researched and engaging Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper), the author delves into what life is like for dogs and the people who care for them in shelters throughout the country. She does an excellent job covering the myriad issues connected with this topical and critical subject. From the chapters such as “Great Migration”— southern dogs transported to new homes up north, in lieu of local shelter dogs—to “Keeping Dogs Home,” which explores shelters’ strategies for dissuading owners from surrendering dogs, Sutherland seems to cover most of the salient issues.
Years of volunteering at shelters in Maine and with Boston’s Animal Rescue League gave her a front-row seat on the subject. Good journalist that she is, she broadened her information base by traveling around the U.S. and interviewing leading experts, animal behaviorists and dedicated activists in the shelter and rescue world, probing for their best ideas and strategies.
Sutherland introduces us to a few of the notable dogs she met along the way; their case studies provide invaluable insights into the importance, and the challenges, of finding new homes for dogs like them. She has also fostered a number of dogs, and adopted two, seriously under-socialized, Penny Jane and shelter-stressed Walter Joe. We learn how she and her husband worked to integrate these dogs, with their very individual personalities, into their lives.
It is to Sutherland’s great credit that she tends to this subject matter with the care and attention it merits, crafting a dour subject into an engrossing, and at times, entertaining read. Yes, a book about shelters and homeless dogs can be difficult, but it can also be life affirming and exhilarating.
If you’ve ever thought of volunteering at a shelter, fostering or adopting a shelter dog, this book may provide you with the impetus and inspiration to do it now. If you are already involved in the rescue or shelter community, you may encounter an alternative that could help in your work. Regardless, this is an invaluable book for all dog lovers. Shelters have changed a lot in the past 20 years, with many innovative approaches coming from that community. This book is Sutherland’s way of sharing what she learned, and it can help save precious lives.
Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People (2nd ed.)
I want to call your attention to what is likely the most current and comprehensive summary of all things dog, or all things dogs. This muchanticipated update of Dr. Serpell’s encyclopedic book builds on the strengths of the first edition. Among other things, it incorporates two decades of new evidence and discoveries on canine evolution, behavior, training and human interaction. It also includes seven entirely new chapters covering topics such as behavioral modification, population management, molecular evidence for dog domestication, behavioral genetics, cognition, and the impact of free-roaming dogs on wildlife conservation.
In the big picture category, its very useful comparative informat ion on wild canids contributes to a greater appreciation and understanding of just who dogs are and why they do the things they do, and the references are a gold mine of information. The epilogue, “The Tail of the Dog,” provides a detailed summary of what we know and don’t know about these amazing beings.
I hope all dog trainers will carefully study this book, because the ideas and data that are discussed are essential ingredients for teaching dogs to live harmoniously with other dogs, with other animals and with us. An ideal volume for anyone interested in dogs and their evolution, behavior and ever-changing roles in society, The Domestic Dog is inarguably the canine go-to reference.
A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria)
A memoir by Patricia McConnell, one of the world’s leading certified applied animal behaviorists and a pro in working with aggressive and fearful dogs, is the second of the two new arrivals. The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria) is quite unlike her previous work. While her astute, hawk-eye attention to canine behavioral matters is found in abundance, we also learn more about the author herself.
The Education of Will runs on parallel tracks. On one track is her Border Collie, Will, who presents McConnell with a whole host of behavioral and health-related challenges. It is difficult to comprehend just how misaligned this little guy was, even as a very young pup.
As she tells us, when she decided it was time for another Border Collie, McConnell did all the right things: she went to a reputable breeder; she knew both parent dogs; and, since she’d had other working Border Collies, she definitely understood the breed. Despite this, she still wound up with a dog whose unpredictable, furious outbursts “shook her to her core.” (This is in itself a valuable lesson for those who might be skeptical about adopting a shelter dog because of the possibility of behavioral problems; as Will demonstrated, opting for a well-bred puppy is no guarantee you’ll avoid them.)
