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A Man and His Dog Walk the Wild
Q&A with Karsten Heuer

On a sunny June day in 1998, a man and his dog took the first steps on a walk that would, by the time they finished it, cover 2,200 miles through some of North America’s most thinly populated landscape. Following the path of the grizzly, they and their team tested a dream against reality. In Walking the Big Wild, Karsten Heuer and Webster, his Border Collie, shared a grand—and sometimes terrifying—adventure. 

 

Bark: You mention in the book that Webster was your “model for resolve.” Aside from bears, bugs, and burrs, what sorts hazards did he contend with? Did you find that you’d anticipated and prepared for most of them, or did you have to improvise as you traveled?

Karsten Heuer: The rivers in northern British Columbia were tough. No trails meant no bridges, and the water tumbling through the rapids was usually glacial melt. But Webster swam them with great courage. He got tangled up with a porcupine one day (which wasn’t pretty), and his paws got sore during a particularly rough section of sharp limestone (we protected his feet with makeshift booties until the going got softer), but other than that, he was self-sustaining. Oh, except for the time I felt sorry for him shivering in a cold rainstorm (sleet was more like it). I cut a piece of red nylon into a temporary raincoat for him. It worked but he looked ridiculous and he knew it. A sheepish sheepdog. And then sure enough, a few corners later, we ran into a pack of wolves! Talk about having your wild ancestors look down their noses at you. He was pretty embarrassed.

 

Bark: Had you and Webster done any sort of endurance hiking together before you started your walk to the Yukon?

KH: No, but once you added up all the things his co-owner (whom I’ve always shared him with) and I had put him through, I knew if he hadn’t abandoned me by then, he never would: being tipped out of a canoe and swimming whitewater rapids … strapped to my chest as we rappelled down a 1,500-foot cliff. The list goes on.

 

Bark: Did this trek affect your relationship with Webster?

KH: Well, 2,200 miles is a long way to travel with companion. We had our trying moments (Webster loved the goose-down sleeping bag and was reluctant to give it up if he got in the tent first). We were very close before leaving, but the trip certainly deepened that bond. We shared some pretty special moments and some pretty scary ones as well—everything from swimming rivers and staving off a charging bear to just drinking in the view from a mountaintop while he lay looking in the same direction with his chin on my knee. And although I probably didn’t show him much he wouldn’t have otherwise seen, he certainly pointed out a lot of things to me. When he froze in that I-see-a-cat crouch, there was always something looking back at us through the trees: a moose, a deer, even a couple of bears.

 

Bark: Is it possible to make any overall observations about the behavior of a domestic dog (or at least, about a Border Collie) in the wilderness? 

KH: I’m always cautious answering these sorts of questions because, as we all know, no two dogs are alike. Having said that, I think it’s extremely important to have a very well-trained dog if you’re thinking of having them off-leash in wild areas. Otherwise they can do a lot of damage (disturbing or even killing ground-nesting birds, for example), or get you into problems (like chasing a bear and then having that bear turn and chase your dog right back to you). When Webster wasn’t on the leash he was always on a heel.

 

Bark: The encounters with wolves were particularly interesting. At the time, did you have an emotional, or a purely pragmatic, response? 

KH: That’s the wonderful thing about meeting wild animals: it’s ALWAYS emotional. We can’t help it; those emotions are hardwired into us from our days of roaming the savannah and interacting with animals every waking moment of every day. It wasn’t that long ago that we were living in caves, chasing after and running from wild animals in great acts of survival. And come to think of it, it wasn’t that long ago that all the Websters of the world branched off from wolves. I’m convinced this is why we love—even need—to have pets. They reintroduce what was such a big part of our behavioral history into our everyday, modern lives.

 

Bark: As you made your way north, to what degree were you surprised by what you found—literally—on the ground, as opposed to what you saw on maps?

KH: Well, as you know, the intent of the 2,200-mile-long walk was to assess the plausibility of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), which proposes to connect existing reserves along the Rockies with wildlife corridors. I was literally trying to look at the proposal from the perspective of a wolf or grizzly bear or any of the other wide-ranging animals it’s meant to benefit. So I left with questions like: How pristine or developed are these proposed corridors? How many barriers already exist (busy highways, urban development, clearcut areas, open pit mines, etc)? How much restoration would be required?

