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Good Dog Reads

books-on-dogs Welcome to our book page — a collection of dog book news and reviews from the archives of ohmidog! 

 If you’d like to submit a book for consideration, contact ohmidog@triad.rr.com

Clicking on the the bespectacled dog to the left will take you to my Amazon Affiliate store — a collection of some of my favorite dog books. 

 For reviews and news about dog books, scroll down.


Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself

Dog_Medicine.cvr_Seems that hardly a month goes by that we’re not reading about — and duly reporting on — some new scientific study showing how dogs, for us humans, are good medicine.

Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.

Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.

“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.

The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”

A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.

Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.

Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.

On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:

“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”

Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.

The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.

The book is being released in November by Think Piece Publishing, but you can pre-order it here.

Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:

Dogs are good for the heart and soul.

New Seuss book, published posthumously

seussWhen an author pens some words

Then decides to abort ’em

Is it right to dig them up

And publish them post mortem?

When an artist abandons or otherwise trashes a work in progress — be that artist a musician, painter or writer — it’s usually for good reasons

When an heir, agent or publisher digs up the discarded work of a dead or incapacitated artist it, and seeks to package it for public consumption, it’s usually for one:


That — more than paying homage, more than fleshing out the historical record — is what’ I’d guess is behind the publication of “new” books by two of America’s most beloved authors.

Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman — essentially the trashed first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird — was released this summer, even though some say, given Ms. Lee’s mental state, she isn’t likely to have endorsed the project.

What Pet Should I Get, by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), hit bookstores today — 24 years after his death.

Fifty years after Seuss and Lee became part of popular culture, their respective publishing houses are saying, in effect — and like an infomercial — “But wait … There’s more.”

The new Seuss book is based materials found in the author’s San Diego home in 2013 by Geisel’s widow, Audrey.

According to Random House, when Audrey Geisel was remodeling her home after his death, she found a box filled with pages of text and sketches and set it aside with some of her husband’s other materials. Twenty-two years later, she and Seuss’s secretary revisited the box.

They found the full text and sketches for What Pet Should I Get? — a project that, seemingly, Seuss didn’t feel good enough about to pursue.

As reincarnated books go, Go Set a Watchman has proven far more contentious.

On top of questions over whether Lee wanted the work published, it’s first-version portrayal of Atticus Finch as a bigot is hard for some readers to take, especially those who read Mockingbird.

What Pet Should I Get? hasn’t entirely escaped controversy.

The story line is simple:  A brother and sister (the same ones featured in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish) go to the pet store with permission from their parents to pick out a pet.

The can’t seem to agree. The brother wants a dog, the sister wants a cat, and some consideration is given to a “Yent that could live in a tent.”

Some reviews are saying the rhymes lack the pzazz and zaniness of Geisel’s better known works.

In addition, the book doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It was written in a day that buying a dog from a store was deemed acceptable — decades before the atrocities of puppy mills (where many such dogs came from) became known.

Among the book’s earliest critics — even before it came out — was PETA, whose president contacted Random House to point out it might send the wrong message to young readers. Apparently, Random House took the advice to heart. In an eight-page afterword, the publisher makes a point of explaining, among other things, that families should adopt rather than buying dogs and cats from stores.

What’s not addressed are the ethics of profiting off selling the unpublished works of the dead.

In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, let me conclude with a couple of modest thoughts. You can call them little point one and little point two.

Point one is a note to creative types. You might want to consider outlining in your will, in great detail, what may or may not happen to, and who should get any profits from, any unpublished works that you squirreled away in a drawer rather than burned or threw away.

Point two is that, in celebrating our beloved writers, particularly two who shaped the lives, hearts and brains of so many children and young adults, remembering their wishes should be paramount.

The publishing world is something of a zoo, and it’s not above shoveling out some stinky stuff wrapped in shiny new packages.

So be careful of that wily fox

He’s smarter than a lot of us

Watch out for tigers, snakes and bears

Beware the hippo-posthumous


Dogs with Old Man Faces


Tom Cohen has taken some dogs with funny faces and made them funnier.

In “Dogs with Old Man Faces,” released earlier this month, Cohen has gathered photos of elderly dogs and combined them with tag lines reflecting not so much the wisdom that comes with being an old human, but the crankiness, irascibility, aches and fears — our increasing tendency, as we age, to seek out simple pleasures and our decreasing willingness to put up with annoyances.

“Muttley is worried about the future of Medicare,” reads one, next to a photo (at top of this post) of a wrinkled and anxious-looking pug.

“Duster enjoys a good knish,” reads another, accompanied by photo of a pooch whose white eyebrows hang over his eyes.


Each black and white image of an old dog is accompanied by a caption: “Roscoe was one of the original Hells Angels,” reads the one accompanying the shaggy and graying dog shown above.

Dogs With Old Man Faces Book JacketWe learn that “Pedro likes Old Spice and Sinatra,” “Jack enjoys a hot cup of Sanka,” and “Chet is still upset they canceled Matlock.” Geppeto is horrified at how much things cost. Sumo wants those kids off his lawn. Sherman smoked too much pot in the 60’s. Riley can’t wait for tonight’s early bird special. And Pepper has been advised to cut down on salt.

Dogs with Old Man Faces: Portraits of Crotchety Canines” (published by Running Press, $13.95) isn’t the consumate old dog book — Old Dogs by Gene Weingarten holds that honor, in our view — but it is a fun and lighthearted spin that incorporates photos of salty old dogs with stereotypical (but often true) phrases that you might hear uttered by a senior citizen of the human species.

cohenCohen, a former stand-up comedian, is a television writer and producer who has won three Emmy Awards and lives in Maryland with his own old dog. He has worked on shows for MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, History Channel, ABC Family, and most recently, Discovery Channel, serving as executive producer, director, and head writer of the series “Cash Cab.”

Based on a photo we found of him, he doesn’t quite have an old man face yet, but appears to be working on it.

(Photos: From “Dogs with Old Man Faces.” Top photo (Muttley) by Richard Dudley; photo of Roscoe by Tom Cohen)

Dogs with No Names


It sometimes seems a new dog book leaps off the presses everday — some not so good, some far too precious, some (though we like goofy) way too goofy, some noble and some ignoble.

Often, the most noble ones are so preachy, pedantic and overwrought they leave you feeling like you’ve spent six hours locked in a room with an evangelist who’s more concerned with lassoing your mind than opening it.

“Dogs With No Names” is an exception to that — a collection of photos, thoughts and insights gathered by Dr. Judith Samson-French while she was on a mission to sterilize stray and feral dogs on an Indian reservation in Canada.

It has a point, without being preachy; it has heart, without being schmaltzy; it has depth, valuable insights and some awesome photographs; and it looks at the plight some reservation dogs face without being desperate, culturally insensitive or overly judgmental.

Millions of unnamed, unclaimed and often unwanted dogs roam North America’s indian reservations — some feral, some tame, many somewhere in between — doing what they need to do to survive, including repopulating.

Samson-French’s mission was to implant a new type of contraceptive into female dogs on a reservation in Alberta, Canada, but her insights extend far beyond Canada, and far beyond reproduction.

She exposes the adversity, despair and suffering reservation dogs often face, and she looks at ways to compassionately and effectively address the overpopulation problem. She examines the behavior of reservation dogs, and how they’ve evolved to the conditions they live in. And she doesn’t overlook the role humans have played — and could play — in the equation.

The book lives up to its billing as “an intimate look at the relationship between North America’s First Nations communities and dogs: seeing past our prejudices to build bridges and understanding between our often combative cultures.”

Samson-French is a veterinary clinician and surgeon with over 20 years of experience. She owns and operates a veterinary hospital in the Rocky Mountain foothills. A graduate of McGill University (B.Sc.) and the University of Alberta (M.Sc.), she received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Ontario Veterinary College.