The book’s other track follows the human end of the leash. While working with Will, McConnell realized that she needed to come to terms with her own fears, and the ways earlier traumas had informed her behavior—that in order to heal her fearful, reactive dog, she had to heal herself as well.
What has always set McConnell apart from others in her field is her ability to point out the fascinating parallels between canine behaviors and our own, including the cognitive and emotional lives of both species. In this book, she dives even deeper into such comparisons. For me, her insights into her troubled Border Collie’s behavior (as well as that of other dogs she’s treated) are the book’s most compelling aspect.
McConnell offers the case of Aladdin as an example of how a dog’s aggression can be set off by triggers. Aladdin’s sunny disposition would change in an instant once she put on sunglasses. As she noted, “To Aladdin, I had morphed instantly from a relaxed, benevolent acquaintance into a … potentially dangerous one. Aladdin was just going to get me first, before I could get him.” This was a relatively straightforward case; once she discovered the trigger, she could devise a treatment plan. Will’s issues, unfortunately, were not that simple.
This book speak eloquently on the benefits of opening your heart to dogs, and reclaiming lives in the process.
A breathtakingly honest memoir
The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog is everything you expect from well-known canine behaviorist and best-selling/award-winning author Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., but it is also so much more. What you presume would be included is indeed there—insights about dogs from science as well as from her own experiences, research into the physiology of behavior and personal stories. If you love learning about dogs through McConnell’s combination of science and tales from real life, you will love this book, and yet this is more than a book about dogs.
It’s a breathtakingly honest memoir from a woman whose upbeat personality, intelligence, success and sense of humor have largely hidden the pain and darkness in her life from others. It takes bravery to share such deeply personal and traumatic details from her life. Readers, even those who know McConnell’s work well, will be struck by how vulnerable she makes herself and how personal this book is. They will learn how much she had to overcome to become the successful person she has long been and to find the happiness that is a far more recent accomplishment.
It’s artfully written, showing her maturity as an author, and true to form, it shows how intricately her life and well-being are intertwined with the dogs in her life. The fear and anxiety she has struggled with for much of her life actually became worse when her Border Collie Will entered her life. His fear and reactivity created all sorts of problems, including exacerbating her own struggles to overcome multiple traumas. She was forced to deal with not just his issues, but her own as well, and the book is the story of how they both moved forward towards happiness, joy and love. Their journey together has had many setbacks, has required a seemingly endless reservoir of hard work and patience, and will never truly be over.
The beauty and power of the book come from the way McConnell weaves her own narrative into that of dogs in general and her dog Will in particular. It is a compelling story that’s both hopeful and sad, as well as gut-wrenching and inspiring. The Education of Will offers insight and understanding into struggles with true terror, guilt, shame and fear, allowing readers to empathize with such experiences and to understand them better. Though it is a serious book about a serious topic, the warmth and humor in McConnell’s writing make it as enjoyable to read as it is riveting.
Any time Alexandra Horowitz releases a new book is cause for celebration here at Bark. We’ve been fans since her 2009 hit, Inside of a Dog, and have continued to follow her work as she uncovers new insights into our co-pilots’ internal lives and external behaviors.
In addition to teaching psychology, canine cognition and creative non-fiction at Barnard College, Columbia University, she also leads the college’s Dog Cognition Lab.
Her new book, Being a Dog, delves deeply into the primacy of dogs’ sense of smell, and we talk with her about what she found.
Bark: Has anyone studied why some dogs are better at smelling than others —is it genetic or is it drive?
Alexandra Horowitz: Everything I’ve seen points to drive being the major indicator of whether a dog will be good as a detection dog: drive to find the odor, to keep working when frustrated, to get to the reward (like a game with a tug toy) at the episode’s end.
This is not to say that breed is irrelevant: some breeds are naturally more driven to pursue an odor relentlessly, or are driven to do whatever it takes to get a game of toss with a tennis ball. And some dogs—like Bloodhounds and Beagles—have more olfactory cells in their noses and more equipment around their faces (long ears, drooly jowls) to help bring odors up the nose. They may smell odors at lower levels.
