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Culture: Reviews
Two Dogs and a Parrot

This small volume of “lessons” and ref lections is written by a Benedictine nun who loves and appreciates animals. In it, she illuminates the signif icance that dogs and other pets have had in her life. Each chapter begins with a story of what an animal did to inspire qualities such as acceptance, purpose, enjoyment, empathy and diversity (plus many others). Each vignette is followed by a consideration of the importance those qualities should have in our lives. Not surprisingly, the book is constructed much like a sermon, but one that’s offered with a very tender, and at times humorous, tone.

In her introduction, she relates how “spiritually profound” she finds the question of “what it means to be entrusted with nature, to live with a pet.” She also notes that there are two creation stories in Genesis. The more widely known suggests that humans were assigned “dominion” over other living creatures and nature. The other, she points out, tells us that animals were brought to Adam to be named; her take on this may differ from what many others have interpreted as having “power over them.”

The second creation story is actually older than the first, and Chittister construes it more generously—she feels that to name “is an act of relationship, not dominance.” She also makes the important point that if we look at a creation story as a relationship tale, it “inserts us into the animal world and animals into ours—with everything that implies about interdependence.” The book goes on to illustrate this perfectly. You don’t need to be spiritually inclined to find significance in it and to take inspiration from it.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Killing Trail

Foiling drug trafficking in Colorado’s high country keeps Deputy Mattie Lou Cobb and Robo, her K9 partner, on the run. But when Robo alerts to another, more ominous, scent—the remains of a teenage girl— the stakes get higher. The tightly plotted puzzle, which also involves a local vet, his daughter and a town’s dark secrets, scrolls out from there. Mizushima not only has a deft touch with dialogue, she’s also done her homework on the training and handling of law-enforcement dogs. This debut novel, with its bright, dedicated human and canine protagonists, is a promising first entry in what we hope becomes a series.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Sire and Damn

We always welcome a new work from Susan Conant, one of the founding “dams” (along with Carol Lea Benjamin) of the dog mystery subgenre. A lover of all dogs, but with a special fondness for Malamutes, Conant has written another intriguing tale full of dogs, wit and keen insights into the foibles and follies of human behavior. Holly Winter’s good friend is getting married, and amid the hubbub and multitudes of visiting relatives, the bride’s dog is stolen. Not only that, a burglar is killed and a service dog might be next on the hit list. But as always, Holly and her fearless Rowdy not only solve the crime, they also prevent another from happening.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Considerations for the City Dog

One would expect that a Boston-based, certified dog trainer’s first book would be about training a dog for city life, but McGrath’s is not a training guide. Instead, she explores bigger and broader subjects: how to be a responsible urban dog person and how to ensure that our relationships with our dogs are successful and fulfilling. She takes on subjects like breaches in dog-owner etiquette and other societal challenges that normally don’t come up in basic training class. We owe it to our dogs to read this resource-rich, highly informative handbook. As McCue-McGrath reminds us, we need to “know where they are coming from and what they need, and how to make their lives better,” which includes living in harmony with others in our communities.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Drifter

Although this debut thriller isn’t about a dog per se, it does have a memorable and wellconceived canine character. Mingus, a large and rather ferocious dog, is hiding under a porch, awaiting his owner’s return when he is discovered by ex-marine Peter Ash. Ash is a war veteran plagued with his own devils who nonetheless works to help other vets and their families. Mingus lends his ample talents to assist Ash in his mission in this gripping, action-packed novel.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Sit! Stay! Speak!

This author has much to recommend her to Bark readers, including her decade-long work in animal rescue and this charming debut novel. Sit! Stay! Speak! introduces us to a troubled young woman, Addie Andrews, who relocates from Chicago to a small town in Arkansas after her fiancé tragically dies just before their wedding. She inherits her aunt’s house, which is sorely in need of her DIY skills. As she tries to find solace in restoration work, she is drawn out of her self-imposed seclusion when she finds a bedraggled Pit pup who needs her kindness and love even more. This is a touching and engaging book about friendships, family and the power of dogs to inspire changes in our lives.

Culture: Reviews
Finding Home
Finding hope and love with memorable shelter dogs

Photographer Traer Scott follows up her groundbreaking book Shelter Dogs with a new work of equal grace and sensitivity. The portraits in Finding Home not only showcase a collection of canines with indomitable character and spirit, they are also an eloquent plea for more adoptive families, and a tribute to all dogs everywhere. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the book is scheduled for release in October.

I no longer believe there are truly bad dogs in the world … only misunderstood, lost and confused souls. I consider it my job to do everything in my power to get them a second chance. On tough days, I look at all of the dogs who have found amazing homes and use that as a gentle reminder to myself that what I do matters … even if only to one or two dogs, every once in a while. It’s not about saving them all—it’s about giving them fair shots and never losing compassion for these incredible and selfless creatures.

—Bethany Nassef, Dog Coordinator, Providence Animal Rescue League

The ASPCA reports that 35 percent of dogs entering shelters are adopted and 31 percent are euthanized.

For shelters, rescues and the dogs they house and care for, many factors go into determining rates of adoption versus euthanasia: geographic location, breed, history, temperament, legislation and, many times, just sheer dumb luck. Ultimately, all policies and politics aside, the reason that so many of the dogs in this book made it is because the groups that I worked with are highly effective.

While we should absolutely work to save the dogs who are right here right now, we should also think about how we can make truly lasting change. By supporting humane legislation, we will put laws in place to regulate and punish those people who will never care at all about dogs, and through community outreach and targeted humane education, we can reach new generations and create a future of people who do.

Take heart: it is working. 