To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about what I would find. I expected bad news. But fortunately, by the end, I was more hopeful for the proposed reserve network than when I left. I used fresh grizzly bear sign—their tracks, scat, rub trees and, in some cases the animals themselves—as a measure of the wildness of the areas I was walking through. I assumed if there was recent sign of grizzlies, the area was intact. Well, the walk took 188 days to complete and by the time I tallied up my notes, I realized I’d seen fresh signs of grizz 160 days. That’s 85 percent of the time!

 

Bark: And how did the trek change your internal landscape (or did it)?

KH: It gave me hope for wildness in this part of North America, and it gave me confidence in myself. There were a lot of doubts at the beginning, and the scope of the trip was overwhelming, but bit by bit, day by day, I covered 2,200 very mountainous miles, hundreds of which without the benefit of trails.

 

Bark: In the ’70s, one of the iconic aphorisms of the woman’s movement was “the personal is political.” Could it also be appropriate to environmental issues?

KH: I like to think so. Again, this trip proved very empowering on a personal level. And not just in terms of increasing my confidence. By the end I had proved to myself that one person (and his dog) can make a difference. Very few people had heard about Y2Y or the principles behind it before we left. We reached millions of people during the trip—thousands directly via presentations in communities, and the masses through National Geographic, Backpacker Magazine, NBC, ABC, NPR and hundreds of other media outlets during the trip. And if you’ve read the book, you’ll know we stirred up a good dose of opposition from industry interests too!

 

Bark: Humans seem to have a tendency to either demonize or romanticize what some call “charismatic megafauna” and others call “sexy beasts”—bears, wolves, mountain lions. What kind of impact do you think that has on the way we react to them, and the energy we put into protecting/supporting them and their habitat requirements?

KH: All the animals you list are powerful symbols that remind us we aren’t in control of everything—that we could, hypothetically, be killed and eaten. It’s a humbling sensation to be standing in front of a bear that’s popping its jaws and thrashing the ground and you have no idea what it’s going to do next. You feel helpless. Some people demonize them because of that threat. But I think having that threat in our lives is a good thing. We should celebrate it. It brings humility and balance to a modern society that is pretty devoid of both those qualities.

 

Bark: In one of your journal entries, you said “fear engages.” Has that sense stayed with you, or have you been back long enough for it to have faded?

KH: Fear does engage. It dusts off the senses that have been buried—that we’ve had to turn off—in our cities, towns and on our billboard-lined highways. We can’t possibly be perceptive anymore—if we absorbed every sight, smell and sound in our ad-induced, white-noise culture, we’d be overwhelmed all the time. So we quickly learn to shut off our wild senses.

I’ve tried to retain that “sharp” frame of mind—call it “wildness” if you want—as much as possible since being back. I do it by making sure I have plenty of quiet time in places where I can just sit and absorb every detail around me. It’s usually somewhere in nature, anything from remote wilderness to an overgrown vacant lot in a city neighborhood. Anywhere you can watch butterflies drift in an afternoon breeze.

 

Bark: What’s the current status of Y2Y?

KH: The 180 conservation groups, scientists, professors and others that make up the Y2Y network have been busy over the past few years mapping the 1.5-million-square-mile region in three layers: terrestrial, aquatic and avian habitats (land, water and birds). Then they superimposed all three layers, and the areas that came out the “darkest” (where overlap was greatest) became the priorities for conservation for the next 5 years.

Tools such as private land conservation easements, highway crossing structures, road removal and public land designation as wildlife movement/conservation areas are now being employed to make this a reality. Piece by piece, the puzzle is getting put together. I only hope it happens soon enough. There are a lot of human activities that threaten to cut off many of the corridors, and those threats are only intensifying each day we continue down this crazy economic path, whose ideology mimics the cancer cell (infinite growth).

 

Bark: Y2Y is a very big and “out of the box” vision. Are you hopeful that vast and entrenched bureaucracies of all stripes can work together to do what needs to be done?

KH: One thing that I see time and time again is how inspired people get when they hear about Y2Y. Just think: we can choose to keep all the native mammals in this vast sweep of mountains that were here when Lewis and Clark made their legendary expedition across the US. How many places in the world have that kind of opportunity?