Curiously, though, the notion that certain breeds are inevitably better at detection work than others hasn’t been borne out. It’s tradition more than science.
B: I was once told by a woman who handles tracking Coon Hounds that dogs can show a preference for how they scent; talking about the same breed, she said some sniff the ground, while others prefer sniffing the air. Have you observed individual differences in the same breed in your research?
AH: Absolutely. Different dogs have different sniffing tactics; “on the air” or “on the ground” are the two ways dogs try to pursue a scent. Often, though, these are distinguished by task, not by dog—that is, if a dog is tracking a distant (old) scent, on the ground makes more sense; the odor is probably no longer in the air. But a dog trying to locate someone/something who has recently passed by will be air-scenting.
B: Can adult dogs can identify their littermates or their mother by smell?
AH: In theory, this would be trivially easy for dogs. All dogs have their own “signature scents” (as do we, to dogs), so there would be no trouble distinguishing dogs of one’s litter from other dogs. Now, the question of whether an adult dog who has been separated for years from her littermates/family can recognize them is a different question: it’s more about memory than about perceptual ability. Memory is fallible in humans, and it is fallible in dogs. We forget. So it’s quite possible that, even having known one’s family by scent, it would be later forgotten. (But there is also good reason to believe that a trace would remain—that distant memory one cannot quite place.)
B: While you note in your new book that puppies at the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania aren’t formally trained until a certain age, they do receive some kind of training, right?
AH: Yes, they are being “trained” to some degree: I think Dr. Otto and the Penn Working Dog Center trainers would agree when I say they are being trained to be good general-purpose working dogs. As I describe in my book, I saw dogs being put through their paces in lots of different (what were to them) games: find the missing person, find the hidden scent. They are being exposed to unusual sounds and environments and getting acclimated to them. They are learning the skills of detecting something, working with someone, and loving it. And they do.
B: Do working dogs get nose fatigue— do they reach a point at which they can no longer reliably follow a scent? If so, what do the pros do to work around that?
AH: The phenomenon of the nose no longer noticing an odor—adaptation —happens to us within minutes. Walk into a coffee shop, take in its familiar odors and a few minutes later, you might smell … almost nothing. The receptor cells in the nose that noticed the odor simply stopped responding after continued exposure.
The cells in the dog’s nose work similarly, but any dog employed as a detection dog is doing something different. Because they continue to sniff different areas of the odor “scene,” their noses won’t turn off to the smell. Tracking dogs are also known to simply lift their noses from the ground once in a while and sniff the air, as though to clear their noses.
On the other hand, working dogs certainly get fatigued from too much stimulation and too much exertion. Handlers know their dogs and will read their dogs’ responses to know when they need a break.
B: In the book K9 Scent Training by Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak (leading specialists in identification, tracking and detection-dogs), I read that female dogs are better at smelling than males. Did this also come up in your research? Any idea if the same can be said for our species?
AH: Gerritsen and Haak are great resources on detection-dog training and skills. I suspect their assessment comes directly from their own and other trainers’ experience with dogs. I don’t doubt it, though I don’t believe that the question has been formally tested. Interestingly, women are often said to be “better smellers” than men, and research does bear this out (on average, of course).
B: I’m quite curious about the canine visual sense vis-à-vis their olfactory sense, especially for dogs of the sporting breed. When our Wirehaired Pointer is out in the field, she seems to rely primarily on her sense of smell; sometimes a rabbit’s been sitting just a few feet from her, but she doesn’t see it, or even seem to smell it. Is it “I can’t smell it so I don’t see it”?
