Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.
January 9 2015
Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson (illustrated by Qin Leng) is a lovely picture book. Norman is adopted by a family who wants to give a home to the dog who has been in the shelter the longest. This is the first important lesson offered in this insightful book. Though the family loves Norman, they think he might not be the brightest because he doesn’t seem to understand them. But one day at the dog park, an Asian man calls to his dog in Chinese, and Norman runs up to him, too, listening intently to what the man has to say. Mystery solved! Norman “speaks” Chinese. Inspired by the need to communicate with Norman, the family signs up for Chinese lessons. They find the language difficult to learn, which helps them understand Norman’s difficulties with English—another valuable lesson. (Ages 4 to 7)
Illustrated dog themed books for children
November 12 2014
You can count on librarians—they always come through with the goods! In the book review section of our Winter 2014 issue, we cover a handful of recent children’s picture books featuring dogs. But we knew that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg—oh-so-many more deserve mention.
With absolutely no advance warning, we swooped down on two local librarians—Theresa McGovern and Carolyn Potter of the Marin County Free Library at Fairfax, Cal.—and asked them for a list of their young library users’ faves, not just recent, but across the years. Within hours, we had it in hand and are sharing it with you here. (Your local children’s librarians might suggest others—check with them the next time you’re in.)
As you’ll notice, the suggested age range begins at two and goes up, so if you’re looking for a gift for a dog-loving child, you’re sure to find one that’s age-appropriate. Many are available as e-books as well, though, traditionalists that we are, we can’t imagine anything better than sitting with a child, turning paper pages and lingering over beautifully printed illustrations.
Bad Dog, by David McPhail (2014)
Ball! by Mary Sullivan (2013)
A Ball for Daisy, by Christopher Raschka (2011)
Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer (1999)
Bubba and Beau, Best Friends, by Kathi Appelt (2002)
City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems (2010)
Dog Breath, by Dav Pilkey (1994)
Good Boy, Fergus! by David Shannon (2006)
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion (1956)
Little Dog Lost, by Monica Carnesi (2012)
Martha Speaks, by Susan Meddaugh (1992)
Mister Bud Wears the Cone, by Carter Goodrich (2014)
Mogie: The Heart of the House, by Kathi Appelt (2014)
Sally Goes to Heaven, by Stephen Huneck (2014)
Skunkdog, by Emily Jenkins (2008)
The Stray Dog, by Marc Simont (2001)
Trouper, by Meg Kearney (2013)
The Way I Love You, by David Bedford (2005)
And, of course, these classic picture book series featuring two favorite canines:
Good Dog, Carl, by Alexandra Day (Suggested Ages 4–8)
McDuff Moves In, by Rosemary Wells (Suggested Ages 2–5)
Note from the librarians: Some descriptive content provided in our library catalog by Syndetics.
Q&A with Veterinarian, writer, reader and advocate Nick Trout
October 8 2014
Unless you lived in or near Boston, Mass., and had a reason to visit the Angell Animal Medical Center (AAMC), you were unlikely to have heard of veterinarian Nick Trout. That is, until his first book, Tell Me Where It Hurts, came out in 2008. Since then, his visibility has risen exponentially, as has his literary output. Born and raised in England, he is a graduate of the venerable University of Cambridge, a Diplomate of the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons and an AAMC staff surgeon. In addition to his work and his writing, Trout is an avid reader and a passionate advocate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Bark: Are there differences between vet education in the UK and the U.S.?
Nick Trout: Probably the biggest single difference is the age at which students go to school. In the U.S., training to become a veterinarian is a post-graduate pursuit. In the UK, most British students go straight from high school to vet school, meaning you can be a fully qualified veterinarian by the age of 23. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the American approach because I believe it selects for candidates who are potentially more driven and have enough maturity to embrace a lifelong career more clearly. In a recent Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Survey (2010), only 52.5 percent of respondents said they would still choose to become a veterinarian if they had to do it over. I’m betting that percentage would be a whole lot higher in the U.S., thanks to a career choice made later in life.
B: How about vet practices?
NT: They’re similar in terms of technology and services offered, but roughly 40 percent of UK pet owners have pet insurance, compared to less than 3 percent in the U.S. My sense is that pet insurance can offset much of the financial awkwardness on both sides of the examination table and free pet owners to pursue optimal care. However, it should not become managed care; vets cannot have financial ties to insurers, and we have to prevent third parties making payments with few to no restrictions on skyrocketing costs.