I think when people—no matter their position in a bureaucracy or government—realize that what we’re talking about is keeping what already exists and not restoring a massive area, they get comfortable with the idea. And when they realize it isn’t a huge national park proposal but, instead, a way for wildlife and human communities to coexist into the future, they warm up to it even more. Who doesn’t want wildlife?

The challenge is to embrace that four-letter word we humans love to shy away from: P-L-A-N. Without good planning, we’re going to lose every existing wildlife corridor. Death by a thousand cuts is how it will happen. A highway gets widened. A gas station gets built. A mill opens up and the loggers go into the woods in all directions. I’m not saying we can’t develop. What I’m saying is we need to develop with a roadmap of how we’re going to do it AND keep wildlife. Otherwise we won’t.

 

For the whole story, read Walking the Big Wild: From Yellowstone to the Yukon on the Grizzly Bear’s Trail by Karsten Heuer, published by The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA.

 

Originally published as “Incredible Journey.”

 

 

Culture: Reviews
Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook
Woof and Word Press (Dist. by Dogwise), 346 pp., 2008; $49.95

Math pop quiz: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how valuable is Barbara Handelman’s Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook with its thousand pictures? The answer is “too valuable to put a figure on it.” Nothing else out there captures so much diverse canine behavior in photographs, or has close to the quantity of photos. Handelman’s training as a photographer is clear—the composition, clarity and perspective of her dog photos are wonderful. (Though it would have been lovely if all of them could’ve been reproduced in color, nonetheless, the photos illustrate their points despite the fading and loss of contrast that results when color photos are printed in black and white.) As a bonus, the book includes many of Monty Sloan’s extraordinary photos of wolves.

If the photographs are the great strength of this book, the weakness lies in the fact that, though Handelman writes from an ethological perspective, she is not a trained ethologist. Consequently, she has regrettably absorbed and passed on ethological information that, though erroneous, is often considered correct by many dog trainers. For example, there are errors in her description and identification of fixed-action patterns, and she has a tendency to combine fear and submission into a single concept. Regardless, I’m impressed by her thorough coverage; she has capably synthesized a great deal of information, and her knowledge, which is considerable, gives strength to this wonderful book.

Handelman has done a real service to the field of canine behavior by using the comparative approach so common among ethologists. As she notes, “Prior to discovering Monty Sloan’s Wolf Park photos and the ‘Wolf Ethogram’ … [I] had not considered that there might be very close similarities between the communication signals, displays and expressions conveyed by the various canine cousins.” It is impressive that she took this idea, a staple among ethologists, and ran with it. I hope her perspective spreads through the dog world. There is much to be gained from a comparative approach to canid behavior, yet many trainers take a foolish pride in confining their interest to the domestic dog.

The book is organized and laid out in a manner that makes it a pleasure to read; it is also well indexed, which adds to its value. I like this book and appreciate what it offers: descriptions of an extensive array of canine behavior considered across multiple species, and the best collection of canine photographs I’ve ever seen assembled in one place.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-Friendly Apps and Online Helpers
Smart uses for your smart phone

Cell phones that only make and receive calls are so 2008! With a satellite signal and Internet access, today’s smart phones put the world—both yours and your dog’s—in your pocket.

 

1. Keep track of your pup’s day-to-day doings using the DogiDuty app; iPhone-toting dog walkers or sitters can manually file reports on her intake and output, then email them to you.

 

2. Pump up your walk. Map, record and share details of your canine-centered excursions at MapMyWalk.com or with your very own Google Earth Tour. As walks get longer, the Sit or Squat app, with its inventory of public bathrooms, comes in handy. Meanwhile, Eukanuba’s Off Leash iPhone app shows you the way to the nearest dog park.

 

3. Keep them healthy. Sign up for alerts about pet product hazards at HealthyStuff.org and pet food recalls at FoodSafety.gov. And be prepared for the unexpected—take along a Red Cross–trained assistant with the Pet First Aid iPhone app. You can also use your smart phone to store and access your dog’s medical records and keep track of appointments; the Pet Phone app puts that info at your fingertips.

 

4. Share a night out with your furry friend. With OpenTable.com, find restaurants that celebrate canine companions, then make your reservation.

 

5. Discover hidden treasures. Now that most of these phones are GPS-enabled, the once arcane (and obsession-forming) hobby of geocaching is within the reach of newbies. Get started at Geocaching.com.