AH: As with us, dogs’ senses work together. Only for dogs, olfaction takes priority. From that point of view, you can imagine how vision might aid smelling: if a dog detects an odor on the breeze, she can then look up and try to locate, with her eyes, the source of that odor (and then head toward it for closer sniffing!). When I watched the dogs at the Penn Working Dog Center do a “person search” for people hidden in large PVC barrels in a large field, the dogs used vision to guide them while smelling: first, they followed their eyes to head toward the barrels, then followed their noses to identify which one held a person.
A dog who is sniffing in the grass to a hidden ball (or rabbit) that is perfectly “visible” to someone else nearby is simply using olfaction first. By sniffing in the whole area around the hidden object, she creates an on-the-fl y map of where the object is; the closer she gets, the stronger the odor is. Sometimes, dogs rely on that much longer than we would expect before bringing fuller attention to what they see to aid their search.
B: I’m trying to train one of my dogs, Charlie, to find the poop of his housemate Kit while we’re out in the park; he’s actually pretty good at it. I started doing this after I noticed that he likes to pee on her fresh poop, and only on hers. How would you recommend I boost his proficiency level? And why the peeing on it?
AH: “Find poop!” Great game. And lots of dogs would be pretty good at it. Since Charlie started doing this behavior on his own, clearly little shaping was needed. The only task is pairing it with a request (like “find poop”) and making him aware that what he’s doing—which to him is “following that interesting smell”—is something that’s also valuable to you, so he’ll do it whenever you ask. If he’s not doing it reliably, then he doesn’t see its value to you. Better rewards! More reliable rewards! (But you and every good behavior reader know that.) And, taking a cue from working-dog handlers, you could pair an “alert” behavior—sitting, barking and so forth—so that he tells you when he’s found it.
What I learned from Sam Wasser, who trains dogs to find wildlife scat, is that what’s often difficult in training in the field (and you’re always “in the field”!) is to know yourself if the dog has alerted on the right scat. Once they are confident of their dogs’ alert, and don’t accept partial alerts, handlers can reward only for the correct scat.
As for his peeing on the poo, that’s a question I don’t think science has directly tackled. But we know that marking isn’t territorial in dogs; it seems to be information-leaving. It could be that a nice pile of stinky poo is a good place to leave your own mark.
B: Besides enrolling our dogs in nosework classes, what do you recommend that we do to tap into their world of smell and enrich their lives?
AH: Let them smell. If you live with a dog, start thinking about what the world is like from an olfactory point of view. Let them smell you (you are your scent, to your dog), let them smell each other (that’s how they find out who it is), and let them smell the world. Take walks for smelling (not just for peeing, or for exercise). The pleasure that comes from watching a dog snuffling down a path, nose to the ground and nose in the air, guided by nothing more than the filaments of odors that come his way, is to me unmatched.
Following the Dog into a World of Smell
Back in 2009, Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside of a Dog, made it to the top of every bestseller list. Heralded in this magazine and by others who wanted to learn what it means to be a dog, it delivered on the promise of its subtitle: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. It also introduced many of us to the concept of Umwelt—another’s perception of the world—coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll.
Imagining what it is to be a dog and to enter a dog’s subjective world was, and still is, an entrancing prospect. What better guide to the “inside of a dog” than a comparative cognitive scientist like Horowitz? She writes in a clear vernacular: accessible, erudite, poetic and downright friendly. No wonder her first book became such a sensation.
And now we have her new book, Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, which not only delves deeper into dogs’ amazing sense of smell, but also considers the human olfactory capacity, even if it is rather paltry compared with that of dogs. Truly understanding another species requires that, as ethologist Frans de Waal has explained, “we need to try to step outside our own narrow Umwelt and apply our imagination to theirs.” That is exactly what Horowitz brings to her books.
Similar to recent books such as Being a Beast by Charles Foster (where the author literally lived underground as a badger), or Thomas Thwaites’ excursion into the Umwelt of goats in GoatMan, in Being a Dog, Horowitz learns to polish her own sense of smell. She undertakes this quest not only to better understand what she might be missing, but also, to get a glimmer of how dogs’ noses help them navigate their world. The book begins with a look at the canine nose, which “is rich in a way we humans once knew about, once acted on, but have since neglected.” Following the lead of her two dogs, she puts her “nose to the places the dog nose goes.”
