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Culture: Reviews
A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There is no doubt about it: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has led a fascinating, full life. Now in her eighth decade, she tells her story, which includes teen years in the Kalahari Desert while her parents searched for Bushmen. Not even marriage and motherhood and putting her husband through graduate school hampered her sense of adventure and zest for observation. On assignment for The New Yorker, she lived in Nigeria (taking her dogs with her) during the uprisings that plagued that African country, then went to Uganda as Idi Amin was taking over. She spent time on Canada’s remote Baffin Island studying wolves. And in 1993, she wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, the first dog book to sell 1,000,000 copies. All that, and much more, is on this remarkable woman’s resume.

Culture: Reviews
Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies
Published by Univ. of Virginia Press

The World Sheepdog Trials in Wales are the Olympics of the herding-dog world. Rather like an open-air ballet, highly trained, highly intelligent dogs move flocks of willful sheep with minimal long-distance direction from their humans. This was the rarefied environment into which Donald McCaig took his Border Collies Luke and June (the Mr. and Mrs. Dog of the title) to compete. His account of how the three of them arrived at this event spans McCaig’s 25 years of raising and training sheepdogs; he not only shares his stories, he provides a valuable commentary on living with and loving dogs.

Culture: Reviews
Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts
Published by Scientific American/FSG

When the first fully adult animal—Dolly, a sheep— was successfully cloned in 1996, it made headline news around the world. Since then, the practice of meddling in animal biology has speeded up exponentially. Humans have been tinkering with animals for centuries, of course— witness the incredible spectrum of dog breeds—but the new tools scientists have been adding to their toolboxes over the last two decades have taken that activity to a whole new level. Anthes not only reports on this phenomenon, she raises important questions about our responsibilities to animals, and about the impact of this experimentation on the living world.

Culture: Reviews
A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher
Published by Riverhead

What do you do when your bright and gregarious dog is bored senseless? Sue Halpern hit upon the perfect solution: put her to work. Pransky, Halpern’s Labradoodle, was six years old and a proven quick study when the two began training as a therapydog team. Once they began making their visits to the local “county home,” Halpern’s belief in Pransky’s skills was confirmed; her partner was very good at her job. Though the bulk of the book focuses on Pransky’s interactions with the home’s residents, Halpern also comments on our attachment to dogs, and theirs to us.

Culture: Reviews
E. B. White on Dogs
Published by Tilbury House, Publishers

This marvelous collection of classic essays, letters and assorted writings from master wordsmith E. B. White was assembled by his granddaughter and should be on the bookshelf of every person who cherishes good prose and good dogs. White, a dog enthusiast, was a keen observer, and his witty and concise writings predate the blogosphere by nearly a century. Nonetheless, his personable storytelling retains its freshness and immediacy and will charm and enlighten a new generation of dog-lovers.

Culture: Reviews
The Soul of All Living Creatures
What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human, Published by Crown
 the-soul-of-all-living-creatures

With its title calling to mind a quote from Hippocrates — “The soul is the same in all living creatures although the body of each is different” —this book is a thoroughly engaging and thoughtful consideration of the ways in which humans can benefit from closer attention to the ways of animals. Dr. Virga describes his conversion from emergency room clinician to behavioral vet medicine, then shares his experiences treating problems experienced by animals both domestic and exotic. His insights into the animal mind have the potential to inform our relationships with our own companion animals.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Possibility Dogs
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Possibility Dogs - Susannah Charleson

One of our favorite books was Charleson’s first, Scent of the Missing, about training both herself and her dog, Puzzle, for search-and-rescue work. This time, in The Possibility Dogs, she takes a similar approach but refocuses it on training dogs (all of whom are rescues) for psychiatric service and therapy duty. She learns how to evaluate dogs in order to find those who might have the right personality for this activity; for many shelter dogs, this is literally a lifesaver. Not only is the book a testament to the strength of the human-dog bond, but also, an informative training guide and a truly inspiring personal story.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Wilderness
Published by Bloomsbury
Lance Weller, Wilderness

Wilderness is an achingly beautiful book. It takes you deep into the heart of a Civil War veteran scarred by nearly unspeakable tragedies and losses, and traces his ultimate redemption, which begins the moment a red-blond dog steps out of the forest and into the light of his cook fire.