All of the profits from the sales of Dogs With No Names are donated to the Dogs With No Names project, of which Samson-French is founder.

(Photo: The cover photo of “Dogs with No Names,” courtesy of evocativedogphoto.com)

Pretty nifty: Clifford going strong at 50

Clifford, who has always been so much more than big, so much more than red, is now more than half a century old.

Clifford turned 50 Monday.

And he had a big red birthday party — many of them, in fact.

While his birthday was celebrated in schools across the country, the biggest shindig was in New York, where students sang happy birthday outside the headquarters of his publishing company and Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared it Clifford the Big Red Dog Day.

Clifford’s creator, Norman Bridwell, took questions from first- and second-graders during a webcast shown there and beamed live into more than 5,000 classrooms around the country.

Bridwell, 84, told the Associated Press, his initial plans were for Clifford to be as big as a horse; eventually, though, Clifford became bigger than a house. He ended up red because that’s the color of the jar of paint Bridwell had nearby.

“I don’t really understand it,” he said of Clifford’s enduring nature. “Whether it’s his color, or if it’s the fact that he’s clumsy, like a lot of kids are clumsy.”

Bridwell’s daughter, upon whom the character Emily in the books is based, told reporters her artist father and his wife, Norma, were struggling to earn a living in New York when Norma suggested he try his hand at illustrating children’s books. Norma came up with the name Clifford, too, based on an imaginary friend she had as a girl.

Bridwell’s daughter, now a teacher, was a one-year-old at the time.

Bridwell shopped his drawings around, meeting initially with rejection. Eventually, he and Clifford were welcomed at Scholastic, and the company provided Bridwell with “10 Big Ideas” around which to fashion the stories, including sharing, respect, believing in oneself and helping others.

Today, Clifford is part of elementary school curriculum, and more than 126 million copies of the 90 books about the big and big-hearted dog are in print in 13 languages, in addition to a TV show, plush toys, a magazine and, yes — who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? — even a Clifford app.

(Photos: Courtesy of Scholastic)

Snort’s Special Gift

For a child who has lost a dog, for a grown-up who has lost a dog, and for anyone who will ever lose one, “Snort’s Special Gift” is a warm, practical and beautifully illustrated guide on how to cope.

It’s a children’s story, centered around an aging boxer named Snort and the two children who love him.

But it’s a tale that applies to any grieving pet owner, serving to remind us, when that sad and difficult time comes, not to dwell on what you have lost but to celebrate the dog you got to have, and reflect on all he taught you.

In reasoned tones, and without relying once on that old fallback, “The Rainbow Bridge,” it tells the story of a family that loses their dog, works through their grief and honors him in healthy and respectful ways.

The book centers on a boxer named Snort, and the two children, Savy and Sunne, who worry when he gets too sick to chase his ball.

Savy’s parents explain that Snort will need to leave their family because it’s the only way that Snort’s pain will go away.

Savy accepts that, but isn’t so sure how she will cope without her best friend.

In “Snort’s Special Gift,” Savy and her family explore different ways to grieve for and remember a beloved pet — from planting a tree in his memory to crafting tributes, like the one Savy composes in his honor.

In the end, Savy discovers that all the gifts Snort shared with her in life will, like his memory, always be there.

The author of the book, Suzann Yue, lives with her two adopted children and husband in Medina, Minnesota , where she coaches martial arts and is a photographer. She has won eight world karate championship titles, and started a karate school specializing in training children with attention deficit disorders.

The remarkable illustrations were done by Lin Wang, who received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Guangzhou Academy and a Masters degree from Savannah College of Art and Design. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and children.

You can order the book from Beaver Pond Books, and learn more about it at Suzann Yue’s website.

Arlo Needs Glasses

For the one in five children who learn they need to wear glasses, and maybe aren’t feeling the best about it, Arlo can help.

Arlo’s a shaggy, free-spirited dog who loves to play catch, until one day he finds he can’t. Unable to see the ball anymore, he learns he needs glasses.

Arlo Needs Glasses (Workman Publishing) is the latest book from Barney Saltzberg, the bestselling (and bespectacled) author of Beautiful Oops!, Peekaboo Kisses, and Good Egg.

The book was inspired by Saltzberg’s own dog. Just like his character, the real-life Arlo is not very good at playing catch either,­ although he loves to play.

“He just couldn’t get the ball to land in his mouth,” Saltzberg says. “We tried over and over and I honestly had never seen anything like it.”

The interactive picture book is intended to helps kids see the fun in wearing glasses. Children get to do just what Arlo does to solve his problem: They read an eye chart, look through a fold-out phoropter (that big machine optometrists use), and try on different pairs of glasses — from movies star glasses to superhero glasses to mad scientist glasses.

Arlo, though we hate to give away the ending, becomes the best ball-catcher in the neighborhood, and picks up a new hobby along the way — reading.

In connection with the book’s release in July, the publisher sponsored a “My Dog Needs Glasses” contest, inviting pet owners to submit photos of their dogs in glasses. That’s one of them, Wilson, to the left.

Five winners will be chosen to win signed copies of the book. The deadline to enter has passed, but you can see some of the contenders here.

Saltzberg is the award-winning author-illustrator of Beautiful Oops!, the successful Kisses series, Peekaboo, Crazy Hair Day, and Good Egg, as well as many other beloved children’s books. Also a singer-songwriter, he has written tunes for the PBS show “Arthur” and continues to perform music for children.


DOG, INC.: Now available in paperback

As mentioned in an earlier post about a cloned dog arriving home in Albuquerque, my book on dog cloning is coming out in paperback soon.

So it seems as good a time as any to unveil its new look, namely, a new cover and subtitle — proving that books resurrected as paperbacks, like dogs “resurrected” as clones, don’t always look exactly like the original.

“DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” will be coming back to life as “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commercial Dog Cloning Industry.”

The book looks at the history and ethics of dog cloning, and the marketing of the service — before dog cloning was even achieved — to bereaved pet owners.

In the paperback version, the cute little beagle with a bar code on its butt is gone from the cover, replaced by six framed images of the same dog — is it a Jack Russell terrier? In any case, it’s a generic pooch, I should point out, and not one of the hundreds of cloned dogs that have been produced in South Korea.

You can learn more about the book here.

You can read an excerpt here.

You can read some customer reviews — thanks, customers — here.

You can buy it  here or here or here.

Everyday Dogs

Dogs can’t be perpetual — despite what some people might try to tell you — but dog calendars can.

“Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates” (Heyday Books),  showcases, through vintage photos and quotes, the special bonds between humans and their dogs.

“Everyday Dogs” is the work of two staff members at the University of California at Berkeley. Mary Scott is a graphic designer for the campus’s Doe and Moffitt libraries. Susan Snyder is public services director at university’s Bancroft Library.

Six years ago, they were browsing through the Bancroft’s vast pictorial collection for other reasons when they noticed a lot of fine photos of dogs with their humans.

The cover of the 152-page book is a  photo taken by noted 19th century California photographer Carleton E. Watkins of a dog named Guardian in a wicker carriage. It’s just one of 75 black-and-white photos featured, all taken between roughly 1870 and the 1940s.

The photos are coupled with dog-related literary quotes from, to name just a few, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Jack London, Mark Twain, John Muir, John Steinbeck and Gertrude Stein (who’s also pictured with her poodle, Basket).

Whether you’re a fan of literature, history or dogs — or, preferably, all three — you’re going to appreciate this collection. It’s playful, wise, revealing and provocative, much like a dog.

“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog,” Franz Kafka, one of those quoted in the “Everyday Dogs” calendar, once said.

