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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: DogPatch
Newborn Puppies
Bichon Frise/Chihuahua/Pekinese Mix, 12 days old

Traer Scott, photographer of Shelter Dogs and Street Dogs, has now turned her lens on some of the sweetest creatures on earth: puppies in their first 21 days of life. Her recently released book, Newborn Puppies, captures these vulnerable, wobbly, utterly adorable beings about to embark, as she says, “on the great adventure of growing up.” More than just a collection of pretty faces, the book also considers puppy mills and the need for humane education.

During much of the time that I was working on Newborn Puppies, I, like my subjects, was adjusting to life as a new mom. Because of this serendipitous parallel, I found myself in a unique position to observe firsthand how many of our most fundamental experiences of motherhood are also shared by dogs. I felt particularly simpatico with the mother dogs, who, despite being initially grateful for a break from their demanding litters and a chance to romp outside, became unbearably anxious after about 20 minutes. They would burst through the door, trampling anyone in their way to get to the whelping box. In a frenzy of licking, nuzzling and sniffing, they ensured that every pup was clean and safe and then, figuratively exhaling, settled down to nurse. I felt the same ebb and flow of relief and anticipation every time I left for work. Being briefly separated from my daughter was restorative, but after a few hours, I ached to hold her again.
                   
Newborn Puppies: Dogs in Their First Three Weeks
Hardcover, 128 pages, 75 color and black & white photos
Published by Chronicle Books

Culture: Reviews
Editor’s Picks: 25 Good Reads
From the classics to entertaining beach books

Now that summer and its long, warm days have arrived, we hope you find time to catch up on your reading. We would like to suggest our picks for a well-versed “dog culture” reading roster. These 25 books will enhance your understanding of your dog, along with entertaining and inspiring you. Enjoy!

Non-fiction/Memoir

Colter by Rick Bass A beautifully written elegy about “the best dog” ever, Bass captures the essence of this unforgettable dog’s intense drive.

Dog Walks Man, a collection of humorous and absorbing essays by John Zeaman, conveys how the routine act of dog-walking can connect us to the joys of the natural world.

Dog Years, by Mark Doty. A prize-winning poet and memoirist, Doty explores the complicated landscape of love and loss.

Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men by Donald McCaig. You don’t need to be a Border Collie admirer to be enthralled by McCaig’s storytelling of his journey to Scotland to explore what is behind the mystery of these hardworking dogs and their human handlers.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home, a memorable memoir by Gail Caldwell about her friendship with the late Caroline Knapp (Pack of Two); their dogs brought these two writers together, and a devoted friendship followed.

Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp. Written 15 years ago, this was one of the first, and still the best, explorations of the dog/human intricate bond in modern life.

Rex and the City, by Lee Harrington. A  “behaviorally-challenged” rescue dog might be more than a NYC couple can handle. But when it comes to exploring what it takes for “newbies” to learn about co-existing with a canine (and with each other), this is one of the funniest accounts of the journey.

Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson. A fascinating memoir of the adventures of a Search and Rescue pup and how both she and her human partner mastered the course together.

A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler is part Hunter Thompson part Carlos Castaneda but mostly so original that it’s difficult to peg. A fascinating examination of the “cult and culture” of dog rescue.

Dog Studies

Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzaznne Clothier. An analysis of the mind and motives of dogs, and a lesson in how to speak their language.

In Dog Sense, animal behaviorist John Bradshaw outlines what we can expect from our co-pilots as well as what they need to live harmoniously with us.

Dog’s Best Friend. Mark Derr writes about the “culture of the dog” like no one else. He goes well beyond the in’s and out’s of breeding and training examining all aspects about what makes our friendship with dogs tick.

The Hidden Life of Dogs: a book made famous for the number of miles that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas clocked while tracking a Husky on his daily forays in her anthropological quest to answer “What do dogs really want?”

Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz is a fascinating journey into the dog’s rich sensory world, providing valuable insights into what it’s like to be a dog.

Man Meets Dog was first published over fifty years ago, becoming a classic that every dog lover should read by the Nobel Prize-winner, Konrad Lorenz. 

Patricia McConnell, has written many books decoding the mysteries of canine behavior, including The Other End of the Leash, on why we behave as we do around our dogs and how it affects them, and, Tales of Two Species, a collection of her Bark columns.

