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Culture: Reviews
Book Review: What Is a Dog?
(University of Chicago Press)
What is A Dog? Book Review Raymond Coppinger (Author), Lorna Coppinger (Author)

To Raymond and Lorna Coppinger and their chief hagiographer at the New York Times, James Gorman, who wrote a fawning profile of the pair recently, the vast majority of the world’s 1-billion dogs all look alike because they have evolved to fill the ecological niche of village dump-diver or biological garbage disposal. Like all of Raymond Coppinger’s books, many of them co-authored, What Is a Dog? is a reductionist work of illogic that relies on simplistic scientific arguments and pre sent ism, manifest here in the assumption that the present circumstances of street dogs or village dogs have always been thus. The argument is grounded in Ray Coppinger’s belief that dogs cannot possibly have evolved from gray wolves because they look nothing like large northern wolves who feed on caribou, moose and other large animals. Were he to compare those 30-pound street dogs to the small desert wolf, he might find something different.

At the base of this book lies the Coppingers’ notion—wrong in all regards—that dogs are a species unto themselves and began to appear some 7,000 years ago, a time coincident with the first dog burials. The first dog burials in the archaeological record date to 12,000 or more years ago. The Coppingers also misrepresent or ignore evidence that dogs evolved from a gray wolf, most likely a now extinct subspecies, and continued to crossbreed for thousands of years with wolves who arose about the same time dogs did. Genes flowed from wolves to dogs and dogs to wolves. In some parts of the world, the crossbreeding continues. In the Caucasus, for example, wolves and livestock-guarding dogs are still interbreeding.

The Coppingers take what can only be described as an ahistorical view of the dog-human relationship. They seem to believe it has always resembled the current model of the dog occupying the niche of garbage disposal and occasional early warning system for incoming human or nonhuman predators. Some attention is paid to the system of transhumance—the seasonal movement of sheep between mountain and lowland pastures—but nearly nothing is said about other historic and traditional uses of dogs in particular cultures. Having spent most of their book arguing that 85 percent of the world’s 1-billion dogs are street/village dogs—the rest being human-created purebreds or their crosses—that all look the same and occupy the same niche, the Coppingers leave themselves little room for a serious discussion of just who dogs are.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Zen and the Art of Dog Walking

A quie t and moving ref lect ion on t he transformative relationship we have with our dogs. A walk around a country lake/ holds our attention/an abandoned pup is found by a young son/a family grows/ adventures begin/walking/reflections. Bo and his man/so much to discover. A delightful “cathartic” experience with photos that draw the reader in, inspiring our thoughts too. This is a special book that dog lovers will appreciate.

Culture: Reviews
Two Dogs and a Parrot

This small volume of “lessons” and ref lections is written by a Benedictine nun who loves and appreciates animals. In it, she illuminates the signif icance that dogs and other pets have had in her life. Each chapter begins with a story of what an animal did to inspire qualities such as acceptance, purpose, enjoyment, empathy and diversity (plus many others). Each vignette is followed by a consideration of the importance those qualities should have in our lives. Not surprisingly, the book is constructed much like a sermon, but one that’s offered with a very tender, and at times humorous, tone.

In her introduction, she relates how “spiritually profound” she finds the question of “what it means to be entrusted with nature, to live with a pet.” She also notes that there are two creation stories in Genesis. The more widely known suggests that humans were assigned “dominion” over other living creatures and nature. The other, she points out, tells us that animals were brought to Adam to be named; her take on this may differ from what many others have interpreted as having “power over them.”

The second creation story is actually older than the first, and Chittister construes it more generously—she feels that to name “is an act of relationship, not dominance.” She also makes the important point that if we look at a creation story as a relationship tale, it “inserts us into the animal world and animals into ours—with everything that implies about interdependence.” The book goes on to illustrate this perfectly. You don’t need to be spiritually inclined to find significance in it and to take inspiration from it.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Killing Trail

Foiling drug trafficking in Colorado’s high country keeps Deputy Mattie Lou Cobb and Robo, her K9 partner, on the run. But when Robo alerts to another, more ominous, scent—the remains of a teenage girl— the stakes get higher. The tightly plotted puzzle, which also involves a local vet, his daughter and a town’s dark secrets, scrolls out from there. Mizushima not only has a deft touch with dialogue, she’s also done her homework on the training and handling of law-enforcement dogs. This debut novel, with its bright, dedicated human and canine protagonists, is a promising first entry in what we hope becomes a series.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Sire and Damn

We always welcome a new work from Susan Conant, one of the founding “dams” (along with Carol Lea Benjamin) of the dog mystery subgenre. A lover of all dogs, but with a special fondness for Malamutes, Conant has written another intriguing tale full of dogs, wit and keen insights into the foibles and follies of human behavior. Holly Winter’s good friend is getting married, and amid the hubbub and multitudes of visiting relatives, the bride’s dog is stolen. Not only that, a burglar is killed and a service dog might be next on the hit list. But as always, Holly and her fearless Rowdy not only solve the crime, they also prevent another from happening.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Considerations for the City Dog

One would expect that a Boston-based, certified dog trainer’s first book would be about training a dog for city life, but McGrath’s is not a training guide. Instead, she explores bigger and broader subjects: how to be a responsible urban dog person and how to ensure that our relationships with our dogs are successful and fulfilling. She takes on subjects like breaches in dog-owner etiquette and other societal challenges that normally don’t come up in basic training class. We owe it to our dogs to read this resource-rich, highly informative handbook. As McCue-McGrath reminds us, we need to “know where they are coming from and what they need, and how to make their lives better,” which includes living in harmony with others in our communities.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Drifter

Although this debut thriller isn’t about a dog per se, it does have a memorable and wellconceived canine character. Mingus, a large and rather ferocious dog, is hiding under a porch, awaiting his owner’s return when he is discovered by ex-marine Peter Ash. Ash is a war veteran plagued with his own devils who nonetheless works to help other vets and their families. Mingus lends his ample talents to assist Ash in his mission in this gripping, action-packed novel.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Sit! Stay! Speak!