He was right, I think, with the possible exception of today’s date.

For that you need a calendar. Or two.

Following Atticus

Tom Ryan was an out of shape newspaper man — something I can relate to.

He took his dog on an ambitious adventure — something, having recently completed a 25,000-mile journey with mine, I can relate to as well.

But climbing all 48 peaks of the White Mountains … with his dog … in the winter … twice? That’s something I’m more likely to plop down on the couch and read about than actually do.

And I’m glad I did.

“Following Atticus” is the inspirational story of a tiny dog — a miniature schnauzer — on an epic adventure, one undertaken to pay tribute to a friend who died of cancer.

Ryan was your basic cynical newsman, the editor of The Undertoad, a muckraking alternative newpaper in Newburyport, a small city on the north shore of Massachusetts.

(If you’re wondering about the name of the paper, it comes from John Irving’s The World According to Garp. If you’re wondering about the name of his dog, Atticus M. Finch, it’s from To Kill a Mockingbird, but with the middle initial changed.)

Atticus came from a breeder Ryan found over the Internet after the death of his first miniature schnauzer, Max, who had become a fixture around town. Ryan, in addition to refilling the void left after Max’s death, saw the new dog as a chance to make some improvements in his life, so he and Atticus started taking long walks, including — after he’d shed 75 pounds — one up the highest mountain in Vermont, Mount Mansfield.

The White Mountains took hold on him all over again. They’d been part of Ryan’s childhood, and returning to them brought back some of his few memories of happy times with his father, who would take the family there on vacation.

Climbing the mountains seemed to enrich Ryan’s soul — and maybe that of his dog, as well. “It was as if he were made for the mountains,” Ryan noted:

“Unlike other dogs, who run back and forth and do three times the mileage of their human companions or go crashing into the woods on either side of the trail in search of wildlife, Atticus walked purposefully, staying on the trail, and kept a slow but steady pace. He seemed part mountain goat as he hopped from rock to rock with ease.”

When a dear friend died of cancer, Ryan decided that he and Atticus, to raise funds for a cancer charity, would attempt to climb every mountain over 4,000-feet, and that they would do it all in the course of one winter, and that they would climb each of the snowy peaks, as only one person had before, twice.

The book chronicles their quest, its literal and figurative ups and downs, the three-way bonding of man, dog and nature, and how, with help from a tiny dog, a crusty newspaperman comes to see the world with fresh eyes.

We’d call it an inspirational dog story, but that — in addition to being redundant, in our view — would only be the half of it.

Ryan sold his newspaper in 2007, moved to the White Mountains, and over the last five years, they’ve climbed more than 450 four-thousand-foot peaks, in the process raising money for cancer, as well as the Angell Animal Medical Center. You can learn more about them on Ryan’s blog, The Adventures of Tom and Atticus.


DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend

I’ll refrain from reviewing this one — because I wrote it.

Instead, I’ll just refer you to its website — www.dogincthebook.com, and present what some others have said about it:

“In Dog, Inc. John Woestendiek deliciously lampoons the unholy combination of consumer culture, emotional indulgence and scientific chicanery that lie at the heart of the cloning movement, and yet somehow, in the process, he reminds us why we love our pets so much to begin with.” – Jim Gorant, author of The Lost Dogs, Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption

“Here is John Woestendiek at his best, sniffing along a trail to find a fascinating story you never heard of, and writing it in a way you’ll never forget.” – Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist

“It’s a shame we can’t clone more John Woestendiek’s. Dog, Inc. is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.” – Kinky Friedman, author of Kinky Friedman’s Guide to Texas Etiquette.

“Investigative reporter Woestendiek weaves together bizarrely interesting tales of rich pet owners, Korean and American scientists, ethics, and a petting zoo full of loved animals (including dogs, cats, and a Brahman bull).

“As readers follow the journeys of pet owners who sought to replace their companion animals with a new but genetically identical generation, they will meet a former beauty queen and kidnapping suspect who defied court custody orders and took her children around the world in order to keep them, and a pair of Korean scientists who finally succeeded in producing the first cloned dogs alongside serious allegations of scientific fraud.

“Woestendiek turns complex genetics into an interesting study for the layperson in a book that provides scientific background, technology update, and shock value all in one. From explaining the X-inactivation that foiled the results of the first cloned cat to relaying the story of Booger, a stray dog that learned to provide service to his injured mistress, Woestendiek educates as he entertains. Though this effort will particularly interest readers on both sides of the cloning issue, Woestendiek’s conversational prose, added to the sometimes astonishing circumstances he uncovered, will entertain a wide audience.”– Publishers Weekly

“John Woestendiek’s outstanding look at dog cloning explores what goes down when science, personal loss, and financial opportunism collide.”

“Preposterous Franken-science or groundbreaking technology? A Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter examines the pros and cons of dog cloning in the 21st century … Thought-provoking and often droll.” -Kirkus Reviews

“The inside story behind the costly quest to clone dogs reveals at least as much about human nature as it does about copying man’s best friend.”
-Alan Boyle, MSNBC.com

Dog, Inc. explores the curious history of pet cloning, from its roots in a 1928 experiment in which a German biologist replicated a salamander, to the present, when scientists are only too willing to help doting dog-owners reanimate their canine companions.” -Mother Jones

Cat and Crow

Between a YouTube video gone viral, the Oprah Winfrey Show, the National Geographic Channel and Animal Planet, the playful antics of Cassie the cat and Moses the crow have been viewed my millions.

Now, the special friendship between members of two species that are normally mortal enemies is the subject of a childrens book, coming out next month.

“Cat and Crow: An Amazing Friendship” tells story of the four-year relationship between a stray kitten and the crow who befriended her in the yard of Ann and Wally Collito in Attleboro, Mass.

Conveying a hopeful message of love and peace, the book was written by Lisa Fleming and pubished by Collage Books, Inc. It is aimed at ages 3 and up.

Fleming, a former newspaper columnist and freelance writer, first saw Cassie and Moses on YouTube. She contacted the Collitos. They encouraged her to tell the story, and gave her access to their collection of photos and videos.

The book is illustrated by Anna Marie Domink-Harris, and includes contributions from naturalist Bernd Heinrich and Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager for the Humane Society of the United States.

It is scheduled for release on Oct. 16 — National Feral Cat Day.

To learn more about “Cat and Crow,” visit the book’s Facebook page

What the Michael Vick dogs taught humans

In 2007, it was one of the most sickening, disheartening stories of the year — NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s arrest and imprisonment on dogfighting charges. Revelations of what transpired at Bad Newz Kennels showed just how cruel some humans can be.

By 2009, though, the story of Vick’s dogs had become one of the most heartening of the decade. What made the difference? Mainly, the dogs — the pit bulls. For despite what they’d been put through, despite being abused, trained as killers or used as bait, they were — once the decision was made not to euthanize them — amazing the world with their remarkable resiliency.

Saving and rehabilitating the former fighting dogs of Michael Vick was not achieved without a battle, and not without the efforts of a lot of dog-loving, self-sacrificing humans. But the silver lining that eventually shone through the dismal story was provided mainly by the dogs, who showed that, no matter how bad a human messes them up, there’s hope.

Once again, the irrepressible species was teaching us humans a lesson.

Vick’s former pit bulls have gone on to reside in new homes with young children, become cherished pets, serve as therapy dogs and, in many cases, serve as shining examples of what is right with and special about the much-maligned breed.

How all that transpired is rivetingly detailed in a new book by Jim Gorant, “The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption.”

(For a preview, you can read an article by Gorant in today’s Parade magazine.)