Speaking for Spot, by Nancy Kay, DVM. Direct, empathetic and absolutely invaluable advice on how to successfully advocate for your dog.

Novels

Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a beautifully crafted tale of the wonders and absurdities of human life as only a dog could describe them

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.

The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine. Set in the microcosmic world of a New York neighborhood—dogs are the stars of this show.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout, DVM. A small-town vet comes to terms with his career change and the importance of friendship and community.

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

Dog-Flavored Mystery Series

David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter is a reluctant attorney whose real passions are dog rescue and his Golden Retriever, Tara. Unleashed is the most recent entry.

In Spencer Quinn’s “Chet and Bernie” mysteries, narrated by Chet the dog, comments on the way dogs see the world ring true (and will make you smile). The fifth book, A Fist Full of Collars, is his most recent.

Our long-time favorite, Susan Conant, released a new “Holly Winter” thank goodness; A Brute Strength is number 19 in the series featuring the Malamute-loving dog writer and, of course, her favorite dogs.

Dog's Life: Humane
Puppy Mill Bust
A report from the inside

She was a timid thing, a tiny Chihuahua whose swollen belly was packed with five pups waiting to enter the world. Cradling this fragile, trembling mom-to-be in my arms, I carried her around the well-lit yet somewhat cramped quarters known as the “back wing” of the Humane Society of Skagit Valley adoption center.

A rare uncovered window positioned at eye level sparked a sudden idea—I’d brighten her day with a glimpse of the outside world. But the pup failed to show excitement. In fact, she registered nothing at all. At that moment, I embraced the stark truth: An unwitting rescue from a life of dark, unspeakable cruelty, this dog—estimated to be three years old—had no idea what a window was, nor was it likely that she had ever set foot outdoors.

The petite Chihuahua and her two-dozen shelter mates were among hundreds of dogs seized in January from an alleged “puppy mill” ring operating in northwestern Washington state. The rest were farmed out to other shelters and foster homes. Malnourished and suffering from infection, almost all required immediate medical attention. Some didn’t survive.

Like others moved by such news accounts, I broke my years-long streak of avoiding the dismal atmosphere of animal shelters. I put on my big-girl pants and signed on to volunteer as a caretaker. I also resurrected the investigative aspect of my extinct career as a newspaper reporter. I needed to do more, but also to know more, and to tell what I knew.

Dogs in Limbo
The scope was astounding. Animal care costs for the two counties in which the operation was located—Skagit and Snohomish—skyrocketed within a week, reaching into tens of thousands of dollars. Already underfunded, overworked shelters found themselves deluged. Legal ownership of most of the dogs remained with defendants, who were facing multiple counts of felony animal abuse. Nonetheless, they refused to surrender their “property,” turning the dogs into de facto wards of the state and running up tabs with county coffers and nonprofit rescue agencies that would otherwise adopt them out.

The refugees I saw were, I suspect, the cream of the crop—the healthiest and least traumatized of the bunch. They’d been bathed, groomed and treated to manicures that brought their nails down to a manageable length. Nonetheless, visible signs of their plight were heartbreaking. Most cowered at the approach of caring humans who wanted only to help them. Some less timid dogs, starved for attention and desperate to be held, charged workers entering their pens. None was properly socialized.

This is the world of breeding for bucks, an insidious industry in which jaw-dropping sums of money are made through trafficking the offspring of dogs crammed together in cages and bred until they can no longer stand. Adult dogs are used as procreative vessels, and puppies are pawned off to pet shops and resellers who position themselves as small-time “hobby” breeders. Proprietors of these canine factories operate on the sly, locating mostly in remote areas hidden from the prying eyes of law enforcement officials.

Doing the Right Thing
Friends’ eyes are a different story. Brandon Hatch never thought he’d turn in his lifelong buddy to child welfare officials, but after walking in on a gruesome scene, he faced a moral dilemma. Hatch knew his friend was involved in breeding dogs. But what he saw on his last visit tormented him: 160 dogs stacked up in cages that were caked with feces and dripping with urine. The stench was overwhelming, Hatch told me, but it was the excrement on a nearby bed that left him no choice but to summon authorities.