We all love factoids about dogs, and this book delivers a trove of them: Dogs scratch up the ground after they poop in order to transmit their personal message to other dogs; their paw pads have scent glands and digging spreads their odor, broadcasting their signal far and wide (canine social networking in action).
Wagging tails serve a similar purpose, spreading the scent from their anal sacs. They smell when they dream; watch their nostrils twitch. Dogs rarely mark over their own urine postings. Males like to sniff tail areas first, while females prefer to start with faces.
We learn about the physiognomy of their smelling instrument, from nostrils (nares) to olfactory epithelium and vomeronasal organ, or VNO, and up to the brain’s olfactory bulb. When they sniff, they start with either the right or left nostril, depending on what they’re investigating. Unlike other senses, nostrils are ipsilateral, meaning that an odor entering the right nostril goes to the right side of the brain for processing, and one entering the left goes to the left side.
Horowitz takes us on a grand tour of scent-work professionals, from the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Washington’s scat-detection dogs, with stops along the way to visit other working and detection dogs. At the book’s end, she treats her dog Finnegan to classes in nosework, which quickly become what she calls his “Favorite Place on Earth.” Definitely something in which all our dogs would love to partake.
It seems that for most of us, smelling isn’t something we practice much. One of the most remarkable comparisons she draws is the difference in the endowment of olfactory sensory cells (epithelium) between humans and dogs. As she explains, “If his olfactory epithelium were spread out along the outer surface of the dog’s body, it would completely cover it. In humans, ours would about cover a mole on our left shoulder.”
While we have a long way to go to catch up with our dogs, by the book’s end, the author has us tapping into our puny epithelium, sniffing and snuff ling. We thank Alexandra Horowitz for providing this inspiration.
Run, Spot, Run
By Jessica Pierce (U of Chicago Press)
Bioethicist Jessica Pierce, whose book The Last Walk thoughtfully and honestly explored end-of-life care, dying and euthanasia for companion animals through her experience with her own much-loved dog, now takes on another sensitive subject. As in that book, in her new one she also addresses questions we rarely think about—or want to think about. Foremost among them is the morally ambiguous practice of keeping pets in the first place. Writing clearly, and clearly from the heart, she avoids academic jargon and provides us with reasons to really think about what we’re doing when we take animals into our lives.
The Pit Bull Life
By Deirdre Franklin and Linda Lombardi (The Countrymen Press)
A colorfully illustrated and thoughtful consideration of a type of dog who was once considered quintessentially American. Today, however, the words “Pit Bull” have become shorthand for something to be feared. The authors trace that transition and, continuing Franklin’s long-standing advocacy, inject the facts about these cheerful, resilient dogs into the national discussion. In doing so, they also provide a primer for Pit Bull owners, and potential owners.
By Neil Abramson (Center Street)
In this novel, the author considers the balance between fear and compassion, and the ways politically expedient solutions threaten everyone. The story centers on a sanctuary for unwanted, abused and abandoned dogs in New York City and the veterinarian who operates it. When a dangerous and unknown virus spreads though their neighborhood, the sanctuary’s dogs are presumed to be the carriers, putting them and the people who protect them in even greater jeopardy. The pace is intense and the characters well drawn.
The Secret Language of Dogs
By Victoria Stilwell (Ten Speed Press)
In her new book, trainer Victoria Stilwell wants to help us understand what our dogs are telling us via their expressions, vocalizations and behaviors. A proponent of positive reinforcement training, Stilwell not only describes these various methods of communication but also, provides tips on ways to respond to them.
By Janet Vorwald Dohner (Storey Publishing)
An in-depth and beautifully illustrated breed guide to a hard-working class of dogs, Farm Dogs is hard to resist even if you live in a city apartment only big enough for a Chihuahua. In addition to familiar breeds such as the Jack Russell, German Shepherd and Border Collie, Dohner also discusses a number of more exotic types, including the Berger Picard, Mudi and the wildly dreadlocked Puli. She also offers pointers on puppy selection, adult rescue, socialization and training.