 

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: No Better Friend
One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII

There’s no denying it: war is hell. In No Better Friend by Robert Weintraub, we once again are confronted by the god-awful truth behind that expression. But we also learn about the true nature of grit, resiliency, courage and, in this case, the strength of the bond between man and dog.

This inspirational story revolves around an English Pointer born in 1936 in Shanghai, who became a mascot on one of the many English gunboats that patrolled the Yangtze River. At first called Shudi, Chinese for peaceful, she became Judy, and was adopted by the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Gnat.

Although the crew hoped that Judy would be a good hunting companion, it quickly became clear that her talents didn’t lie in that direction. But she was able to put her alertness, intelligence and intense drive to use by barking alarms at sewer ships (“cess boats”) and river pirates—even defending against onboard invaders. After 1937 and the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, she ratcheted up her early-warning system, signaling when fighter planes were approaching.

How she became the war’s only official canine POW is a long story, and one best left for readers to discover for themselves. Suffice it to say that Judy, who was, as Weintraub describes, “a fiercely loyal dog, with a keen sense for who was friend and who was foe,” performed many memorable feats (see excerpt).

After Singapore fell to the Japanese, she dug up a life-saving fresh water source for those who were marooned on a barren atoll, and led soldiers (including Frank Williams, who became her chief caregiver and companion) on a dangerous march across Sumatra. Once she and the soldiers had been captured and interned in a Japanese POW camp, she found rodents, snakes and other creatures to help feed herself and her fellow captives. For four horrible years, she and the other prisoners were kept under barbaric conditions. Judy had numerous near-misses with guards who wanted to kill (and eat) her; it’s amazing that anyone, much less a dog, survived such treatment.

Williams and hundreds of other prisoners (all of whom were slowly starving to death) were forced to build a railroad by hand. As Weintraub noted, “Judy’s mere presence on the railway rallied men who had been pushed beyond the brink.” One prisoner penned a quatrain to memorialize the men’s feelings for this heroine dog, and his words summed up their sentiment perfectly: “They would stagger to their workplace/Though they really ought to die/And would mutter in their beards/If that bitch can, so can I.”

Weintraub’s compelling, well-researched book does justice to the remarkable Judy and the men whose stories he tells so effectively and poignantly. Theirs is truly one of the great sagas of WWII and I highly recommend it to everyone. (A younger readers’ version is due out soon—keep an eye out for it.)

For more see our conversation with the author, Robert Weintraub and an excerpt from the book.

Culture: Reviews
How to Foster Dogs

Luckily, mor e and more people are interested in fostering dogs these days. It is a great way to assist the shelter/rescue community and be part of helping homeless dogs receive the care and attention they might require to help them find forever homes.

How to Foster Dogs by training expert and certified behaviorist Pat Miller will be a boon to both potential fosterers and humane/rescue agencies. An invaluable reference and guidebook, it’s written in an accessible, clear style, and addresses practical topics, such as the best ways to introduce the new dog to your own dog, preparing for specialneeds situations, and working with fearful dogs; it also provides many insightful management tips (including how best to handle the heartbreak of letting your foster dog go to a new family). The sound advice offered by Miller is not limited to foster dogs, but can be applied to all dogs, making this a good recommendation for every dog lover.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Shepherd’s Life

“Shepherd Wanted” ads in UK farming magazines often specify “Must be experienced. Must have two dogs.”

At the gather (when shepherds come together to bring everyone’s flocks out of the crags), James Rebanks writes, “The best men and dogs are sent to the hardest places,” and “Each of us is responsible for not letting any sheep break past us, easy with a good dog, impossible without one. Farming the fells is only possible because of the bond between men and sheepdogs.”

Rebanks was a fairly typical farm kid who loved working with his father and grandfather on their farm in England’s Lake District but for whom school was a boring waste of time. He quit when he was 15.

By chance he picked up W.H. Hudson’s 1910 classic, A Shepherd’s Life, expecting the usual silly misapprehension of the farmer’s “simple life.” But Hudson’s book was about land and work and men the dropout recognized. It was a book about him. Rebanks immersed himself in books, went back to school (finally to Oxford) and today, his farming is subsidized by his UNESCO salary.

The Shepherds Life is far from simple. It’s sheep and foxes and crows and roe deer and miserable weather and Rebanks’ children waiting to open their presents on Christmas morning, waiting until every last one of the animals has been fed. It is a beautiful, unsentimental life, and very, very hard.

“First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you, it’s about the sheep and the land. Second rule: you can’t win sometimes. Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work.”

Like his grandfather, James Rebanks loves the landscape but “his relationship with it was more like a long, tough marriage than a fleeting holiday love affair.”

The farm belongs to his children, too, and they are expected to help. One morning, Rebanks talks his daughter Bea through birthing a lamb. “She is small, just six years old, and the lamb coming (judging by its feet) is on the large side. But she grabs a lamb toe in each fist and pulls … She nearly stops when it resists her pressure at its hips, but she knows enough to pull it farther and get it out now so it can breathe quickly. She slops it down in front of the mother, whose tongue is already manic in its determination to lick it down. My daughter laughs because the ewe licks her bloody hands as she sets the lamb down.”

His grandfather’s dog, Ben, had been trained to “catch a single ewe on command without hurting it, holding the fleece without nipping the skin … But Ben was cheeky; he knew he couldn’t be caught by the old man, so he would taunt my grandfather by bouncing in front of him as they went to do some work, and my grandfather would shout blue murder at him.”

After the old man had a stroke, they brought Ben to see him. “He was so happy to see his beloved sheepdog that he cried.”

The Shepherd’s Life isn’t really a book about dogs. It’s about a world the dogs make possible.

It’s the best book I’ve read this year.

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