In the book, to be released next month, Gorant expands on his 2008 Sports Illustrated  story on the Vick dogs (the one that featured Baltimore’s own Sweet Jasmine on the cover), recounting how they were rescued from Vick’s estate and how — though euthanasia was routine until then for animals seized from dogfighting operations — they were saved from that fate by an outpouring of public appeals.

The outcry helped lead to a court order that Vick pay nearly a million dollars in “restitution” to the dogs — money used to allow a handful of agencies across the country  to rehabilitate them.

The book recounts the ASPCA-led evaluations of each dog — and how, though there were a few hardened fighters among them, many more were dogs ready to be loved, ready to forgive and try to forget.

In “The Lost Dogs,” we learn more about Johnny Justice, the former Vick dog that participates in Paws for Tales, which lets kids get more comfortable with their reading skills by reading aloud to dogs; about Leo, who now spends three hours a week with cancer patients and troubled teens; and about Sweet Jasmine, who was coming out of her shell while living in Baltimore until she got loose and was hit by a car.

The book lists the outcomes for all 49 of the surviving pit bulls that were seized in April 2007 from Bad Newz Kennels, the Smithfield, Va., dogfighting ring run by Vick, then quarterback of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, now — getting a multi-million dollar second chance of his own — a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While experts were expecting only 5 percent of Vick’s dogs could be rehabilitated, only two, initially, had to be put down. One was excessively violent and the other was suffering from an irreparable injury. For the rest, though, there was hope, and no small amount of faith — which, more than anything else is what “The Lost Dogs” is about.

Rather than showing aggression, the Vick dogs tended to be  “pancake dogs”— animals so traumatized that they flattened themselves on the ground and trembled when humans neared, much like our friend Mel, the former Vick dog we recently met in our travels through Dallas.

Many more seemed to be dogs with normal temperaments, but who had simply never been socialized.

Accomplishing that fell to the handful of animal welfare organizations that stepped forward, offering to take the Vick dogs in and work to rehabilitate them — among them Baltimore’s Recycled Love, California’s BAD RAP, (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls), and Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.

As Gorant writes in the Parade magazine article, “… rescuers argued from the start that rather than be condemned as a whole, the dogs should be individually assessed and treated — and this has turned out to be one of the great lessons of the Bad Newz dogs. Generalizations and preconceptions are as unhelpful and counterproductive for pit bulls as they are for people.”

 Dog House (A Love Story)

“Dog House” isn’t a book about a dog; it’s a book about a lifetime of them — about the love we seek, the missteps we take and, at last, making that perfect, or almost perfect, canine connection.

Carol Prisant, though she grew up in a less than pet-friendly home, was pretty sure she was a dog lover, but it took awhile for her to get it right.

With humans, on the other hand, she appears to have succeeded the first time, and her 42-year marriage to husband Millard is the other ongoing theme of her often hilarious, often poignant, but never syrupy memoir.

While the book is about love and loss and dogs — all subjects prone to sappy treatment — Prisant’s sense of humor, honesty and willingness to admit she may not have always been the perfect pet owner make for some fun and refreshing reading.

Prisant, when it comes to the pets in her life, starts at the beginning — with the goldfish that her pet-challenged mother flushed down the toilet, a stinky dime store turtle she subsequently released into the wild, a bird whose toes fell off after she brought it home from Woolworth’s and a monkey that fell in love with her husband’s leg.

Eventually she and her husband work their way up to dogs, including Cosi, a Jack Russell terrier, Fluffy, a purebred collie, and Blue and Billy and Emma and Jimmy Cagney and Juno — to name a few.

All of them had their idiosyncrasies. Some, she admits, were more than they could handle. Some moved on to new homes, and new ones would arrive — up to and after the death of her husband.

“Dog House” is more than a book about dogs, though. It’s about the love of a mother for her son, and, most of all, a wife for her husband.

Prisant is the American editor of the Condé Nast publication The World of Interiors, and author of “Good, Better, Best,” “Antiques Roadshow Primer,” and “Antiques Roadshow Collectibles.”

A is for Angel


From Angel to Zeb — with 24-plus dogs in between (including Yuki, above) — author/photographer/dog lover Pamela B. Townsend has put together a book of her dog photography that, in addition to spanning the alphabet, provides a heartfelt look at the bond between dogs and their humans.

“A is for Angel, A Dog Lover’s Guide to the Alphabet” is the second book by Pam, who is also vice-president of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County in Maryland. Her first was “Black is Beautiful: A Celebration of Dark Dogs.”A dog-lover since childhood, Pam’s goal is to pay tribute to the animals she shoots. “I try to capture both the outer beauty and inner spirit of each subject, preferring to photograph them in their own environment rather than in a studio for more natural images. The results, I hope, will make viewers smile, remind them of animals they have known and loved, and increase their appreciation of nature’s beauty and diversity.”

In “A is for Angel,” Pam features at least one dog for each letter of the alphabet (Xander, in case you’re wondering, represents X), along with essays written by their owners.

G1527_Townsend_pageMy favorite is Y — for Yuki, whose human, Tracy Long, penned this (reprinted with permission) entry:

Yuki is the antithesis of the description, “What you see is what you get.” She has taught us that there is so much more—to her and life in general—than meets the eye. Wonder is waiting around every corner. Each smell and sight and sound contains worlds within it. And if you stare into the pools of Yuki’s eyes—those windows to treasure houses of mischievous love—I think you’d see, as we have, a small child laughing.

Yuki loves life! For her, its daily routines are events to be anticipated and celebrated. She has taught us the beauty of welcoming every moment as if it were a gift…even the moment in the car when, without warning, she looked right at us…and pooped in the back seat.

There are times we’re convinced she’s hoarding stubborn wisdom in the folds of her skin, the kind of wisdom that—like Yuki—may not come easily or quickly, but if asked and sought for will eventually come…the kind of wisdom that says, “Don’t be afraid to contain multitudes.” Yuki certainly isn’t.

She is Shar-pei, she is shepherd, part terror, part teacher. Her lessons: forgive often, love well, and dig it all! Though she is undoubtedly one of the clumsiest dogs I have ever seen, sometimes when I see her running towards me—those ears floppin’ and that skin flappin’ as she barrels clumsily into me, licking my face—I think I am witnessing pure grace.

What a gift it is to be given the opportunity, every day, to love Yuki and have her love us back.

The book — available at Paws Pet Boutique in Annapolis, The Big Bad Woof in Takoma Park, and The Grapevine in Frederick — can also be ordered from Pam via email (spcadogsmom@gmail.com).

To see more of Pam’s work, visit her website, digitaldoggy.com.

(Photo courtesy of Pamela B. Townsend)

Becoming Waldo

waldoJennifer A. Carle had a pretty good idea of what she wanted her newly adopted dog to become.

It wasn’t her.

She wanted a dog that, unlike her, was calm and easy-going. What she got was Waldo, an at-times unruly mutt who she noticed, the more the two bonded, was acting more like her — which, by her own admission, is in the higher reaches of the laid-back to high-strung spectrum.

In her second dog book, Carle recounts her first year with Waldo, adopted from the Maryland SPCA after her earlier dog — and the subject of her earlier book, “Finally Winsome” — died.

Becoming Waldo” (Tate Publishing, $11.99), in addition to chronicling Waldo’s early years, and her quest to determine just what breeds he is a mix of, provides an interesting look at how dog and human absorb each other traits — sometimes, but not always, a good thing.

As relaxed as Waldo seemed at the shelter, once home with Carle he became less calm. He’d bolt out the door and down the street, nip at the heels of her sons and bark at the slightest provocation.

At times during his upbringing, Carle questions if he is becoming as neurotic as her, and whether it’s because of her.

