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Culture: Reviews
Perfect Paws in 5 Days (DVD)
Perfect Paws Productions, 2007, Runtime 2 hours 35 minutes; $34.95

When all the pieces of a puzzle snap together, it’s a pleasure to behold. In this instance, the “puzzle” is the pet dog training DVD, Perfect Paws in 5 Days. The pieces include terrific production quality, jazzy dog-themed music and an engaging supporting cast cleverly bound together by Jean Donaldson, an upbeat and innovative dog training expert.

The DVD covers essential training commands: “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come” and “watch me.” Jean’s entertaining chapter introductions teach dog training theory in small, interesting nuggets. After Jean demonstrates each exercise—assisted by her enthusiastic demo dog, Buffy—you join her and five dog-training teams for classes at the Perfect Paws training academy. With lavish praise and gentle corrections, Jean and her teams demonstrate the right, and wrong, way to practice each behavior. “Push, stick, drop” are among Jean’s unique cues to successful training; your dog will love her signature approach to teaching come/recall.
 
After mastering the basics in Lesson One, you move on Lesson Two, where you and your dog become more confident in your skills. In Lesson Three, Jean introduces the Zen of dog training, in which your pup must give up a treat to get it. Lesson Four raises the bar with training’s three Ds: Distance, Duration and Distractions. Finally, in Lesson Five, you learn how to develop your own training plan for future tricks and behaviors. For those who prefer to read rather than watch, the DVD offers 25-plus pages of lesson plans, a trainer glossary and “The Science (and Tools) Behind Dog Training.”

While this DVD is top-notch, it’s not perfect. First, the DVD menu lists the classes as Lessons One through Five, which doesn’t explain what they include. The extensive bonus material didn’t print from the DVD menu on either a Mac or a Windows PC, but was accessible directly from the disk on both platforms. Those small mechanical complaints aside, Perfect Paws in 5 Days highlights Jean’s original dog-training techniques. Let’s hope it’s the first in a series of equally creative DVDs covering other tricky training challenges.

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Culture: Reviews
Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America
Almaden Books, 238 pp., 2007; $16.95

In this no-kill manifesto, attorney Nathan Winograd identifies the moment when he believes the budding humane movement lost its way. Overruling the wishes of its founder, Henry Bergh, ASPCA agreed in the late 1800s to operate New York’s cruelly primitive dog pounds. Thus, the organization became accustomed to killing animals, albeit more compassionately than under the city’s brutal regime. Winograd argues that the animal welfare establishment has remained mired in 19th-century thinking and processes, to unnecessarily fatal effect for the five million healthy animals destroyed in US animal “shelters” each year.

He traces the movement’s history, highlighting its failed attempts to legislate, educate and coercively sterilize the nation out of its presumed pet over-population problem. Policies have been founded, he claims, on twin (and false) premises: that there are too many companion animals to be absorbed into proper homes, and that the public can be harangued into more responsible care of its pets. This has led shelters to the hopeless approach of “adopting out a few and killing the rest” of their unlucky tenants, while blaming an indifferent citizenry for their thankless task.

He then describes no-kill successes in San Francisco; Charlottesville, Va.; and Reno, Nev., as well as his own shelter management work in rural Tompkins County, N.Y. Here the book comes alive as he reports life-or-death tales of animals who were spared the needle by the best efforts of shelter personnel applying the logic, tactics and creative hard work of the no-kill paradigm: low-cost spay/neuter, foster and rescue care, medical/behavioral interventions, trap/neuter/release for feral cats, and several species of community outreach. In each case, shelters dramatically reduced their kill rates to under 10 percent of all animals without selective intake or “adoptability” analyses to eliminate problem critters—no smoke, no mirrors. He also explodes the claim of inherent overpopulation, demonstrating that sufficient homes are available if only they can be more effectively linked with needy animals.

Finally, Winograd indicts the humane establishment for seeking to discredit—rather than embrace—these successes. San Francisco was proclaimed too urban (and, remarkably, too “gay”); Tompkins County, too rural and Yankee; Charlottesville, too collegiate, and so on. Institutional interests, he believes, have outweighed their life-saving mission. Indeed, the response of the mainstream organizations to this book will be crucial and instructive. One hopes for a collaboration toward better, 21st-century “best practices.” Eyes on the prize, everyone—our behavior should not embarrass our pets.