Home Alone—And Happy!
By Kate Mallatratt (Hubble & Hattie)
This highly illustrated book from the UK provides lots of good advice for preventing canine separation anxiety, which is far more challenging to fix than to avoid. The author, compassionately considering the subject through a dog’s eyes, suggests that teaching a dog how to be emotionally stable is more important than teaching him how to sit or heel. In this book, she shows us how to do it.
To Raymond and Lorna Coppinger and their chief hagiographer at the New York Times, James Gorman, who wrote a fawning profile of the pair recently, the vast majority of the world’s 1-billion dogs all look alike because they have evolved to fill the ecological niche of village dump-diver or biological garbage disposal. Like all of Raymond Coppinger’s books, many of them co-authored, What Is a Dog? is a reductionist work of illogic that relies on simplistic scientific arguments and pre sent ism, manifest here in the assumption that the present circumstances of street dogs or village dogs have always been thus. The argument is grounded in Ray Coppinger’s belief that dogs cannot possibly have evolved from gray wolves because they look nothing like large northern wolves who feed on caribou, moose and other large animals. Were he to compare those 30-pound street dogs to the small desert wolf, he might find something different.
At the base of this book lies the Coppingers’ notion—wrong in all regards—that dogs are a species unto themselves and began to appear some 7,000 years ago, a time coincident with the first dog burials. The first dog burials in the archaeological record date to 12,000 or more years ago. The Coppingers also misrepresent or ignore evidence that dogs evolved from a gray wolf, most likely a now extinct subspecies, and continued to crossbreed for thousands of years with wolves who arose about the same time dogs did. Genes flowed from wolves to dogs and dogs to wolves. In some parts of the world, the crossbreeding continues. In the Caucasus, for example, wolves and livestock-guarding dogs are still interbreeding.
The Coppingers take what can only be described as an ahistorical view of the dog-human relationship. They seem to believe it has always resembled the current model of the dog occupying the niche of garbage disposal and occasional early warning system for incoming human or nonhuman predators. Some attention is paid to the system of transhumance—the seasonal movement of sheep between mountain and lowland pastures—but nearly nothing is said about other historic and traditional uses of dogs in particular cultures. Having spent most of their book arguing that 85 percent of the world’s 1-billion dogs are street/village dogs—the rest being human-created purebreds or their crosses—that all look the same and occupy the same niche, the Coppingers leave themselves little room for a serious discussion of just who dogs are.
After losing her sister to gastric cancer, Arlene Weintraub—science writer, investigative reporter and lifelong dog lover—embarked on a two-year personal and professional journey, delving deeply into the world of comparative oncology. During that time, she visited eight universities and interviewed scientists, medical doctors, veterinarians, researchers, professors and dog owners.
Comparative oncology is a research initiative that recruits dogs with cancer to generate new and improved treatments for humans and their canine best friends. As Weintraub notes, “Genetically speaking, our canine companions are more closely related to us than we realize.” Comparable to those who take part in human clinical trials, the dogs in these studies have few options; standard treatments are too costly and/or do not work, which ultimately leads their owners to seek out experimental drug trials. Also like humans, the lucky ones have years added to their lives, while others do not fare as well.
Weintraub begins her research with 206 dogs who participated in a 2001 medical trial in search of an approved product to treat cancer in canines. As a result of these trials, Palladia, a groundbreaking first-ever drug, was accepted by the FDA for use in the treatment of canine mast cell tumors. Based upon these successful studies, the drug Sutent was later developed to shrink a broad spectrum of mast cell tumors in humans, with the potential for long-term survival. In subsequent chapters, Weintraub describes other success stories. The efficacy of the trials, the cutting-edge treatments and the people involved are well documented.