With the help of a trainer, Carle learns that caring for Waldo is much more complex than she imagined. But she learns, too, that it’s worth all that effort. For while Carle teaches Waldo a thing or two, he teaches her much more, as the book’s subtitle suggests: “How Being My Dog Would Make Me a Better Person.”

Top Dogs and Their Pets


Celebrities and their pets are the subject of a new photo book by David Woo, a Texas photographer who says Steve Miller and his three dogs proved the most difficult image to capture.

Woo, a photographer for the Dallas Morning News, includes 91 celebritities — most of them with Texas connections — in the book, “Top Dogs and Their Pets.”

topdogscoverOther subjects include Owen Wilson, Joe Cocker, Robert Wagner, Cesar Millan, Lisa Loeb, James Baker, Dr. Phil and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot propelled to fame by his emergency landing in the Hudson River, according to the Houston Chronicle. All the photos are black and white, shot against a white background.

Woo said he spent four days at the home of his friend Miller, whose dogs — Lady, Daisy and Maisey — wouldn’t sit still.

Proceeds from Top Dogs and Their Pets go to the Cesar and Ilusion Millan Foundation.

 A Dog Named Christmas

dognamedchristmasA dog adoption promotion dreamed up as fiction has become a reality, and on a national scale.

After Greg Kincaid’s novel, “A Dog Named Christmas,” was published last year, a reader named Pam, who worked at a veterinary clinic in Florida, got inspired by what transpires in the book:

Hayley, the fictional manager of an animal shelter is so upset at seeing her kennels full that she calls the news media and makes an offer — anyone who agrees to take a pet home for Christmas can return it afterward.

So Pam gave the same promotion a shot in real life. Her “Foster a Lonely Pet for the Holidays” program resulted in all 37 dogs at her shelter being dispensed to foster homes within 24 hours of the story appearing on a Pensacola TV station. One hundred more viewers who saw the report asked to be put on a waiting list.

Author/lawyer Kincaid made up the promotion while writing a story for his family a few Christmases ago, according to the Kansas City Star. It evolved into a published novel, and a TV movie that premieres tonight.

“A Dog Named Christmas” — the story of how a dog changed the lives of the family who adopted him — will air at 8 p.m. on CBS. In conjunction with the broadcast, CBS has agreed to sponsor a nationwide “Foster a Lonely Pet” program with Petfinder.com. More than 2,000 shelters and rescues across the country are participating.

Most shelters, despite their urgent need to find homes for dogs, refrain from encouraging holiday adoptions. Dogs adopted on impulse and as Christmas gifts often end up getting returned or, worse yet, abandoned. But placing them in foster care for the holidays relieves the pressure at shelters, ensures they will be returned if unwanted and often leads to full-fledged adoptions.

And it gives a shelter dog a nice break for the holidays.

“We do a lot of nice things at Christmas,” Kincaid said. “I was thinking, ‘Why is it that we have all these shelters with animals in them, and people don’t seem interested in extending the same generosity to them?”

It All Started with a Dog


 How’s this for a novel idea?

Leigh Mcmillan, author of “It All Started with a Dog,” is offering sex to the person who buys the 1,000th copy of her novel.

Specifically, and to be perfectly clear, she’s offering the unpublished sex scene she “took out of the book because it would have offended my mother.”

The novel tells the tale of a Washington, D.C. lawyer who has spent a lifetime protecting her heart from the dangerous possibilities of love. When she finds a ragged stray dog on the streets of Georgetown and brings him home with her, it leads to a sequence of startling events that send her down a path she’s never explored.

Since Mcmillan admits to it in an email sent to fans and others, we’ll go ahead and reveal it here: No dog dies in the book. So, as a holiday gift, it’s not a downer.

Mcmillan will be doing a book signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, at the Gallery of the Arts at 411 W. Fourth St. in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Nubs’ story to become a movie

Warner Bros. is buying the story of Nubs, the stray Iraqi mutt who befriended a group of Marines and was shipped home to the U.S. by one of them.

nubsNubs — so named because most of both his ears were lopped off by Iraqi soldiers — befriended Marine Major Brian Dennis and his fellow soldiers while Dennis was on patrol in the Anbar province. When Dennis was required to report to another location, 70 miles away, he bid Nubs farewell, but two days later, Nubs showed up at his new camp.

The story became a media phenomenon in the fall, with Dennis and Nubs appearing on “Today,” “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

In addition to Dennis’ life rights, filmmakers have acquired the top-selling children’s book “Nubs: A Marine, a Mutt and a Miracle,” which Dennis wrote with Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson. The Little, Brown Books for Young Readers title was published two weeks ago and sits at No. 4 on the New York Times children’s best-seller list.

Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”) will write and produce the film, according to a Reuters report.

Inside of a Dog

Your dog licks your face because he loves you, right?

Ah, if it were only that simple.

There are those that will assure you that yes, those licks mean affection — your “fur babies” are showering you with, in addition to a little slobber, love and gratitude.

There are also those more scientific types who will dissect the act so emotionlessly as to leave you never wanting another lick again — or perhaps even another dog, or at least not another dog book.

Thank Dog, then, for Alexandra Horowitz, who in her new book “Inside of a Dog,” manages to probe doggie behavior in a manner both scientific and passionate, without stomping on the sanctity of the human-dog bond like it’s a cigarette in need of extinguishing.

The book’s title comes from the Groucho Marx quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Inside-of-a-Dog-coverWhat makes Inside of a Dog, released in September, one of the best dog books of the year is that it’s not too dark to read. Horowitz, a psychology professor, former staff member at The New Yorker, and long-time dog-lover is able — based in equal parts on her scientific research and her own personal experiences as a dog owner — to correct the many misconceptions about dogs without snuffing out the special light we see inside them.

As for those face licks, they have an evolutionary basis — it originally was a way for pups to encourage their moms and dads to regurgitate what they had eaten while hunting, thus sharing their prechewed bounty.

That doesn’t mean your dog is trying to make you puke everytime it licks your face, only that what’s now a ritualized greeting began that way.

The book gets to the root of other canine behaviors, as well, including:

· How dogs tell — and actually smell — time.

· Why it’s been futile leaving your television on for your dog all these years (and why this may be different now).

· How your dog really feels about that raincoat you make him wear.

· Why some dogs joyfully retrieve tossed balls and sticks while others just stare at you like you’re a fool for throwing them.

While not a training manual, it’s a book every dog trainer should read, and perhaps every dog owner who wants to truly understand not just what their pet means to them, but what their pet means.

The book goes into how dogs see, smell and hear the world, what their barks mean, what their tail wags mean. And it avoids the common oversimplifications associated with seeing dogs solely in terms of human behavior, or seeing them solely as modern-day wolves.

Horowitz, and the book, show some appreciation and understanding of the evolutions that have taken place, and continue to — the evolution of dogs, the evolution of humans, and the evolution of the bond between the two.

To the Rescue: Found Dogs with a Mission



Rescued dogs — and the courageous work many of them go on to do — are the theme of “To the Rescue: Found Dogs with a Mission,” a new book written by animal adoption activist Elise Lufkin.

Lufkin, who also wrote “Found Dogs: Tales of Strays Who Landed on Their Feet ” and “Second Chances” has put together a series of stories about rescued dogs who have gone on to visit hospitals, prisons and nursing homes, guide the blind and deaf, and detect narcotics and bombs.

While her previous books look at how dog owners have been rewarded by the dogs they rescue, this one focuses on owners of rescued dogs who have trained and certified their dogs for special work that has an impact on the lives of many more humans.

to the rescueLufkin, as with her two previous books, is donating all profits to shelters and other animal-related organizations.

The poignant photographs in the book are the work of Diana Walker, a contract photographer for Time magazine since 1979.