B: How did you choose your specialty (orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery)?
NT: There’s the physicality of using your hands to fix a problem. There’s the potential for instant gratification (yes, totally self-serving, but no less rewarding) when viewing the postoperative X-ray of a shattered bone you’ve somehow managed to pin, screw, plate and wire back together. There’s the responsibility of knowing you might be a dog’s last hope. For me, the most important message I will ever convey to a dog owner, the only thing I will guarantee, is my unwavering, unequivocal determination to do my best.
B: How do you build communication skills with patients and their people?
NT: I don’t wear a white coat during consultations; for many dogs, a visit to the veterinarian is a stressful business, so why wear a uniform associated with rectal thermometers, needles and rubber gloves? Whether the patient is a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, I almost always get down on the floor with them, down on their level, to socialize and better interact prior to the physical examination. The best advice I can offer new veterinarians on the art of good communication is to simply listen. You need to appreciate the intensity of the bond you are attempting to sustain. When communication works, everyone’s on the same page, formulating a plan, weighing the options, considering the budget and fighting for a common cause.
B: Do you do time in AAMC’s ER? Any takeaway lessons for dog owners?
NT: I only get to cover emergency cases one day a week, but I love the unpredictable, chaotic potential of that day. From spinal surgery on paralyzed Dachshunds to the bizarre objects ingested by orally fixated Labradors, anything can happen. The only consistency is the dog owners’ shock, stress and fear. By definition, emergencies require owners to make quick and oftentimes costly financial and medical decisions when they are at their most vulnerable. My advice is to, while your dog is healthy, mull over what you would do during a variety of emergency situations. Consider how far you would go, how much money you would be prepared to spend. That way, if the unthinkable happens, you’ve already got a plan.
B: Are you getting more questions from your clients—do they have more interest in being heard and having their thoughts considered than they did, say, 20 years ago?
NT: With the advent of the Internet and ready access to Google, there was a time when pretty much every dog owner came into an appointment carrying a hefty wad of printed pages telling me what I should already know. Over the last five years, I’ve seen a decline in this physical show of information. It feels like there has been a transition from wanting to catch out the vet to wanting to enhance what can be done together for the animal. Personally, I much prefer it when an owner comes in having done their homework. Decision-making can be tough, and the options are seemingly endless. Anything a dog owner can do to be better prepared to discuss their animal’s health is fine by me.
B: What made you decide to write, first memoirs and then fiction?
NT: Few professions provide better material for a wannabe writer than veterinary medicine. Think about it: my working days are filled with mysteries, drama, conflict and extreme emotional highs and lows. Most veterinarians accumulate a wealth of heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories during their careers, but no one ever has, or ever will, capture the essence of my vocation better than James Herriot. However, we’ve come a long way from England’s Yorkshire Dales of the 1930s. Companion animals are now essential and central members of the American family.
In the spirit of “write what you know,” I have tried to capture the joy, emotional impact and enduring legacy of sharing our lives with animals. My “voice,” for better and for worse, is not the product of creative writing classes; my formal education in English ended when I was 16. I’m lucky to have a job that necessitates strong powers of observation and people skills, a job that strives to restore and maintain a deep relationship between a human and an animal. The switch to writing fiction was originally based on the chance to cherry-pick some of my more quirky and amusing cases and bend them in a direction I wanted them to go. Writing fiction is as liberating as it is difficult!
B: Are there more books on the horizon?
NT: I’m working on a totally new piece of fiction about a boy with a severe illness who discovers that the decline in his health comes with a unique and paradoxical gift—an ability to interpret the pure, unwavering and positive emotions of his dog. For fans of Dr. Cyrus Mills and Bedside Manor, I have a plot outline for a third book in the series.
B: If you weren’t a vet, what would you be?
NT: If I weren’t a veterinarian, I’d like to be a pediatrician. I see significant overlap between the professions, especially with infants, who, like dogs, cannot “tell me where it hurts.” I’m also drawn to human health issues because my daughter, Emily, has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), an incurable chronic lung disease that relentlessly threatens to steal her breath. Over the years, there have been times when I’ve wondered whether I should become a human doctor and help try to find a cure for CF, only to realize that such a radical career change would take me further away from what Emily needs the most—a father who is there for her.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
October 3 2014
As late summer’s dog days drift into fall, it’s time to try something new.
