B: Of all aspects of canine care and companionship, are there things you feel are happening too slowly?
TK: What I wish would change faster is the amount of freedom dogs enjoy. In most places in the U.S., dogs can no longer roam because of leash laws or traffic or both. Off-leash dog parks are nice, but most are too small. We accept them in lieu of giving dogs true freedom. In many European countries, on the other hand, dogs can go into restaurants, they can ride on buses and subways, and they have more freedom in big urban parks.
B: You spent a lot of time at shelters, investigating what makes some successful in becoming no-kill, while others can’t seem to reach that goal. What do you think makes the difference?
TK: A proactive, compassionate director who can change how a shelter operates. There are roughly 3,500 shelters in the U.S.; approximately 200 are no-kill and quite a few more have not yet reached the goal of having 90 percent of the dogs going back out into the community, but are close. A good fostering system connected with the shelter helps, as does outreach to the community—taking dogs off-site to be adopted. A really simple thing that can be done is to keep the shelter open at night and at least one day on the weekend so working people can get to the shelter and adopt a dog.
B: In Pukka’s Promise, you take on some big players in the dog world—breeders, veterinarians, dog-food and toy manufacturers. Are you concerned about their reactions?
TK: I tried very hard to not trounce people, but to gently point out how we can improve the health of dogs. Those I took to task most are breeders who continue to breed for extreme form even though we all know this leads to unhealthy dogs. I also described pet-food manufacturers who wouldn’t have an honest conversation with me. I hope the weight of the evidence helps people make healthier choices.
B: What is the big take-away you want readers to get from Pukka’s Promise?
TK: Pay more attention to your dog. Get on the ground with your dog, see what it’s doing and what it’s telling you with its body language, its eyes and its facial expressions. I’m often disturbed by how unobservant many people are when it comes to their dogs. Their dogs are asking them a question, but they’re talking on their cell phones. More and more people also treat their dogs like children, giving them a gazillion toys instead of exercise, which is far more important than a bunch of rubber bones and stuffed animals. Dogs need to run, they need to smell, they need to meet other dogs. And it’s important that they get to do that almost every day. For a dog, toys can’t replace running, or reading the world through its nose or having canine company.
For the full interview, see The Bark, Issue 73, Feb–Apr 2013.