The world owes much to those rare individuals who see things differently—and who then devote themselves to vindicating their maverick conclusions. Though Redemption is repetitive, may be over-harsh on no-kill’s detractors, and concentrates more on diagnosis than cure, it’s an important work. The shelter world has shielded most of the public from the grim realities of its operations, and has convinced the rest that change is possible only at the margins. This book is a clarion call to the burgeoning, pet-loving community—readers of The Bark, perhaps—to demand better from its shelters, and to participate in the soulful work of saving lives.

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Culture: Reviews
Dog Man
The Penguin Press, 238 pp., March 2008; $25.95

This is a story of a life measured out in dogs. Today, Morie Sawataishi is 94, and when he looks back at the road he’s traveled, the signposts all look like Akitas.

Akitas are dogs of Japan’s snow country: long, heavy legs; tightly curled tails; great stamina; and a thick double coat heavy enough to protect them in all kinds of weather. These were the dogs who are thought to have come onto the main island of Japan with the first tribes of migratory hunters some 2,000 years ago, and who, for 300 years, were inspirations for Japan’s samurai class. The story of Hachi-ko—the Akita who, daily for nine years, met the four o’clock train at the Shibuya station, watching for his deceased master—is known by every schoolchild.

Yet, during World War II, the breed came close to being wiped out. The military paid dearly for heavy Akita pelts, which were used to line officers’ coats, and in those grim times, there was no shortage of sellers.

In Dog Man, Martha Sherrill describes how Sawataishi—a single-minded man with a fierce will—helped save the ancient Akita from almost certain extinction. To Sawataishi, the Akita wasn’t exotic; for him “it was simply the local dog, the regional dog, the breed he’d seen everywhere as a child growing up in snow country.” No one was more surprised than him when, in his 30s and newly returned from a stint in the Japanese navy, he was overcome with a desire for an Akita. By that time, there weren’t many around, and because food was scarce too, feeding a dog was a hard thing to do. But Sawataishi persevered, and one day, came home with an Akita puppy—to the immense dismay of his wife.

This wasn’t the first unconventional thing Sawataishi had done; within days of marrying a well-educated girl from Tokyo, he took her to the island’s far north to live near his family. She returned to Tokyo while he served his time in the navy, but when he completed his duty, back they went to snow country, where everything was not only colder, it was more difficult. Thirty years ago, when he decided to build a traditional cottage on slopes of Mount Kurikoma, everyone else in the family objected, and some thought he’d lost his mind. But build it he did. He didn’t want the things most of his countrymen craved: a golf membership, a fine home in Tokyo, an easy life. No, he wanted space, and quiet, and room for his dogs. And there, on the side of the mountain, he found them.

This is not only a story about a man and his dogs, it is also the story of a time in Japan that Americans heard little about. During World War II, it was hard for those in the U.S. to imagine that there were people in the island nation who didn’t want to kill them, people who were appalled by the military’s raging ambition. In Dog Man, we learn about some of these “other” Japanese and the hardships they endured as every resource their country could muster went to support the military. Who lived in fear of bombers overhead. Who, starving, were urged on to even greater sacrifices by their emperor. Under those circumstances, Sawataishi’s desire for a dog is both a snapshot of normalcy and emblematic of his independent and determined nature.

“In the old days of Japan, honoring the specific look or ‘breed’ was never part of the dog tradition. Spirit was the thing one hoped to keep alive.” Dog Man is a celebration of a man with spirit to spare, and of the dogs that marked and enriched his life.

 

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Culture: Reviews
Merle’s Door
Harcourt, 398 pp., 2008; $15

There have been a slew of dog biographies and canine/human-memoirs published lately—many falling into the “can you believe that my dog actually did that” subgenre. Just see what the unbridled success of Marley & Me has spawned! Publishers are, at long last, understanding the power that dogs, and good dog stories, have to sell books. The other thing that some of these books have in common is that they have been written by journalists, who know how to spin engaging stories. John Grogan, whose newspaper column previewed his Marley stories, becomes a bestselling author by compiling his columns into a book about a big, lovable, but oh-so-naughty Lab. The prolific Jon Katz, whose first dog book, A Dog Year, came out 2002, has expanded his title empire by publishing nearly a book a year, and has become a self-styled gentleman farmer and dog “expert.” Now, with the publication of Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, comes a much smarter and more compelling read, making it a welcome addition to the field.

Kerasote—author, journalist, outdoorsman and hunter—tells the story of his dog Merle, whom he found while on a kayaking trip in Utah. The large, red, amiable dog had apparently been living alone for some time, perhaps a reservation dog gone astray, before he met up with Kerasote and his fellow kayakers. The author interpreted the attention the dog directed to him to mean: “You need a dog, and I’m it.” Merle goes on to become the river trip’s mascot, which begins a 13-year journey of co-discovery for dog and man. 