When we meet this man, Abel Truman, he lives in a shack by the sea on the wild coast of Washington state, alone save for his dog. Old and sick, haunted by memories, he sets out to cross the mountains to make peace with his past. As Abel and the dog make their way through the rugged landscape, we learn Abel’s story in a series of flashbacks: the events that shattered his young family, the astonishing carnage of the Battle of the Wilderness, the former slave who nursed him afterward.

Once Abel begins his journey, his dog—and a mysterious wolf-dog who slips in and out of the tale—leads him in directions he never intended to take. The animals move him to take risks and reconsider his past, and to safeguard the life of an orphaned child.

Weller writes beautifully; his descriptions of the landscapes are nothing short of magnificent. So are his descriptions of the dogs, and of the bond between humans and dogs. The wolf-dog harries an elk, Weller writes, “low to the ground, moving like water over stones.” Abel, seeing that his dog is sick, feels “something break apart inside him.”

Though the book contains violence and cruelty, it has tenderness, kindness and wisdom at its core. It’s true and deep, funny and real. Ultimately, it evokes the essential ways that dogs weave their way into our lives: as sentinels, guides, companions and catalysts for crucial turning points in our journeys.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs
The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs

It’s refreshing to read a novel whose protagonist is a small-town veterinarian, and who better to write such a book than Nick Trout, surgeon at Boston’s Angell Animal Medical Center, author of three nonfiction books and Bark contributor as well!

In The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, a down-on-his-luck veterinary pathologist, Cyrus Mills, comes home to Vermont with the intention of selling his estranged, recently deceased father’s vet practice. Things don’t exactly go the way he thought they would, however. His dad’s imprudent business ways— among them, rarely asking his clients for payment and becoming the town’s “patron saint of lost dogs”—leaves little for Cyrus to recoup.

The novel has seven chapters, one for each day of Cyrus’s first week in town, during which a mean-spirited bank manager tries to collect on a huge debt. With good-natured tutoring from a much older vet, Cyrus refocuses his skills on living animals; he also discovers how important both his patients and the community can be to him. As he learns how to be a country vet, he uses his pathologist’s insights to correctly diagnose more than one tricky condition.

This all makes for a charming and engrossing reading experience, one with —dare we say it?—great cinematic potential.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Animal Wise
The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures
Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

This enthralling book might change the way we perceive other species who share the planet with us. Animal Wise is a spinoff of a 2008 article the author wrote for National Geographic about how animals think.

As you read through Morell’s conversations with some of the top researchers in the biological sciences, you cannot help but feel slightly envious. How fortunate she was to have had an assignment that took her to (among other places) Kenya, Venezuela, Australia, England and Japan, and to spend time with scientists and their animals, plus learn about their field studies firsthand. We’re lucky that Morell is such an able and enthusiastic storyteller and can deftly interpret complicated theses and theories for us.

She explores what these researchers have discovered about the mental and emotional lives of animals ranging from ants and trout to parrots, elephants, dogs and many others. She went in search of the “minds of animals to better grasp how the other creatures around us perceive and understand the world.” Not, as others have done, to see how unique the human mind is, which we learn is not all that much.

The book opens with the smallest subjects, rock ants who use complicated social communication skills to teach other ants. Next up are fish, who also learn from one another. Amazingly, parrots each have their own names, and have “conversations” with flock friends. And, yes, rats laugh; elephants mourn; and fish, alas, feel pain (in fact, trout have 22 pain receptor cells on their heads alone). Morrell shares these findings, and many others, with a journalistic sense of having a front-row seat, and it makes for a compelling read.

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