The dog in the photo above is Marlee, who has a partially amputated right foreleg and was discovered by a group of veterinary students at a local pound.

Veterinarian Karen Lanz explains in the book what happened next:

“…If left at the shelter, the dog would surely have been euthanized … Marlee’s sweet, gentle nature made me realize immediately that she would make a wonderful therapy dog. After a little fine-tuning at local obedience classes, we were ready … Soon my brother-in-law, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, suggested that Marlee’s status as an amputee could make her a welcome addition to the therapy dogs visiting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“I contacted People Animals Love (PAL) and was fortunate enough to join their groups on visits to Walter Reed. Marlee was well received at the hospital, and I think she was a source of inspiration for some of the brave veterans who are returning from the Iraq war with missing limbs and other disabilities. Guys in wheelchairs marked “Purple Heart Combat Wounded” would say to this little dog, ‘I know what you’re going through’ … I will always be grateful to the students who saw potential in a badly injured dog and rescued her. Marlee has been a joy every day.”

The book is full of similar stories, and even more can be found on the book’s website.

The Wolf in the Parlor

wolfintheparlorSomething old and something new sent two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Jon Franklin on a quest to document the transition of wild wolf to family pet.

The old thing was a photo — a man and puppy, exhumed from a 12,000-year-old grave. The new thing was a wife — he married a dog lover. Though he’d never been a dog person, Franklin gave in, and soon he and his wife were sharing their home with a clever poodle named Charlie.

Between watching his own dog evolve from puppy to family member, and his interviews and research, Franklin spent 10 years studying the origins and significance of the dog, and its peculiar attachment to humans.

The result is “The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs.”

Franklin — a former science writer for Baltimore’s Evening Sun, now a journalism professor at the University of Maryland — builds on evolutionary science, archaeology, behavioral science and his firsthand experience, arriving at the conclusion that man and dog are more than just inseparable; they are part and parcel of the same creature.

Moments with Baxter

Baxter the therapy dog, who we featured here last week, passed away Friday.

baxterbookThe news was broken on Facebook, where Baxter has his own page, in a message sent to members of The Baxter Bussey fan club :

“Baxter, the world’s best and oldest therapy dog, 19 years and 6 months, eased peacefully from his life on Friday afternoon, October 16th, 2009 … The sweetest angel. … We love you Baxter, and many hugs to his family…”

Baxter worked with hospice patients, bringing them comfort and love at the end of their lives His story was published in a book, “Moments with Baxter” all proceeds from which are being donated to animal and hospice charities.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle

nubsNubs, the one-time Iraqi street mutt — so named by American soldiers for the stubs where his ears used to be — appeared on this morning’s Today Show, along with the Marine major who rescued him.

Nubs befriended Marine Major Brian Dennis and his fellow soldiers while Dennis was on patrol in the Anbar province.

When Dennis was required to report to another location, 70 miles away, he bid his friend farewell and left with little hope that Nub would survive on the war torn streets. Already, the dog had his ears cut off, and had been stabbed in the side with a screwdriver — both, Dennis believes, by Iraqi soldiers.

Two days after Dennis arrived at his new location, Nubs showed up.

Dennis said he was inside headquarters when a fellow Marine came in and said, “You’re not going to believe who’s outside.”

dennisnubs.jpg“Who’s outside?” Dennis asked.

“Nubs is outside,” the soldier said.

After a joyful reunion, Dennis was informed that, since the military prohibits keeping dogs in war zones, he had four days to get rid of him. Given the bond they’d established and the dangers Nubs faced, Dennis was hesitant to do that.

Strays in Iraq, Dennis said today, serve as a needed escape for soliders — “an escape from the drudgery and the mundane life and the bad things you see at times.”

Dennis and his friends launched an Internet campaign and raised $5,000 to send Nubs to a friend in the U.S..

In March 2008, about a month after Nubs arrived, Dennis returned from Iraq and was reunited with the dog.

Now the whole story has become a book, “Nubs, the True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle.”

Woof: Writers on Dogs

woof!Woof!” — a fetching collection of pithy, poignant and sometimes even puckish essays about dogs — comes out in paperback this month.

Edited by Lee Montgomery — who also writes about a schnauzer who’s not, shall we say, master of his domain — the anthology presents the work of 20 acclaimed writers who have turned their attention to dogs, most frequently their own.

Original personal essays include Rick Bass’s tale about the week his hunting dog, Point, was given a fatal prognosis. Abigail Thomas writes about the maneuvering it takes to share a bed with three dogs. And, in my personal favorite, Denis Johnson gives voice to The Colonel, his bullmastiff, who recounts a day in his and Johnson’s lives.

Reading it can be as emotionally tumultuous as living with a dog. Some stories deal with the happy peaks; some with the sad valleys. Some are heartbreaking, some hilarious.

Published by Penguin Books, “Woof” includes an introduction by renowned dog writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

Flawed Dogs

flaweddogsBerkeley Breathed says the inspiration for “Flawed Dogs,” his children’s book turned illustrated novel, came from a photo he saw of a Michael Vick dog taken in by Best Friends, the animal sanctuary in Utah.

“The book happened because I came across both a picture and a quote at about the same time — a picture of one of Michael Vick’s fight dogs. It was set to be put down, but a shelter in Utah decided to take the dog and a few others at the same time and try to rehabilitate them,” Breathed said in a CNN interview at his home in Santa Barbara.

“This was the first time the dog had ever received any affection in its life. … It’s the most moving picture of a dog I’ve ever seen, having gone through an impossible transition and fallen back to where dogs naturally go, which is just loving people.”

Breathed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist behind “Bloom County” and “Opus,” has a pit bull of his own, Pickles, one of several dogs he and his wife Jody have rescued over the years.

In “Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster” (Philomel Books), the hero is a resilient dachshund with a soup ladle for a leg.

The dog, named Sam the Lion, goes through many travails in the book, the opening scene of which is a dog fight. From there, he gets shot at, ends up in a research labs, and occupies some pretty bad shelters — before meeting up with his nemesis, an evil poodle named Cassius, at the Westminster Dog Show.

The book is intended for children 8 to 12.

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends

tarraandbellaTarra and Bella, the elephant and dog who bonded big time at a Tennessee animal sanctuary, can now be seen in book form.

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends, recounts the story of Tarra, a retired circus elephant who became the first resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. When other elephants moved in and developed close friendships, Tarra remained something of a loner — until the day she met a stray mixed-breed dog named Bella.

It was love at first sight, and the unlikely duo became inseparable. They ate together, slept together, and even seemed to understand each other’s language. When Bella suffered a severe spinal injury, Tarra stayed by her side and was there for her until Bella regained her health.

The Steve Hartman report on of Tarra and Bella (above) is one of most popular videos of all time at CBSNews.com. And well worth watching again:

Old Dogs

I’ve only seen an excerpt, printed in the Washington Post last weekend — and about to be liberally excerpted here — but Gene Weingarten’s new book, “Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs,” looks like one I want to carry with me into old age.

Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and humor columnist for the Post, teamed up with photographer Michael Williamson to profile 63 old dogs, all between the ages of 10 and 17 when they were photographed.

One of those profiled is Weingarten’s dog, Harry.

“He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors. In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination — a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge.

Weingarten begins the piece with a description of old Harry wistfully watching a younger dog play Frisbee in the park and goes on to share some valuable insights — both about aging mutts and their humans.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace…”

Weingarten writes that his dog became “old” at the age of 9.

“I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we’d anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house — eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed– for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.

“He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist … He wasn’t barking at me in reprimand, as he once might have done. He hadn’t fouled the house in spite. That night, Harry was simply scared and vulnerable, impossibly sweet and needy and grateful. He had lost something of himself, but he had gained something more touching and more valuable. He had entered old age.