From the opening pages of Merle’s Door, it is apparent that it has been written from a perspective and in a style different from that of other recent dog books—more aligned in its naturalistic narrative to Rick Bass’s masterwork, Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had, than to Grogan’s Marley or to Bark’s own Lee Harrington Rex stories. Perhaps because Kerasote has well-honed skills as a nature and adventure writer (see his award-winning book, Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age), he is able to examine in great detail his relationship with Merle by adroitly weaving canine natural history and behavioral studies in with his dog’s memoir. This is the major strength of the book. And luckily, he looks to the works of leading experts, including those familiar to Bark readers—Patricia McConnell, Mark Derr and Marc Bekoff—to inform the trajectory of his views.

As for Merle, he really is an extraordinary dog, one whose early taste of an independent life is only enhanced by teaming up with his “man.” This pairing is made easier when Kerasote stumbles upon the idea that what his dog most needs is a door of his own (hence the book’s subtitle). So, instead of Merle being reliant on Kerasote for basic aspects of life, including when to relieve himself, he can make those decisions himself. Since they live in Kelly, Wyo., a mostly fenceless and open environment, Merle is able to take full of advantage of his freedom and the trust that Kerasote has in him. As the author notes, “The activities he enjoyed were unstructured and self-motivated—he was able to undertake them, break them off, and resume them according to his own schedule.” To explore his world, to make his own choices—certainly a life that would be the envy of most dogs (and controversial to some dog lovers)!

The author has a firm grasp of what was important in his dog’s life and how important this relationship becomes to the life of the author himself. This book, with its “I am my own dog” hero, establishes a new benchmark in the memoir field. Merle’s Door is a compelling, insightful and tender story that opens new doors into the understanding of the nature of dogs.

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Culture: Reviews
Kurgo Newport Seat Cover
Bark Likes This
Kurgo Seat Cover

Who said you have to sacrifice style for functionality? Definitely not Kurgo. Kurgo’s sturdy Newport Seat Covers are everything you and your pooch need to travel in clean, comfortable style.

The easy-to-install covers keep your original car seats in perfect condition, while extra storage pockets help to organize all those other travel must-haves. Did we mention that the covers are waterproof and machine washable? Coastside romps here we come! Available for bucket or bench seats, price $40-$50.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Stay with Me Extended Q&A
Bark talks with author Paul Griffin

What lessons do you hope teens take away from Stay with Me? In Stay with Me, Céce and Mack fall in love really fast. I hope kids who read the book realize that it’s okay to slow it down, to take a step back, to be at peace with the folks in their lives — family, friends, neighbors, even people they don’t like. I often talk about dogs when I’m working with kids. Dogs not only live in the moment, they embrace it, and I try to get my kids to do the same.

Mack spends a great deal of time working with dogs. What do you see as the benefits of this activity for young adults? A dog’s friendship is sacred. They don’t know how to violate it. They commit, deeply. We learn from themdevoting ourselves to somebody requires absolute trust. Caring for them well makes us feel we’re capable of bringing a little more happiness into the world.

Who is the hero of this book? Everybody is a hero to me, even the poor guy who does something so destructive he can’t help but hate himself afterward. More than anything, resilience inspires me — the veteran who comes home with PTSD, the prisoner trying to forgive himself, the alcoholic trying to be a good mother and the dog who can wag his tail anywhere. They all have one thing in commonthey choose to keep going; they choose to face the everyday. Once in a while, they might even choose to greet the rain with a smile. That’s pretty heroic stuff.

Stay with Me features several dogs named Boo. Was either Boo based on a dog in your life? Both Boos are combinations of several of my dogs. I currently have a zany Pit Bull, Ray (Liotta), who is very like the dog Mack trains in prison. He was a maniac when I pulled him from animal control, but anybody could see he had a heart of gold. I just built on that and today he’s a cupcake.

The first Boo (the one who’s killed) is based mostly on a very sad Foxhound I rescued when he was 12 or so. Al (Pacino) didn’t have a tooth in his head, and he was terrified, but a total sweetheart, so willing to love and be loved. That same Boo also has some of my little street mutt Bobby (DeNiro) in him—he lived to 19, healthy until the day before he died. He was amazingly resilient, like the failed fight dog Mack adopts.