Learn | Sign up for obedience, agility or another canine-centric activity, and crack open the Internet to expand your dog-cog information base. (Patricia McConnell is an excellent guide; visit patriciamcconnell.com for leads.)
Refresh | Toss the flattened stuffies and stock up on new chewables, DIY a toy storage box, or take the washable pooch bed to a commercial laundry and fluff it up.
Volunteer | Stop by your local shelter and offer yourself as a dog walker, or a dog talker; dogs benefit from having someone sit nearby and talk (or read) to them.
Foster | Partial to a particular breed? See if its local rescue group needs foster homes for dogs-in-waiting. Better yet, make the same offer to your shelter.
Unwind | Give doga a try; get out the yoga mat and do a few downwardfacing dogs with your in-house dogini.
Leaf Peep | Fall-color hot spots abound; google “fall foliage” for your region, then hit the road, co-pilot in the car and camera at hand.
Have Fun | Rake leaves into billowy piles for your dog to jump into … then rake them up again.
Light Up | Days are getting shorter; make sure you’re visible on late-afternoon or early-evening walks. Put new batteries in your flashlight and invest in reflective vests: one for you, one for the pup.
Look Up | Sirius, the Dog Star, is the night sky’s brightest, and easy to spot (plus, stargazing is a good way to pass the moments while your furry friend checks her p-mail).
Dress Up | Make your dog a costume and take part in a Halloween dog parade. NYC’s Tompkins Square Park hosts one of the most venerable, and other cities and groups also sponsor them. Or, try your hand at carving a dog-o-lantern.
Freeze Up | Fall is prime time for pumpkins, one of canine nutrition’s high-antioxidant, high-soluble-fiber wonder foods. Puree fresh cooked pumpkin and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays or muffin tins for future meals. (Organic produce seems to provide more good-guy antioxidants, so go organic when possible.) For recipes: thebark.com/pumpkin
Plan Ahead | Popular dog-friendly resorts and vacation venues fill up fast; make your holiday reservations now. Or, if you know you’ll be traveling sans dog, reserve time in your favorite pet sitter’s schedule.
Get Started | Winter and its seasonal celebrations are coming, so put on your DIY hat and make something special. Knit a sweater, felt a woolen ball, crochet a colorful dog bed, assemble a keepsake book.
PS | Stay safe. Along with summer heat’s last hurrah come potentially dangerous blue-green algae blooms, particularly in freshwater lakes and streams. Read up on their hazards at petpoisonhelpline.com.
Wellness: Healthy Living
It’s time to get out, kick back and have fun with dogs—safely!
June 2 2014
Homework: Before you set off on your summer road trip, check out rules and regs and make a list of dog parks, vets and doggie hang-outs at your destination (and stops along the way). There are apps for that—BringFido (bringfido.com), for example.
Be Ready: Put together a “go-bag” for your dog, which can also serve as an emergency kit; include basic first-aid supplies, an extra collar with ID tags, a leash, bowls, a couple of old towels or a blanket, and perhaps food with a good shelf life.
Overheating: It’s nice to have company when you’re running around doing errands, but this time of the year, it’s best to let your co-pilot snooze at home rather than in your car. Even if it’s “not that hot,” even with the windows down, even in the shade, cars heat up fast, and heatstroke kills.
Humidity: And it’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity. Dogs pant to cool off, evaporating body heat by moving it across their wet tongues, and high humidity slows down that process.
Car Safety: If you don’t already use one, invest in a canine restraint device for your car. A loose dog can distract you, or worse, become airborne if you suddenly hit the brakes.
Water Safety: Before taking your pooch on the water, be sure she can swim (not all dogs do). Buckle her into a canine lifejacket if you’ll be on a fast-moving river or open water. Too much water might also not be a good thing. Swimming, diving for balls or even playing with a water hose can lead to water intoxication that can result in life threatening hyponatremia (excessively low sodium levels).
Splash: A rigid kiddie pool is a perfect place for a hot dog to cool off. A floating toy or two will make it even more irresistible.