Quoting Kafka — “the meaning of life is that it ends” — Weingarten goes on to talk about mortality, and what dogs might teach us about it.

” …Our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite. This anxiety informs poetry, literature, the monuments we build, the wars we wage, the ways we love and hate and procreate — all of it. Kafka was talking, of course, about people. Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia? I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe that as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand that what’s gone is gone.”

At the risk of getting sued for over-excerpting, here’s the conclusion he reaches:

“Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless summon outrage over the mistreatment of animals, and they will grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.

“In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppyhood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.”

Weingarten said in his Post blog last week that, in the introduction to the book — it’s just released, by Simon & Schuster, and should showing up in bookstores about now — he anticipated lots of questions from readers wanting to know how many of the featured dogs are still alive.

“Our answer will be: ‘All of them.'”

Finally Winsome

finallywinsomeJennifer Carle is the Baltimore-based author of Finally Winsome, a memoir of her now deceased black Lab mix, all proceeds from which are going to the Maryland SPCA.

That’s where Carle adopted Winsome, or Winn for short, in 1994.

Winn quickly proved herself to be a handful, chowing down on Carle’s couch, instilling fear in other other dogs, biting a neighbor and causing a ruckus during obedience class.

But, as the years passed, a funny thing happened, the overprotective dog, as she aged, got arthritic, and blind and deaf, and she and her family reversed roles: The overprotective dog came to need protection and, in providing it, Carle learned a little about dogs, humans and life.

Carle — a longtime supporter of the Maryland SPCA — worked as a psychologist before raising two children and going to work in her husband’s medical practice in Towson, where the family also lives.

A Rare Breed of Love

You can’t escape the message in author-activist Jana Kohl’s book, “A Rare Breed of Love,” the story of her dog Baby, rescued after years of abuse in a puppy mill.

And you certainly can’t escape the message on the bus in which she and her dog Baby are touring the country to promote the book and campaign against puppy mills.

ararebreedofloveAs the video above, produced by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) shows, the bus is a rolling anti-puppy mill billboard.

Kohl’s dog spent nine years in a puppy mill, where she was tattooed with a number and had her vocal cords cut so the owners wouldn’t have to listen to her cries. She was rescued by a passing stranger on the day she was to be killed because she had gotten too old to breed. Her leg had to be amputated after her rescue due to the earlier abuse.

With Kohl, Baby has become a “national spokesdog” to raise awareness about cruelty in the dog breeding industry. The book contains more than 60 photographs of Baby and supporters of the cause — from Barack Obama to Judge Judy, from Lindsay Lohan to Amy Sedaris.

Guardians of Being


The creator of the comic strip MUTTS has teamed up with spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle on a book that celebrates dogs, life and “living in the moment” — the latter being a philosophy best taught by members of the canine species.

Normally motivational speak quickly takes a Tolle on me, but I will admit to liking “Guardians of Being,” both for the point it makes, and the way it makes it — more light-hearted than heavy-handed, thanks in large part to Patrick McDonnell’s deft touch.

McDonnell uses the cast of characters from the MUTTS strip to illustrate Tolle’s lessons on the value of staying in the present moment, appreciating the oneness of life and recognizing the beauty we sometimes forget to notice around us.


McDonnell is the award-winning mind behind MUTTS, which appears in over 700 newspapers. (He’s also on the board of the Humane Society of the United States and a long-time advocate of dogs and the environment.) And he’s the author of “Shelter Stories.”

Tolle, author of “The Power of Now,” speaks and teaches around the world. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, but spends most of his time on the bestseller list.

After reading “The Power of Now,” McDonnell sought out Tolle to collaborate on “Guardians of Being.”

“He created a passionate, humorous, enlightening meditation on the power and grace that animals can bring into our lives,” McDonnell said of Tolle. “Eckhart has translated what our companion animals have been telling us for ages: Life is good. Live in the now. Enjoy.”

One Nation Under Dog

One Nation Under Dog, one of the latest contributions to the growing pile of American dog lit, is a highly readable volume that looks at our obsession with dogs, and the lengths (or are they extremes?) we go to on their (or is it our?) behalf.

As dog lit goes, this one’s worth scooping up, and not just for its accounting of excessive human behavior when it comes to dogs — from popping Prozac in our puppies, to luxury pet spas, to doggie social networking, to the dog food revolution, to spending our savings to prolong our dogs’ lives.

The book covers all that, and more, in an entertaining manner, but it’s at its best when it ventures into figuring out what’s behind the mania.

Written by Michael Schaffer, who like me — and like some guy named Grogan who once wrote a book about some dog named Marley — is a former writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, One Nation Under Dog, chronicles the rise of the pet industry, where sales have risen from $17 billion to $43 billion in the past decade.

I asked Shaffer in an email interview what he sees as the factors behind the fast rising status of the dog — the species’ transition from backyard to master bedroom.

“If you look at data on the pet population, you see it starting to grow faster than the human population only around the late-60s or early 1970s. Had people’s choice to get pets just been a function of postwar prosperity, it might have spiked sooner. But the rise coincides with a bunch of other things: More divorce, moves away from old tight-knit urban neighborhoods, decline of labor unions, more moving away from family.”

In other words, we’ve turned to dogs for the sense of community some of us often don’t find in our fellow humans.

“My hunch is that as the various human social-support networks declined, people leaned on their pets for more of that,” Schaffer added. “I write in my book that people have always loved pets, but the terms of the love change in ways that reflect the times. So as all this happened, the Man’s Best Friend in the backyard became the full-fledged family member who slept in our beds. They didn’t change; we did.”

Schaffer has a dog of his own, a Saint Bernard, and he — the dog — is on anti-depressants. It was the dog, Schaffer said, that led to the book — “a big, drooly Saint Bernard named Murphy who we found on Petfinder and adopted from a New Jersey shelter. I remember as we drove out there, my wife and I promising we’d never, never spend big dollars on food, vet care, toys. We weren’t going to become like all of those people in newspaper stories about kooky pet-owners. But, of course, in real life it’s a bit more complicated. I’d never had a pet before so I just followed the lead of everyone in the neighborhood who had dogs. That standard of care, though, had all of my family rolling their eyes at our alleged pampering of Murphy.

“My sense is that what happened was that the definition of normal, for petcare, had changed pretty radically in the relatively short time between when they got dogs and when I did. And as a journalist, I think that when the definition of normal changes so much so fast, it means something interesting is going on. I decided to go find out what it was.”

The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook

In the foreword to “The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook,” author Betsy Brevitz, DVM, mentions a few of the new veterinary tools, treatments and procedures that — while rare five years ago — have become commonplace since then: CT and MRI scans, joint replacements, radiation therapy and a host of new drugs and vaccines.

All those advancements in veterinary medicine are one reason she wrote the book — a revised version of the “Hound Health Book,” published five years ago.

It’s a handy volume, well-organized and highly readable, with easily located advice on dealing with everything from digestive issues to behavioral problems. Written mostly in question and answer format, and in a straightforward, no-bull style, it’s the kind of book that could save you an unnecessary trip to the vet, and ensure you make a necessary one.

Brevitz spent 10 years as a magazine journalist before deciding to switch careers and enrolling in veterinary school at at 35. She practices in northern New Jersey. The first book was an offshoot of an “Ask the Vet” column she started writing for the website Urbanhound.com, not long after it was launched in New York.

The book devotes chapters to digestive problems; skin problems; fleas, ticks and worms; eyes and ears; heart and circulation; respiratory problems; bone and joint problems; and behavioral issues, among others.