“I knew there were children sometimes sleeping there,” he said. “In all honesty? It hurt to do what I did, but it was the right thing to do.” (Read more at PuppyJustice.com, Hatch’s blog.)

Agents inspected, then promptly called law enforcement. An ensuing raid led to searches of three residences in two counties, and the seizure of almost 600 malnourished, diseased dogs with a wide range of medical ailments, including spinal deformities, dangerous bacterial infections and—in a few cases—dental deterioration so severe that the afflicted dogs’ jaws had dissolved.

What Hatch uncovered was an unlicensed, mostly unattended, large-scale breeding operation—a “puppy mill,” in the vernacular of animal advocates, law enforcement officials and concerned legislators who for years have made attempts to shut them down.

Emily Diaz, an animal control officer in Skagit County, has seen her share of horror. Most of her cases are smaller in scale and “walk the fence,” as she puts it, between behavior in need of adjustment and actionable abuse. I asked Diaz to recount her emotions as she processed the dogs removed from that property.

Her answer was understandable. “What I was really feeling I probably shouldn’t say.” It’s essential not to let emotions overtake your ability to work effectively, Diaz says. But she never disconnects entirely. “The moment I quit caring is the moment I have to quit my job.”

Don’t look for Diaz to quit her job. She is a warrior working on behalf of the voiceless by attempting to educate rather than impound, and hoping for that one tip from a witness or complainant willing to go on the record as a source so she can build a case for seizure when necessary.

Taking a Legal Approach
As news of the raids sparked a groundswell of outrage and protests in the Seattle area and beyond, Washington state legislators were busy revisiting bills left over from an abbreviated 2008 session that would place stricter controls on breeding operations and permit inspections by animal welfare officials who have reason to suspect noncompliance.

While it sounds aggressive, Washington’s legislation is dwarfed by a new Virginia law that mandates inspections of licensed kennel operations and forbids retailers from selling pets acquired from breeders not licensed by the USDA and subject to that agency’s basic standards of care.

Washington State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, sponsor of Senate Bill 5651, would love to see even stronger legislation passed. But in an economic downturn, she said, few have the appetite to force rural, fiscally struggling counties to perform scheduled inspections. At a minimum, this bill will put breeders on notice: Cross the line into greed-induced, abusive practices and you will be held to account. (At press time, the Senate’s version had passed, but not unanimously.)

Opponents in the legislature worry about over-regulating responsible breeders and kennel owners, one of whom testified before a Senate committee that unannounced inspections were tantamount to a violation of her constitutional rights. Supporters rejected that contention, citing existing laws subjecting food establishments to mandatory, random inspections. Kohl-Welles emphasizes the consumer-protection aspect of her bill. “I understand these are financial endeavors that people have, that they are businesses, and that’s just fine,” she said. “But it also can be very costly to families and to individuals who purchase these dogs. And there is the more intangible impact of heartbreak. How do you measure that?”

Calculating the Costs
By Sydney Cicourel’s measure, the sum is $800—so far. That represents a one-day spay and dental surgery for a five-year-old Papillon named Butter, whom she adopted after authorities seized 111 dogs from an Eastern Washington operation in February.

Cicourel, a lifelong animal lover involved in pet-shop protests and dog rescues, knew the expenses of bringing Butter home would be enormous. Her beloved three-year-old Maltese/Poodle mix, Polly, came from a puppy mill, though that fact only surfaced after she’d spent $4,000 in veterinary bills and discovered that another $3,000 would be necessary to correct orthopedic problems in Polly’s hind legs. As Cicourel has learned, very few survivors of puppy mill environments escape genetic defects.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, considering that operators of these warehouses can take in a staggering amount of revenue. Prosecutors in the Skagit County case allege that its ringleader has netted several million dollars over the last decade.

Like many of those who purchase dogs through newspaper or Internet ads, Cicourel was duped by a seemingly scrupulous breeder. Her goal is to warn off future victims, both human and canine. She urges patience through education.

“You have to be forgiving of people. They don’t want to know ugliness,” she said. “They don’t want the drama, the horror of it.”

A degree of understanding even toward perpetrators is encouraged by Officer Diaz and Brandon Hatch, both of whom believe few people start out with the intent of inflicting devastating harm on animals. But when commonsense barriers drop and greed takes over, innocent victims are left rotting in their own waste. They are deprived of the most basic sensory stimulation necessary for any living being capable of feeling pain, misery and fear.