 

6. Never miss a photo op. Capture the moment, then pep up the snaps with Shake and Bark (add your dog’s voice to her image) or Dog Thoughts (canine-themed captions).

 

7. Satisfy your curiosity. Use Dog-a-Log or iDogBook to help you figure out the answer to “What kind of dog is that?”

 

8. Focus on housetraining. Have a new puppy? With iPottyTrain, set alarms to remind you to take the pup out for a break, and log hits (and misses)—all of which keeps this important activity at the forefront of your attention.

 

9. Entertain yourself. During those quiet moments while waiting for the vet to arrive in the exam room, test your dog knowledge with Dog Trivia or play with the Obama’s Bo via The First Dog (at the time of release, a portion of the download fee was donated to the HSUS).

 

10. Carry a spare. Admit it—sometimes you go out with your dog but without your clicker. With the Clicker app, this training tool is always at hand (assuming you don’t also forget your iPhone). 

Culture: Reviews
Chill Out Fido! How to Calm Your Dog
Dogwise Publishing, 200 pp., 2009; $15.95

 

As our shelters fill to bursting with dogs surrendered due to their “out of control” behavior, Nan Arthur’s new book, Chill Out Fido! How to Calm Your Dog, arrives like a mercy, offering an understanding of why some dogs act wild and crazy and what you can do about it in order to live peacefully ever after with your canine friend.   Even if your dog is already the epitome of a mellow fellow, there is still much of interest and importance in this book, too much, in fact, to do justice to in a short review. Far from a how-to manual on teaching basic obedience skills, Chill Out Fido! is a guidebook to the foreign culture that is canine.   The book is divided into two parts: Part One identifies 14 possible causes of a dog’s disorderly behavior, ranging from poor early socialization or the wrong diet to insufficient or (gasp!) too much exercise.   Part Two takes a look at the tools necessary to uncover the well-mannered dog our rambunctious pooches are hiding on the inside. Arthur presents 11 exercises, each of which builds on the previous one, designed to teach your dog to relax and to focus on you, including—among other important skills—choosing to relax and greeting strangers calmly.   The book is full of fascinating information, backed by scientific research, that occasionally contradicts commonly held beliefs. For instance, many of us have been taught that exercise, exercise, exercise! will result in calmer behavior in our dogs, but Arthur writes that we need to give our dogs the right kinds of exercise for them, and that “high excitement and overly aroused states such as those seen during hard play or extensive exercise … can force dogs into an overactive stress response.” And stress, as we well know, does not lead to a calm, focused individual. Another example: Did you know that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states that, using common-sense precautions, early socialization is more important than sequestering a puppy to guard against the risk of infection from other dogs?   This is the first book from Arthur, who is a faculty member of the Karen Pryor Academy and owner of Whole Dog Training in San Diego County, Calif. According to her bio, Arthur’s “quest”—in her work as a trainer and animal-rescue worker as well as in this book—is to “help pets stay in their homes,” and that, it seems to me, is the backbone, the beauty, of this book. I predict that it won’t be long before Chill Out Fido! becomes one of the books most commonly recommended by trainers and behavior consultants for their clients with problem-behavior dogs. We would be doing well as a “humane” society if Chill Out Fido! became required reading for dog guardians everywhere. It’s a simple premise with an enormous reach.  

 

Culture: Reviews
Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform
Da Capo Press, 212 pp., 2008; $25.95

Lost in the hubbub over the First Puppy’s privileged origins and his new owner’s subsequent donation to a humane organization is the fact that coveys of committed volunteers have always formed the backbone of the rescue movement. Their labors of love are performed on the “micro” level, far from institutional concerns that can cloud the lifesaving mission. Often impelled by life experiences, rescuers find unanticipated rewards in the work—the redeemed animals provide comfort, joy and deep meaning in the lives of their saviors.