Every dog owner should have a place to turn for quick and up-to-date answers to questions about their dog’s care, and this book — while it doesn’t replace the veterinarian — fills that role nicely.

Animals Make Us Human

If getting an interview with Temple Grandin weren’t impressive enough, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter John Timpane somehow finagled a home visit from the woman who may understand animals better than anyone in America.

Once she got past his dogs, Ricky and Esco, Grandin (who’d been giving a reading nearby) sat down and talked to Timpane about her new book, Animals Make Us Human, and her continuing quest, in Timpane’s words, “to explain animals to people and people to themselves.”

Grandin, as Timpane notes in his story, is perhaps the best-known person with autism in the United States. She holds a Ph.D. in animal behavior; is a professor at Colorado State; author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation; and consultant on how to treat animals in the wild and in industrial settings such as corrals and slaughterhouses.

In Animals Make Us Human, Grandin writes that, for an animal, “a good life requires three things: freedom from pain and negative emotions, and lots of activities to turn on seeking and play.”

“I think a lot of dogs today have a horrible life,” Grandin said in the interview. “In my town, Fort Collins, [Colo.], we have draconian leash laws. If you walk down any residential street in Fort Collins, dogs are whining in half the houses. Dogs need to have a doggy social life, a life off the leash. When we were kids and all the dogs ran free, a lot of dogs were killed by cars, and that was bad, but we also had a lot of happier dogs. Now that we live in such a controlled world for dogs, you need to spend some time with your dog – an hour or so of good play, a walk in the park.”

Grandin has said repeatedly that her autism has given her a powerful connection to the way animals think. “It began when I realized I think in pictures, not verbally,” she said. “Animals, lacking the verbal aspect, see everything in terms of what they see, feel, hear … Most of us have just never looked at things from an animal’s point of view.”

Walter the Farting Dog

walterWalter the Farting Dog,” the children’s book soon to explode on the big screen, originated in Canada, when author William Kotzwinkle told his friend Glenn Murray a story about a dog whose flatulence was so objectionable it once cleared out an entire stationery store in Fredericton.

The malodorous mutt, the main character in the series of children’s books co-authored by the pair, will be featured in a new Fox Studios film, starring the Jonas Brothers, slated to begin production next year.

“It has been amazing,” Murray, of New Brunswick, said of the Walter phenomenon in an interview with the Canadian Press. Since it was published in 2001, the book and its four sequels have sold millions of copies worldwide.

Murray says the stories grew out of tale that Kotzwinkle once told about meeting a dog in the 1970s whose farts were especially malodorous. He still can’t believe that a story about a chronically flatulent dog could become such a media sensation.

“It seems to me the post-9-11 world needed some innocent laughs,” he said. “It’s like the world needed a farting dog.”

The Walter books are more than bathroom humor. Instead the focus is on how Walter always manages to transform his embarrassing flaw into a virtue. Murray says he has heard many stories about children who have laughed their way through the book while facing terminal illnesses and other personal tragedies.

Of farting, Murray says. “Science tells us we all do it 17 to 23 times a day. … Everyone can connect with it on a certain level.” He once spent 90 minutes on a radio call-in show talking about dogs that pass wind.

The books, illustrated by Audrey Coleman, have been translated into at least 16 languages.

Bo, America’s Commander in Leash

This has got to be some kind of record — the day after the dog arrived at the White House, the first “Bo book” is already on the market.

“Bo, America’s Commander in Leash,” published by Mascot Books in Herndon, Va., is the first children’s book “starring the most famous dog in the world,” according to the publisher’s website.

“Join Bo on an exciting adventure as he learns all about the White House and experiences the traditions that make it such a special place. Bo’s adventures include time-honored White House traditions, including the Easter egg roll, Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall, the pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey, and all the festivities associated with holiday time at the White House.”

In other words, it’s a book about the White House into which Bo is being quickly inserted in hopes of capitalizing on the bad case of Bo fever we all seem to have.

Mascot is small independent publisher in Herndon, Va., that specializes in producing titles based on university and school mascots. The book is written from Bo’s point of view. Here’s an excerpt:

One day I was feeling a little mischevious and decided to swipe the Presidential letter opener from the President’s desk. Always a good sport, President Obama played along with my antics and chased me around the room, calling “Give me that back, Bo!” I was afraid that I might end up in the Presidential doghouse after this stunt.

What Color is Your Dog?

whatcolorisyourdogDog trainer Joel Silverman’s brought his road show to Columbia, Maryland last night, where he took some jabs at TV trainers who see dominating a dog as a cure-all for behavior problems.

“When people talk about being the leader right off the bat, you’ve just opened the door to jeopardizing your relationship with your animal,” Silverman told a crowd at Camp Bow Wow in Columbia.

How a dog is trained should be tailored to the dog’s personality, Silverman maintains, and trying to dominate a new dog in the first 30 days — before you’ve earned its trust — can easily backfire.

Silverman’s appearance was part of a tour to promote his book, released this summer, “What Color is Your Dog?

While Silverman’s dog, Foster, stole the show — that’s him above delivering a letter to the mailbox — the Hollywood dog trainer and author stressed that getting to know a new dog and establishing a trusting relationship is the key to good training.DSC06056

In “What Color is Your Dog?” Silverman breaks canine personalities into five groups — red (off the wall), orange (high strung), yellow (mellow), green (timid) and blue (overly fearful). One type of training, he says, does not fit all. “All dogs are different,” he noted. “What works with one won’t work with the other.”

Silverman is a career animal trainer, having started at Sea World in San Diego, where he trained dolphins, sea lions and killer whales. He worked for more than 25 years training animals for movies, TV shows and commercials. He was host, of ”Good Dog U” on Animal Planet.

Silverman said 90 percent of dogs fall into the orange, yellow and green ranges of his color spectrum. About 5 percentof dogs can be classified as red, and 5 percent as blue.

Dogs in the blue and green categories need to be motivated, while those in the red and orange range need to be calmed down.

The goal is to move the dog through training practices individualized for each type of dog and reach the middle (yellow) level.

Silverman and Foster are traveling the country in a large bus for the book tour, to which he’s added stops at pet expos, dog training centers and doggie day care facilities. He said he and his dog have traveled 20,000 miles since March, visiting 60 cities.

A Big Little Life

Dean Koontz, who churns out books faster than Land O’Lakes makes butter, released his newest last month — an ode to his deceased dog, Trixie.

“A Big Little Life” is a memoir of the life and death of his golden retriever — and, the author is quick to point out, not another “Marley & Me.”

“As the reader must now realize, this is not going to be a memoir about a pillow-destroying, cat-chasing, furniture-chewing miscreant kind of canine…”

abiglittlelifeQuite the opposite. Trixie was a trained service dog with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a charitable organization that provides service dogs for people with disabilities — and a group to which Koontz has donated more than $2.5 million. CCI gave the dog to Koontz as a gift.

Koontz, who has sold more than 375 million books in his lifetime, was taken with the charity while he was researching his novel “Midnight,” a book which included a CCI-trained dog.

Koontz wrote three books under Trixie’s name, “Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living,” “Bliss to You: Trixie’s Guide to a Happy Life,” and “Christmas is Good.” The royalties of the books were donated to Canine Companions for Independence.

Trixie contracted cancer in 2007. The Koontzes had her put to sleep outside of their family home on June 30 of that year.

Dogs are a recurring theme in Koontz’s big fat body of work. It is “widely thought,” according to Wikipedia, that Trixie was his inspiration for his November 2007 book “The Darkest Evening of the Year,” about a woman who runs a golden retriever rescue home, and who rescues a ‘special’ dog, named Nickie, who eventually saves her life.

Koontz now has a new dog, Anna, who is a grandniece of Trixie.