Cicourel hopes the high-profile stories in Washington and elsewhere fuel support for continued activism that will eventually stop unnecessary suffering. People who buy or adopt animals as pets are searching for well-tempered companions. Though through an inordinate amount of care and socialization, dogs from puppy mills may become these companions, many fall devastatingly short.

My heart sank listening to Cicourel’s impassioned tale. In the shelter, I’d cared for a select group of relatively fortunate victims snatched from the confines of mass breeders. But it wasn’t hard to get to the place she hinted at—a world of despair she likened to concentration camps.

“They all have this spiritless persona. They’re like ghosts; they look right through you,” Cicourel said. “They’re empty and broken. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever seen.”

 

 

 

Culture: Reviews
Sink or Swim Custom Sneakers
Happy Feet
sinkorswimkicks.com

New Yorker Jill Forie describes herself as a full-time teacher, entrepreneur, student, humanitarian, artist and adventurer. At least three of those roles converge in Sink or Swim Custom Kicks, a company she founded in 2009. Since then, she’s painted nearly 400 pairs of shoes for customers both domestic and international. Like many artists, she works on canvas and uses a variety of media (plus a good fabric protectant). Forie, who takes pride in not repeating a design, collaborates with her clients to create custom artwork, images that speak to them specifi cally. You’ve heard the phrase, “wear your heart on your sleeve”? Well, for $150—which includes the shoes—you can wear your co-pilots on your feet and see their smiling faces with every step.

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
Review: A Nose for Fun
Nosework
Nosework Search Games

What is it about Nordic people that makes them so lyrical to listen to? It’s more than the accent—they just emanate gentleness. Nosework Search Games, a new DVD by Turid Rugaas (author of the wonderful classic book Calming Signals) and one of her students, Anne Lill Kvam, feels like the ’60s version of competitive nosework, focusing on games to exercise a dog’s mind rather than on how to play by the rules. They often call dogs “harmonic,” and talk a lot about letting dogs be themselves. There are step-by-step instructions on how to train for “the lost retrieve,” “the square search” and “search for treats” (which needs no instruction in my household). The structure is a little hard to get used to; they talk about the different games way before they get around to telling you how to do them, and the instructional portions were fi lmed at actual seminars conducted by the two women throughout Europe. But about a quarter of the way through, it becomes a somewhat Zen-like experience to watch. Be sure to wait for the credits at the end, during which Ms. Rugaas talks about her dog following her car tracks all the way to town without her knowing … you can see and hear the absolute wonder she has for dogs, and truly appreciate her love of the canine brain.

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.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Truth About Wolves and Dogs
Dispelling the Myths of Dog Training
The Truth About Wolves and Dogs

Many books about dogs cross my desk, and a few immediately catch my eye. Often, it’s simply a title or a cover photo that attracts my attention. Mark Derr’s How the Dog Became the Dog was one of the more recent ones, as was Stephen Budiansky’s The Truth About Dogs some years ago. Unfortunately, Budiansky’s book had so many errors in it that I became suspicious of any book with the word “truth” in the title.

So, when I received a copy of Toni Shelbourne’s new book, The Truth About Wolves and Dogs, I opened it cautiously and began reading. In a nutshell, I was very pleased, especially with Shelbourne’s candor about what we know and don’t know, and her dismantling of training methods that entail abusive behavior on the part of the human trainer, such as those used by Cesar Millan.

The Truth About Wolves and Dogs is a practical guide to who wolves are; who their descendants, our best friends, are; and how what we know about the behavior of wild and domesticated animals can be used to better understand them and help us adapt to their world and them to ours. A significant take-home message is that dogs are not wolves. They are domesticated animals who have undergone their own unique changes as they became dogs.

I also found the discussions of dominance (it is not a myth) and the notion of alpha animals to be well grounded. Finally, I like the way Shelbourne ends her book, imploring readers to “Say ‘no’ to inappropriate training methods … Let’s have a revolution and let our dogs be dogs. Let them be our faithful companions, acknowledge and welcome the fact that they have thoughts, feelings and express themselves, just as we do.” Amen.

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