  Such is the message of Saved, a compilation of 28 vignettes describing the lives and deeds of a diverse group of these animal “activists” (in the truest sense of the term). We meet Randy Grim and Quentin, a dog who survived the local shelter’s gas chamber and now helps Randy patrol East St. Louis, Mo., looking for strays who might otherwise not be so fortunate. And Lori Sarner, of Palm Springs, Calif., who founded the Pegasus Riding Academy for riders with disabilities, and her horse, Cimmaron.   There are also legal advocates, such as the Virginia couple who lobby their legislature to end the annual shelter killing of 135,000 dogs and cats in that state. Or the late Mary Warner, who, through dogged determination and advocacy, shed light on organized animal theft rings and their trafficking of people’s pets to unscrupulous labs.   Then there’s the tale of Maricopa County, Ariz.’s, controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio, and his program to rehabilitate stray animals, teaching employment skills to inmates in the process. Tough-guy Joe is shown in a photo, clearly smitten, cradling a kitten. Say what you will about his general approach to civil liberties, in this case he appears to be on to a program that is crucially helpful to all concerned.   Saved also contains smaller stories that are no less meaningful. There’s Elton Ackers and the canine PeeWee, who help each other recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, and Walt Kuchler finding solace in his formerly abused horse: “I lost my boy to drugs, and my horse saved my life. Animals are God’s gift to us.”   For all the poignancy of its content, the book’s emotional impact is undercut a bit by the author’s journalistic style. There is much good reporting on these pages, but less storytelling. A poem (“A Dog Sits Waiting”) inserted into one of the sketches was much more moving than the worthy tale itself.   The common thread of the book, woven across species, purpose and geography, is that the humans who have reached out to animals in need have found themselves rewarded in great and sustaining measure. They are united by the purity of motive, the guilessness and emotional clarity of the animals they help. And they all find therapy in the connection. As Jane Goodall writes in her foreword: “I well know the healing power of animals … My own life has been enriched by a long succession of rescued dogs. How rewarding they have been.”   There may be inspiration in these stories for folks who have considered helping in this work. Numerous ways to do so are illustrated here; innumerable other possibilities await the energies and particular talents of passionate volunteers. As Saved amply demonstrates, the rewards will be bountiful, and surprising; they far exceed the effort.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pup-Worthy Picks

To mark the end of summer’s dog days, we’re sharing a few of the products that have kept us company all season long.

Kangaroom Pet Pouch
If you’re like us, you’re constantly struggling to keep all your dog gear in one place. So we bet you’ll be as thrilled as we were with the Kangaroom Pet Pouch, which organizes all the dogs’ must-haves—from treats to brushes—in a single, tidy, carry-along unit. Lightweight, durable and washable, with a handy bag dispenser, the Pet Pouch helps you take control of your space. 

MSRP $19.99

To Go Bowl XL
Ever notice how thirsty dogs get in the car? This handy bowl will help your pooches stay hydrated, and fits neatly into most vehicle cup holders. Made of FDA-approved polypropylene and available in eight colors.
$19.99

Healthy Motion Powder

Our 16-year-old dog is more active during the summer months, so to keep his joints loose and increase his mobility, we add supplements to his food. One of our favorites is Healthy Motion, which is chock full of glucosamine, antioxidants, omega oils and traditional herbs. It allows our old guy to keep up with the pups! Available in both powder and tablet form.

$17.99–$32.99


Pawduke All Natural Treats
We’re always on the lookout for quality treats, and were pleased to discover the great healthy treats made by Pawduke—wheat-free, corn-free and soy-free with no salt, sugar, preservatives or by-products. The peanut butter–flavor bits are a big hit during our puppy training sessions, and the pumpkin-flavor treats are perfect for our hound’s sensitive stomach.
$7

Petprojekt Dogmat
Sometimes the simplest solutions are best. Take the Dogmat, for example—mix smart design and attractive colors, and you’ve got the total package. These mats not only help prevent food and water spills, they also keep dog bowls from sliding across the floor like hockey pucks. Durable, dishwasher safe and chemical-free—the Dogmat solves a common problem with style.
$24


Culture: Reviews
Summer Reading List

4 Classics
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be
By Farley Mowat
A boy-and-his-dog-and-owl story that will charm the whole family.

Man Meets Dog
By Konrad Lorenz
This slim, witty and intelligent volume by the Nobel Prize-winning scientist is a must-read. It was the first to delve into the canine mind and also launched the debate about the extent to which the behavior of dogs is affected by their wolf ancestors.

My Dog Tulip
By J.R. Ackerley
This unforgettable memoir of a much-loved dog has no equal—be sure to read the edition with the insightful introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

Timbuktu
By Paul Auster
Mr. Bones, “a mutt of no particular worth or distinction,” narrates this unforgettable and poignant tale.