Frosty Treats: Or cool her down with frozen treats. Some dogs like plain ice cubes, but practically any food your dog likes can be frozen (try easy-release silicone ice trays or cupcake pans). More recipes online;
Fear Less: Tis the season of thunderstorms and fireworks. If your dog is upset by their noise and flash, get good advice from dog-behavior pro Patricia McConnell at thebark.com/fear. Or check out Thundershirt.
Stung: Some dogs love chasing bees— until they catch one. Be prepared; before that happens, review thebark.com/stings.
Good Host: Doing some outdoor entertaining? Plan ahead with your dog in mind. Start with keeping the yard gate closed and secured, then make sure that all those tasty picnic classics—bones, skewers, corn cobs—don’t make their way into Fido’s stomach.
April 11 2014
Nick Trout’s first novel, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, charmed readers everywhere, including here at Bark. A Boston-based veterinarian, Trout has an insider’s view of vet practices, the people who run them, and the quirks and foibles of clients and their pets. With this book, he continues the story of Patron Saint’s Cyrus Mills, DVM , reluctant owner of a small-town Vermont clinic.
Trout adeptly weaves three plot lines: the David v. Goliath nature of independent and corporate vet practices, Mills’ awkward pursuit of an emotional life, and the gamut of situations vets encounter daily. And once again, Mills finds himself the reluctant guardian of a dog—this time, a service dog with a mysterious background.
Trout writes from a place of deep knowledge and regard for the bonds people have with their companion animals, and his wry sense of humor provides many smile-inducing moments. It’s an enjoyable read.
Author of The Good Boy
March 18 2014
What could be better than a novel that combines a strong sense of place, a fast-moving story and a dog as a primary character? Theresa Schwegel’s newest book, The Good Boy (Minotaur), fulfills all these requirements and then some; Butch, a Chicago PD K9, races through its pages in a most authentic way. Despite a busy book-tour schedule, Schwegel kindly took time to answer a few questions—like all dedicated dog people, she enjoys talking about her co-pilots.
Bark: In the acknowledgments, you thank the dogs who inspired you, Wynne and Wiley and CPD K9 Brix. Tell us more about the first two, and how you came to know Brix.
Theresa Schwegel: Wynne is my wonderfully neurotic Australian cattle dog mix; Wiley is my stomach-brained Ridgeback-Lab. They’re rescues and they’re my best friends. My husband trained them when they were puppies, and they’re easier off-leash (especially since Wynne’s herding instinct only tangles us). They both exist in Butch— his yin and yang, I suppose—as does Brix, the German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix I met when I asked a detective friend to find me a working K9. And yes—Brix is Butch’s physical model; I’d seen Bloodhounds work as well, but I needed a dog who could track and trail and detect and protect.
Bark: Your portrayal of the world of the working police dog has a lot of authenticity. Were you already tapped into it, or did it require research?
Schwegel: Research, of course. I need to see what I write, whether it’s a place or person or procedure. I was fortunate to spend time with some German Shepherds; both a trainer and a former K9 officer were kind enough to let me peek into their homes to see how a working dog lives off the clock. And Brix’s handler, Tara Poremba (now a trainer for the Chicago Police Department), was instrumental in teaching me how a dog team works; at one point, we staged a mock drug search at a neighborhood bar. Truthfully, though, I think Butch’s authenticity comes from living with my two dogs. I think Wiley would be a great K9 if I put bacon in the Kong.
Bark: Butch has a brief foray into dog fighting. What made you decide to add that element?
Schwegel: I felt Butch needed to fight his own fight, too. To be the real “good boy.” What limited research I did with regard to dogfighting was mortifying. The culture, the language, the cruelty. Despite the tough bullying scenes in the book, I could only bring myself to allude to the dogfight.
Bark: Butch really is a central character, one who in some ways drives the action, or at least inspires a lot of it. Did you start with that intent, or did it develop as you wrote?
Schwegel: I knew Butch would cause Joel’s journey, and I knew he had to go along (Joel would need someone to talk to). He became a central character as I realized he was the only one who couldn’t tell a lie (and everybody else in the book was buried under them). His “personality”—if I may anthropomorphize, because I always do— developed as a result of his interactions with Joel.
Bark: We were also interested in your choice to give Jack London’s book White Fang a role in the story; what inspired that? Are you a reader of dog books, or other mysteries with dogs in them? Any favorites or recommendations?