Tell us about your work as a dog trainer. I’ve been dog-crazy for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a firefighter with nine mouths to feed: Grandma and the five kids, and then three in-laws, all under the same roof. Deeps (my grandfather) was great with dogs. Back before we knew backyard breeding was not a good thing, Deeps bred and trained German Shepherds to supplement his income. Those Sheps were amazing. The more time you gave them, the more respect they gave you. Kids don’t always get a lot of respect, so I loved working with the Sheps. I felt great, giving them structure in their lives, and I loved what I got back, their absolute friendship. In my experience, every dog and every person is different, so I’m big on being flexible in the training. I use whatever works. If the dog is food-motivated, I get out the cheese and peanut butter. If not, then that guy’s going to be doing a bit of jogging with me and a ton of walking. I never raise my voice.

What do you see as the benefits of working dogs like Mack did? A dog’s friendship is sacred. They don’t know how to violate it. They commit, deeply. I learn from them: Devoting yourself to somebody requires absolute trust. Dogs are pure, and they make me want to be a better person. I don’t know many people who are unhappy when they’re working with dogs. They’ve taught me self-respect. I’m responsible for them, literally am the difference between life and death for them. Caring for them well makes me feel I’m capable of bringing a little more happiness into the world. 

What was the basis for the Old Dogs, New Tricks program? Several summers ago I was doing some workshops with 16- to 18-year-old men at Rikers Island, NYC’s version of Alactraz. I’d heard that the police had a K-9 training facility on the island. I begged one of the staff to let me hang with the Sheps, but she reminded me I was there to work with the kids. There are so many amazing programs with rescue dogs, like Puppies Behind Bars, Patriot Paws and many others.

What was it about Mack that made Anthony want him to connect with his sister? My character Anthony doesn’t waste time focusing on problems—he’s too busy drinking in the hidden beauty in people. He sees the real Mack—the Mack even Mack can’t see. When Anthony watches Mack work with that wild knucklehead of a puppy in the beginning of the book, he sees a young man who wants to make the world a more peaceful place. Anthony knows Céce needs to find her way to peace, and helping her get there is going to be a challenge. On the surface, Céce and Mack seem to be an unlikely pair, but Anthony isn’t concerned with the surface. He digs deep, and in Mack he finds a heart of gold.

Culture: Reviews
Happy Pet, Happy Parent
An accessible handbook for basic training techniques

We’re always pleased to bring useful finds to our readers, and our latest handy addition is The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy Well-behaved Pet by Jolanta Benal. This thorough guide breaks down basic techniques to resolve the most common problems, and makes the process fun for the new dog parent. With both a well-organized table of contents and a comprehensive index, this book gives readers easy access to the specific cue, problem behavior, game or name they seek. Benal explains her approach clearly and debunks a number of myths about dogs’ learning styles. The information boxes with items like “Dear Dog Trainer” Q&As or the Quick and Dirty Tips are handy little hits of dog knowledge.

Culture: Reviews
Bark Likes This: Treat Toob
A portable soft snack dispenser

High-value treating at the park is a mess-free possibility. Perfect for heel training or just letting your best friend know you care, the TreatToob by Paww has a friendly design that’s easy to fill with “smoothie” delights from peanut butter to liverwurst and even baby food—plus it’s a breeze to clean. The dripless cap even holds an ID window so you can mark the contents. For now, find them at Amazon.com, but expect them to be at many retailers soon.
 

Culture: Reviews
Putting the Horse Before Descartes; The Bond
Temple University Press, 304 pp., 2011; $35.00; William Morrow, 448 pp., 2011; $26.99

When dealing with ethics and adults, one cannot teach — one can only remind,” says Professor Bernie Rollin in his new book, Putting the Horse before Descartes. In this book and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle’s The Bond, two of the most influential “remind-ers” and animal welfare allies recount their battles for reform across the wide frontiers of controversy. Their victories are numerous, groundbreaking and far from complete; their predictions for the future are optimistic. I hope they’re right.

Bernie Rollin has invested his rich academic career building the ethical underpinnings of animal rights and welfare, steering generations of veterinary and other students in the direction of contemplating those issues and pursuing effective public advocacy based on that foundation. Here, he fools us into reading a philosophy tome, with a mix of often hilarious biography, condensed and readable expositions of his approach to animal rights, and (occasionally tedious) later accounts of his battles to improve animal welfare in venues as diverse as veterinary education, shelter practices, research, rodeos and industrial agriculture.

Central to Rollin’s ethical approach is the concept of telos, the fundamental animal nature of each species. Telos, the author states, means that “fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly.” Each species has the right to be treated by humans in ways that respect that essence. Indeed, the true animal husbandry practiced throughout most of agricultural history is an exchange that reflects that imperative; the farmer or rancher was only as good as the condition of his animals.