5 New Reads
8 State Hurricane Kate
By Jenny Pavlovic
Powerful account of a cattle dog rescued from a rooftop, and the woman who wouldn’t give up on her.

Bonding with Your Dog
By Victoria Schade
There’s love and there’s the bond—Schade tells you how to have both.

Don’t Dump the Dog
By Randy Grim
Stray Rescue founder shares stories and solutions.

Heroic Measures
By Jill Ciment
In this novel, an elderly couple’s small, gray world is brightened by a dog.

Made for Each Other
By Meg Olmert
A compelling look at the reasons for our innate attraction to animals and the intense relationships we’ve built with them.

Coming Soon
Inside of a Dog
By Alexandra Horowitz
The latest intel on canine cognition—science made accessible and entertaining.

Culture: Reviews
Victoria Stilwell Takes Charge
The canine supernanny

She likes to drive black convertible sports cars decked out in a black outfit and wearing driving gloves. She talks to the camera in a stern tone while shifting gears. And even though she was probably the best thing about The Great American Dog Show (which I stopped watching halfway through the season because I couldn’t figure out how being unafraid of an elephant would be an indicator of a dog’s greatness), I thought less of her for participating. So why would I want to watch Victoria Stilwell train dogs?

Well, it turns out, because she’s very good at it. It’s Me or the Dog was a successful half-hour show in the UK before it came over here to Animal Planet and was extended to an hour. I’ve watched both, and the longer format serves the show and Stilwell much better than the shorter version. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that her methods are not nearly as harsh as she likes to appear and, indeed, Stilwell knows her stuff. From “bite inhibition” to “desensitization” to “stress signals,” she clearly understands a dog’s mind and is determined to stick to positive methods no matter the issue.

These kinds of shows tend to be deceptive because they must be manipulated to entertain, and training is not usually entertaining (it is to me, but I’m weird)—things are speeded up with strategic editing, which ends up making training a dog seem like an easy task. But this show, which focuses on a household’s problems with its dog(s), works hard to stress the effort involved, and often illustrates how long it can take to teach a dog to respond.

For example, in one episode, a Toy Poodle with an attitude was terrorizing the man of the house. When he tried to get in bed with his wife, the dog—who was on the bed—would growl at him. Stilwell recommends that the dog be promptly put on the floor every time she growls. The husband walked into the bedroom over a dozen times (they actually counted it down) and each time he approached the bed and the dog growled, the wife (who was holding the pooch) set her on the floor. Finally the dog got the message and, voila, she stopped. Stilwell’s advice worked, and what a great feeling of accomplishment you shared with that family when it did. Stilwell also convinces a naïve single mom who bought a Mastiff mix for protection to neuter the dog when the mom admits she’d like to breed him because “he’s pretty and he’d make a good daddy.” I don’t know how Stilwell keeps from screaming at these owners sometimes … oh, yeah, sometimes she screams at the owners. Not sure what’s with the car and gloves, but, hey, they look good.
 

Culture: Reviews
Made for Each Other
Olmert Da Capo Press, 288 pp., 2009; $26

Your dog loves you. The regular kibble, the long walks in the park and the intense games of fetch certainly help, but at the end of the day, your dog is hardwired to love you. When early humans dared to invite wolves into their caves—or perhaps followed wolves into theirs? —an evolutionary metamorphosis was set in motion. And after thousands of generations of humans and dogs hunting, working and playing together, we have each become genetically predisposed to care for the other.

But it isn’t just dogs. We share a special bond not only with our companion animals, but also with the horses we ride, the prey we hunt and the primates from whom we descend. In her new book, Made for Each Other, Meg Daley Olmert explores humanity’s connection to the animal world by drawing on myriad branches of science, from zoology and psychology to anthropology and neuroscience. And what she discovers is that our relationship to animals—what E.O. Wilson terms biophilia—has not only been practical; it has also been good for our well-being, mostly by catalyzing the release of the hormone oxytocin in humans: “[O]ur pets almost double our flow of oxytocin. We humans simply can’t reach this oxytocin high by ourselves or with the best intentions of others.… In situations where competition and territory rule, we become vulnerable to stress related illnesses. That’s when pets can be better medicine than medicine.”