Schwegel: I wanted Joel to have a city map and a moral compass on his journey. White Fang is one of my favorite soul-searching books, and so it was an obvious choice. I don’t really seek out “dog” books, though two favorites that both feature dog-as-narrator are Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
Bark: Are there any more “Murphy and Butch” books in the works?
Schwegel: I don’t have plans for a series, though I had a writer-friend recently comment that Joel would be a “pretty interesting dude” if I let him grow up. The novel I’m working on now jumps to the other end of the spectrum, as it deals with financial exploitation and elder abuse. (I must admit, though, that I’m partial to the idea of giving the detective a dog.)
March 18 2014
“Butch did his job . He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.” In Edgar Award–winner Theresa Schwegel’s new book, Chicago PD K9 officer Pete Murphy is under siege both on the job and on the home front. Fortunately, his partner Butch, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix, has his back. Butch is also devoted to Murphy’s son, Joel, an intelligent, intensely focused 11-year-old with a penchant for playing detective.
As in her four earlier books—all of which are also set in the city of Chicago —the people in The Good Boy struggle with professional and personal complexities. In Pete’s case, the suggestion that he had an affair with a female judge he was assigned to protect affects his job and his marriage. He’s been reassigned to the K9 unit, fellow officers keep their distance, and his wife and teen-age daughter are furious about having to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Joel, on the other hand, considers their new situation ripe with opportunities for “undercover” work. For Butch, whose specialty is drugdetection, life is straightforward: he works hard, is devoted to Pete and his family, and will defend them—especially Joel—at all costs.
The story hits terminal velocity quickly. Joel, accompanied by Butch, follows his sister when she sneaks out to a party at the home of a boy Joel knows is dangerous. As they spy on the partygoers, Butch scents drugs and leaps into action. In the process, shots are fired. The narrative follows Joel and Butch as the two make their way across Chicago, armed with a map, four dollars and a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, to the one person Joel feels can save Butch from the consequences of doing his job. As his mother frantically waits, and his sister hides her role in the situation and his father anxiously searches for them, Joel and Butch navigate some of the city’s bleaker byways.
Both Joel and Butch qualify as the “good boy” of the title. Joel is bright and innocent and loyal; Butch is honest, and honestly portrayed by a writer who knows dogs and their behaviors (she even knows why dogs’ feet smell like popcorn, an intriguing bit of trivia).
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Spring is a good time to take stock, sort out and get ready for the months ahead!
March 15 2014
• Grooming is a year-round activity, but to avoid the “dreads,” now’s the time to step it up. Many dogs are losing their winter coats, so be extra diligent about combing/brushing. A pro shares her tips at thebark.com/groom.
• Temps allowing, sow parsley, thyme and rosemary outdoors or plant a windowsill garden; herbs can brighten up your dog’s diet.
• When you do spring housecleaning, use nontoxic products; vinegar and baking soda are your (and your dog’s) friends! See thebark.com/green for details.
Out and About
• Shape up—gradually. Now that you and your pal can take longer walks, you may be tempted to overdo. Go easy to avoid injury.
Find lots of tips, tricks and advice from the pros by using the search function to find more about any of these topics.
Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives
January 31 2014
No one who lives with and loves a dog wants to think about the subject of this book. We know quite well that one day we’re going to have to face life without our dog’s physical presence … that, indeed, we will very likely have to make the decision that ends our dog’s life. Yet, denial runs deep. Not now, we think. Not yet.
Hard though it may be to do, however, read this book. In it, the author seamlessly weaves journal entries detailing the last year of her old dog Ody’s life with what science has to say about animal aging, end-of-life care and, ultimately, death. She engages both heart and mind in her quest to come to terms with Ody’s deteriorating condition, and to figure out how to best meet his needs. Above all, she’s driven to answer two questions: What does a “good death” look like? And, by extension, how can she ensure that Ody has one?
Impeccably researched, the book covers the biological, philosophical, cognitive and medical aspects of animal aging. Pierce, a bioethicist and (with Marc Bekoff) co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has a gift for explaining scientific subjects to non-scientists.
Yes, you’ll cry. The bond Pierce has with Ody, and her commitment to honoring it, will touch your heart. Nonetheless, traveling with her on that “last walk” is the best way to prepare yourself for the time you’ll have to make it with your own dog.
It has been said that knowledge is power. In this book, the author has given dog lovers a powerful tool to help them navigate one of life’s most profound passages.
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