Decline of the husbandry principle is demonstrated in the recent rise of both factory farming and animal research. Food animals have become fungible commodities of inventory, and as research subjects, critters are means to the end of commercializing products that pass regulatory muster as “safe” (for humans). Rollin’s concern for lab animals deepens when he contemplates the unknown consequences of gene splicing, especially for the splicees.

In The Bond, Pacelle identifies and builds from the instinctive affinity that unites sentient lives across the boundaries of species. He believes that, in the intersection of our lives with those of other beings, we must honor that covenant, reminding readers of the violations that abound in mankind’s power over other animals. Pacelle skillfully describes his organization’s campaigns to redress those abuses: in factory farming, animal fighting, the fur trade and sheltering. Indeed, his ringing endorsement of “no-kill” would almost convince the new reader that HSUS invented the concept.

Both authors have devoted their lives to their missions as advocates and remind-ers. Both see the rise in public concern for animals as pointing the way to a better future. It’s not completely clear to me that it will: Is this trend a harbinger of a more humane age? Or does it simply indicate that we will palliate suffering and respect telos in the most intimate, immediate and convenient of bonds but continue to ignore, tolerate and tacitly enable the greater cruelties visited upon animals we don’t have to see every day? A first step in the direction of change is always transparency. Both these volumes ably raise our awareness, and push us toward lives that will require conscious choices between those contrasting futures.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Rin Tin Tin
Simon & Schuster, 336 pp., 2011; $26.99

With Susan Orlean’s much-awaited Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, readers face a sad story, but not for the reason you might think — that a wonderful, heroic dog will die in the end. In fact, this dog lived many lives, first in silent movies in the 1920s and again in the 1950s in one of the most popular television series in American history. And to some degree, Rinty still lives, though when I mentioned this book to my 45-year-old, dog-loving sister, she struggled to recall him. “He was a famous dog, right? On TV?”

The story begins with Lee Duncan, a man whose entire life was defined by two things: his boyhood years in an orphanage and his unshakable belief in the puppy he rescued from a World War I battlefield in France and named Rin Tin Tin.

Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, follows the story with the passion of an investigative reporter who’s also a lover of dogs, and her research is stunningly deep and comprehensive. Like the best of nonfiction, her book casts a wide net, and off the spine of Rinty’s biography she hangs a great many narrative excursions: the history of dogs in war; Hitler’s unsettling devotion to animal welfare; the story of Hollywood, from silent movies to color TV; the evolution of marketing in popular culture. But at the heart of Rin Tin Tin is “Lee’s private story about the possibility that love can be constant,” and that “a dog could make you whole.” This is what the dream, and the entire franchise, was built on.

The parts I liked best describe Rinty’s amazing acting talent: his ability to display an extraordinary range of emotion and his uncommon agility and physical grace. Unfortunately there’s little here to explain how Duncan actually trained the dog, and it’s not until halfway through the book that we learn about his first efforts at obedience training, which began in the 1930s after Rinty became a star.

Ultimately, Lee Duncan’s story is a lonely one of unfulfilled dreams, fortunes made and lost, and human connections that were at best tenuous. Despite the many hours she spent with his memoirs and archive, Orlean felt that he was “at once ingenuous and impenetrable … he remained a mystery.” The same can be said of Rin Tin Tin, the dog who has, for almost a century, stood as the embodiment of “bravery, loyalty and courage against evil of all kinds.”

This book leaves us hanging because, in the end, no dog is truly knowable. In this age of relentless human exhibitionism, it is perhaps this mystery that explains why we admire and revere dogs so much.
 

Author Susan Orlean describes Clash of The Wolves, a 1925 silent film starring Rin Tin Tin:

“The wolves, led by Lobo, attack a steer and the ranchers set out after them. The chase is fast and frightening, and when Rin Tin Tin weaves through the horses’ churning legs, it looks like he’s about to be trampled. He runs faster and for longer than seems possible. He outruns the horses, his body flattened and stretched as he bullets along the desert floor, and if you didn’t see the little puffs of dust when his feet touch the ground, you’d swear he was floating. He scrambles up a tree — a stunt so startling that I had to replay it a few times to believe it. Can dogs climb trees? Evidently. At least certain dogs can. And they can climb down, too, and then tear along a rock ridge, and then come to a halt at the narrow crest of the ridge. The other side of the gorge is miles away. Rin Tin Tin stops, pivots; you feel him calculating his options; then he crouches and leaps, and the half-second before he lands safely feels very long and fraught. His feet touch ground and he scrambles on, but a moment later he somersaults off the ledge of another cliff, slamming through the branches of a cactus, collapsing in a heap, with a cactus needle skewered through the pad of his foot.”

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