Have you ever wondered why babies are instinctively drawn to animals, why centuries of early cave paintings are almost entirely composed of animals or why we are so fascinated by dolphins? The answer to all of these questions ultimately is oxytocin. Long thought simply to be the hormone of breast-feeding mothers, new research proves that men and women are both capable of making oxytocin throughout their lives. This is significant, since oxytocin can bolster our immune systems, raise our pain threshold and lower our blood pressure.

Olmert uses this incredible new understanding of oxytocin to meticulously explain how it connects us to animals. Drawing on texts as diverse as Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize–winning exploration of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Nicholas Evans’ popular novel The Horse Whisperer (and the real horse trainer on whom the story is based), Olmert creates a compelling case for our seemingly innate attraction to animals. She then buttresses intuition with science, painstakingly detailing studies on everything from lactating rats to the skull sizes of wolves, from the effect of pets on Alzheimer’s patients to the effect of zoo animals on children with attention deficit disorder.

In fact, in a book as fascinating as Olmert’s, the sheer volume of evidence presented could be considered a flaw. By cycling through time—from quite literally the state of nature all the way to the current moment—and back again as her case unfolds, Olmert seems eager to jam in every study or scrap of thought on the topic without curating for maximum impact. Still, Made for Each Other ultimately achieves lasting value with its emotionally gripping narrative of the very intense relationships we have built with animals who have ensured our survival as a species.

Olmert ends with a call for a renewed sense of respect for our fellow travelers on this planet. In an age in which corporate farming disengages us from our primal relationships, it is easy to take animals for granted. But, Olmert is quick to remind us, “clinically speaking, animals are a homeostatic necessity. Like breathing, they can be denied for just so long.” But then, any good dog person already knows that.
 

Culture: Reviews
Playtime for Your Dog
Cadmos, 128 pp., 2006; $32.95

Do your pups suffer from Winteritis? Four of my five dogs would rather not leave the house until spring if at all possible. (The fifth one is impervious to all extremes, weather or otherwise.) Their cabin fever requires creative ways to keep them active that don’t destroy the house in the process! Playtime for Your Dog, by Christina Sondermann, is my new winter dog bible. (And, since it also has outdoors games for milder weather, it will come in handy throughout the year.)

Sondermann is a German positive-reinforcement dog trainer who emphasizes building a bond with your dog through fun, stress-free training methods and games. In 2001, she and her partner, Christoph Henke, developed a website, fun-for-dogs.com, that encouraged people to share ideas for dog games. Playtime for Your Dog is the inspiring end result.

Before you begin, Sondermann suggests that you choose games appropriate for your dog’s age and personality. A senior dog does not need to jump over tall obstacles. Nervous dogs will enjoy games that do not involve other people or kids, at least initially. As they successfully complete one game after another, however, you might be surprised at what even nervous dogs can accomplish.

My pack particularly enjoyed the chapter on sniffing games—what dog doesn’t like to use his nose? While they were downstairs, I hid a small ball on a rope under a rug and then invited them, one at a time, to come find it. My mixed breed, Shelby, prefers to find things visually, so this exercise kept her busy searching; when she eventually found it, she was very proud of her prize. The Dalmatian, Darby, on the other hand, immediately tracked the scent, made a beeline for the rug and flipped it over to reveal the toy.

Everyone enjoyed the “shell game,” in which you hide a treat under one of three bowls set upside down. My youngest dog, Ginger Peach, got a little too excited and sent the bowls skidding across the kitchen floor, so my advice is to try this one on carpet. People whose dogs only come when they feel like it will especially appreciate the “Sit, Down, Come” chapter. One of my agility students has a tough time in class because her dog is easily distracted and doesn’t consistently come back. I introduced my classes to some of the games, including “Treat Lane,” in which the dog must pass by several bowls of boring dry kibble on his way to his owner, who has something super-delicious, like a piece of juicy steak or stinky cheese. Both my student and her dog are now having so much more fun learning this life-saving command through games.

A couple of quick notes: Since the English version is a translation, there are some awkward turns of phrase and minor grammatical errors or typos. Also, the price is a bit steep, even though the information is worthwhile. (If it had been published in the U.S., I’d suggest you wait until a more reasonably priced paperback came out, but I’m not sure the book will be available in that format.) Nonetheless, Playtime for Your Dog offers some excellent options to get your dog moving, thinking and staying out of trouble without emptying your wallet.

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