This author has much to recommend her to Bark readers, including her decade-long work in animal rescue and this charming debut novel. Sit! Stay! Speak! introduces us to a troubled young woman, Addie Andrews, who relocates from Chicago to a small town in Arkansas after her fiancé tragically dies just before their wedding. She inherits her aunt’s house, which is sorely in need of her DIY skills. As she tries to find solace in restoration work, she is drawn out of her self-imposed seclusion when she finds a bedraggled Pit pup who needs her kindness and love even more. This is a touching and engaging book about friendships, family and the power of dogs to inspire changes in our lives.

Culture: Reviews
Finding Home
Finding hope and love with memorable shelter dogs

Photographer Traer Scott follows up her groundbreaking book Shelter Dogs with a new work of equal grace and sensitivity. The portraits in Finding Home not only showcase a collection of canines with indomitable character and spirit, they are also an eloquent plea for more adoptive families, and a tribute to all dogs everywhere. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the book is scheduled for release in October.

I no longer believe there are truly bad dogs in the world … only misunderstood, lost and confused souls. I consider it my job to do everything in my power to get them a second chance. On tough days, I look at all of the dogs who have found amazing homes and use that as a gentle reminder to myself that what I do matters … even if only to one or two dogs, every once in a while. It’s not about saving them all—it’s about giving them fair shots and never losing compassion for these incredible and selfless creatures.

—Bethany Nassef, Dog Coordinator, Providence Animal Rescue League

The ASPCA reports that 35 percent of dogs entering shelters are adopted and 31 percent are euthanized.

For shelters, rescues and the dogs they house and care for, many factors go into determining rates of adoption versus euthanasia: geographic location, breed, history, temperament, legislation and, many times, just sheer dumb luck. Ultimately, all policies and politics aside, the reason that so many of the dogs in this book made it is because the groups that I worked with are highly effective.

While we should absolutely work to save the dogs who are right here right now, we should also think about how we can make truly lasting change. By supporting humane legislation, we will put laws in place to regulate and punish those people who will never care at all about dogs, and through community outreach and targeted humane education, we can reach new generations and create a future of people who do.

Take heart: it is working. 

 

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: No Better Friend
One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII

There’s no denying it: war is hell. In No Better Friend by Robert Weintraub, we once again are confronted by the god-awful truth behind that expression. But we also learn about the true nature of grit, resiliency, courage and, in this case, the strength of the bond between man and dog.

This inspirational story revolves around an English Pointer born in 1936 in Shanghai, who became a mascot on one of the many English gunboats that patrolled the Yangtze River. At first called Shudi, Chinese for peaceful, she became Judy, and was adopted by the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Gnat.

Although the crew hoped that Judy would be a good hunting companion, it quickly became clear that her talents didn’t lie in that direction. But she was able to put her alertness, intelligence and intense drive to use by barking alarms at sewer ships (“cess boats”) and river pirates—even defending against onboard invaders. After 1937 and the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, she ratcheted up her early-warning system, signaling when fighter planes were approaching.

How she became the war’s only official canine POW is a long story, and one best left for readers to discover for themselves. Suffice it to say that Judy, who was, as Weintraub describes, “a fiercely loyal dog, with a keen sense for who was friend and who was foe,” performed many memorable feats (see excerpt).

After Singapore fell to the Japanese, she dug up a life-saving fresh water source for those who were marooned on a barren atoll, and led soldiers (including Frank Williams, who became her chief caregiver and companion) on a dangerous march across Sumatra. Once she and the soldiers had been captured and interned in a Japanese POW camp, she found rodents, snakes and other creatures to help feed herself and her fellow captives. For four horrible years, she and the other prisoners were kept under barbaric conditions. Judy had numerous near-misses with guards who wanted to kill (and eat) her; it’s amazing that anyone, much less a dog, survived such treatment.

Williams and hundreds of other prisoners (all of whom were slowly starving to death) were forced to build a railroad by hand. As Weintraub noted, “Judy’s mere presence on the railway rallied men who had been pushed beyond the brink.” One prisoner penned a quatrain to memorialize the men’s feelings for this heroine dog, and his words summed up their sentiment perfectly: “They would stagger to their workplace/Though they really ought to die/And would mutter in their beards/If that bitch can, so can I.”

Weintraub’s compelling, well-researched book does justice to the remarkable Judy and the men whose stories he tells so effectively and poignantly. Theirs is truly one of the great sagas of WWII and I highly recommend it to everyone. (A younger readers’ version is due out soon—keep an eye out for it.)

For more see our conversation with the author, Robert Weintraub and an excerpt from the book.

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