Her interviews are up close and personal. We come to understand the struggle involved in getting a drug tested and approved, as well as the personal agony of people who are facing the loss of their much-loved companion animals. Behind the data is a bigger question: how far will we, as pet owners, go to have more time with our dogs and cats? And at what cost emotionally?
At every turn, Weintraub shows us the correlation between human and animal healing, and weaves in the story of her own healing from the loss of her sister. The dogs she encounters during her research become her comfort, restoring her faith in science as they pave the way to unlocking cancer’s mysteries and, ultimately, making it a less frightening diagnosis.
New Points of View of Shelter Dogs
Two new books, both well-investigated works, merit your attention. The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene is a fascinating, absorbing and inspirational read about the power of love to help those in need, while The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin introduces an out-of-thebox idea involving a rating system that just might change how we get our dogs. Both are out just in time to make it to the top of your summer must-read list.
Greene’s book is an examination of the power of the bond between dogs and children with disabilities, but its purview extends much further. The two-time National Book Award nominee interweaves personal stories of children, their families and a few unforgettable dogs with current research and scientific findings on the cognitive and emotional lives of dogs and the human/ canine bond. The main story revolves around a remarkable woman, Karen Shirk, and the service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, that she founded in 1998. It was the first organization to train skilled service dogs with public access for young children.
We learn how Shirk’s own experience —developing myasthenia gravis as a young adult and being saved by a dog —motivated and inspired her to become a leading advocate for service dogs for young children with disabilities. 4 Paws trains dogs for highly specialized work, including seizure alert, mobility assistance and autism assistance; the goal is to never exclude a child “because a disability did not fit in a box.”
Greene profiles some of the families who have been benefited profoundly by graduates of this program; their compelling and uplifting stories pull on your heartstrings. Just how this connection between a dog and a child is established, and what motivates dogs to bond so deeply to their young charges speaks volumes for the intensity of crossspecies attachment.
Some of these dogs are truly are underdogs, adopted from shelters and trained in a nearby prison-based program. In a chapter called “Prison Dogs,” we have a good example of how adroitly Greene blends congruent storylines— those of the families and their children with, in this case, stories of the importance of the dogs to the inmates, along with overviews of research into “why humans feel happier in the presence of dogs.” Greene is a gifted and caring storyteller, and she gives her subjects the intelligence and warmth they deserve. This all makes for absorbing, pleasurable and inspirational reading.
In Kavin’s Dog Merchants, subtitled Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers, she investigates the various channels through which dogs are purchased—keeping in mind that there are differences of scale between those who broker commercial puppy sales and those who provide shelter/rescue adoptions. Both, however, involve financial transactions. Her basic premise is that we as buyers need to be aware of our marketplace choices. Through crowdsourcing our views, she says, we might be able to make a difference. “We need to be conscious consumers when it comes to our dogs. None of us likes to think of our beloved dog as a product, but legally and financially, that is what dogs are.”
In the first half of the book, she takes us behind the scenes of the commercial dog world, from dog auctions to dog shows like Westminster (of which she is no great fan), breeders and the largescale brokers who provide overpriced puppies to pet stores. The second half focuses on rescuers and shelters, and what makes some of them more successful than others. The book also has a very useful chapter with questions that ought to be asked of breeders or shelters before getting a dog.
Kavin has developed a companion website, dogmerchants.com, that has listings for thousands of breeders and rescuers/shelters, and is now taking reviews and your suggestions. Might this change the way dogs are marketed? Will negative reviews actually expose those breeders or other “dog merchants” and have an impact on the way they do business? Will it hold them to account? Will it promote those who receive positive reviews? Kavin is definitely putting a lot of effort into weeding out the bad and “making the world a better place for dogs.” We can only hope that this works. While we might have questions about how the comments on the site are being vetted, we do applaud her for both it and her book.
See our Q&A with Kavin and read an excerpt from Dog Merchants, plus read an excerpt from The Underdogs.
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