Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's All About the Dog Books

If you talk to me for at least 5 minutes, it is a fairly good bet that I have probably worked dogs into the conversation somehow.  I am always willing to share stories about my dog rescue adventures or regale you about the antics of one of our own literary named dogs:  Harry Potter, the Maltipoo banshee; Elizabeth Bennet, aka Lizzie the Psycho Dingo; Charlie Weasley, a Lhaso mix with OTD (obsessive toy disorder); Talia, our beautiful red and very loud Finnish Spitz, whose namesake is the heroine of Mercedes Lackey's Herald of Valdemar series; and Sheldon the frog eating Shih Tzu, who may have developed a complex because his name is not truly "literary" - my husband named him after his favorite TV character.  There are so many great books about dogs.  Incredible picture books, touching fiction for young people, and really wonderful books for us adult dog lovers.  I want to share some of my recent and cherished favorites with you. 


In one of my pre-library life incarnations, I was a student of animal behavior and I still really enjoy books that attempt to explain the mysterious workings of the animal mind.  I am always on a quest to find any information that will shed light on all those quirky things that the dogs in my life do.  Even though I am  "science geeky" all of these books are written for a nonscientific audience, and they are well written.  Both The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connections between Humans and Dogs, by Jon Franklin and The Modern Dog: A Joyful Exploration of How We Live with Dogs Today, by Stanley Coren explore the evolution of interactions  between dogs and humans since dogs became fully domesticated and humans began settled farming approximately 12,000-10,000 years ago.  Among the topics these books explore are how dog and human behavior have shaped and been shaped by each other - I find these books fascinating. 


Alexandra Horowitz has also written a wonderful and highly accessible book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs Think and Know, that has helped me find some of those answers.  It is a fascinating and conversational exploration of why dogs do what they do, see what they see, etc. from their point of view.  This book has great insight into how dogs see and react to the world and while reading it I would look at my dogs in fascination and I swear they were saying, "Well, duh - we have been telling you that for years!"  

Horowitz also discusses how we humans have become rampant consumers of almost anything that will make their dog's life better, perfect, more complete, etc. , at least according to those who are trying to sell us something for our pets.  Michael Shaffer's book, One Nation Under Dog: Adventures in the New World of Prozac Popping Puppies, Dog-Park Politics, and Organic Pet Food, explores this topic in greater depth and in a larger cultural context.  You won't look at that $20 toy at PetCo the same way again.  

One of my absolute favorite works of  dogcentric fiction is Sight Hound, by Pam Houston.  The book is told from various canine and human perspectives  but the most striking voice is that of Dante, the Irish Wolfhound that the story revolves around.  Houston wrote a marvelous chapter that absolutely devastated me, it reduced me to a sobbing puddle of tears in the middle of a restaurant. The chapter describes the feelings of utter despair and helplessness that Rae, Dante's human, feels as she waits for news of his fate.  This chapter captures, exactly  and perfectly, how I have felt as I also waited in a similar cold and barren veterinary ER at 3:12 am.  

I felt like Houston was describing my exact experiences of sitting on those uncomfortable  wooden benches.  I always feel like I am hunched over in the emotional  and physical agony as I wait to hear if my beloved pet would live or die even while I am still shaking from the adrenaline of flying at high speeds along the dark highway rushing to get Sadie, Max, or Rilla to the ER before it was too late.  Houston is a master at describing emotions so vividly that I can actually feel and almost see them.   On a lighter dog fiction note, I love the works of Rita Mae Brown, whose Mrs. Murphy mysteries feature the intrepid crime solving Corgi Tee Tucker; the books of former Late Night comedy writer Merrill Markoe; the wit and wisdom of Enzo from Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain; and the dry wit of Chet, the canine half of the mystery solving team in Spencer Quinn's books.   I can't forget about the frothy fun of Dogs and Goddesses, by Jennifer Crusie et al.  just pure good fun!
Nick Trout, a Boston veterinarian, has written two very appealing books, Tell Me Where It Hurts and Love is the Best Medicine.  Both books chronicle his observations about the strong emotional bond between dogs and their humans and allow the readers fascinating glimpses into Trout's work as a 21st century veterinarian. Even with all the technology, vets are still limited   If you know any animal loving teens, especially any aspiring vets, give them these two books to read. Actually, these books are great for pet loving readers of any age.


In the past year, several books have been published that tell the heartbreaking  stories of dogs rescued from horrific situations.  Two of these books, A Rare Breed of Love:  The True Story of Baby and the Mission She Inspired to Help Dogs Everywhere, by Jana Kohl and Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills, by Carol Bradley, are particularly timely as they focus on the horrors of puppy mills.  I have fostered dogs rescued from puppy mills.  I once had two small little Maltese foster boys, 5 and 7 lbs respectively, that did not know how to sleep lying down because they had spent their whole life in a crowded and filthy cage that had no place or room to lie down.  

These books, while sad, have uplifting and happy endings.  Saving Cinnamon:  The Amazing True Story of  a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home, by Christine Sullivan also has a happy ending and because of Cinnamon and other dogs like her, the successful rescue Operation Baghdad Pups was created.  Grab your tissues when you read these books but I urge you to read them!  The books are even better when you curl up to read them with your favorite fuzzy four-legged friend.  

 Happy Reading!

1 comment:

  1. Angela, you're as prolific a writer as you are a dog lover! What a great article!!