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Tag: author

The history and science of dog comes to life in … Zounds! … a comic book!

hirschcoverThink “dogs and comics” and many canine characters comes to mind:

Marmaduke and Snoopy, Underdog and Scooby Doo, Pluto and Goofy –a plethora of cartoon pooches ranging in size, intellect, shape, and colors from blue (Huckleberry Hound) to red (Clifford).

Most of them did little more than provide laughs. Some of them actually passed along some life lessons and knowledge. But none — not even the professorial Mr. Peabody — has displayed the scholarly knowledge of this one.

Meet Rudy, and the man behind him, Andy Hirsch.

Hirsch, through cartoons, words and an energetic narrator modeled after his own dog, tells the story of how wolves transformed into domestic dogs, what’s behind their behaviors and how their relationship to man has evolved in “Dogs: From Predator to Protector“.

It’s the latest title in a graphic nonfiction series from Science Comics that examines science topics ranging from animals, to ecosystems, to technology.

Through Rudy, writer/illustrator Hirsch explores what led wolves to be transformed into the diverse shapes, sizes and breeds of dogs we know today — namely, man.

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“I think it all falls under the umbrella of humans having had a profound influence on dogs. They simply wouldn’t exist without us, especially any sorts of artificial breeds, so a good portion of the book is really about our methods of influence,” Hirsch told Live Science.

The comic-science book gets into the intricacies of doggie DNA and genetics, their exceptional senses, their sociability and their capacity for cross-species communication.

“Humans and dogs have an unmatched partnership all the way at the species level, and to me that means we have a responsibility to understand and care for them,” Hirsch says.

It’s the Texas author’s first nonfiction book, based on his own research, and advice from science consultants including Julie Hecht, a canine behavioral researcher and adjunct professor at Canisius College in New York.

Readers follow Rudy, and his bouncing ball, through a lively series of discussions dealing with the history and science behind how dogs live and behave.

“Maybe it’s something of a cheat to let a tennis ball bounce 25,000 years between panels, but that’s the magic of comics!” Hirsch said. “… The tennis ball was a good way to, well, bounce from one thing to the next. Rudy is our friendly narrator, and though he’s very knowledgeable, he still has the distractible nature of an average dog. That means the bouncing ball never fails to move his attention from one topic to the next.”

Hirsch2-banner“This isn’t a textbook, so when there’s the opportunity to present some facts through an entertaining narrative aside I let the story follow it.”

Rudy is modeled after Hirsch’s own dog Brisco, who he and his partner (all shown at left) adopted.

“Rudy was his first shelter name, and it’s a good fit for a comic book dog,” Hirsch said. “If you get a chance to draw a book full of dogs, of course you’re going to make yours the star.”

The difference between dogs and cats

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You’ve probably seen several cartoons in which a dog lies down on a psychiatrist’s couch and utters, via word balloon, something wise, incisive or pithy.

But the truth of the matter is dogs (though some have issues and baggage) don’t need psychiatrists all that much — not nearly as much as we suspect cats might.

Cartoonist Les Taha, creator of the syndicated cartoon panel “Off My Meds,” captures that contrast in this work, sent along to me this week by a friend.

Taha is a freelance cartoonist, writer, and former columnist for the Tacoma Tribune who now resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two pugs.

He is also the author of the controversial book, The Architects of Rap.

“Off My Meds” appears in numerous community and college newspapers throughout the U.S.

You can see more of his work at his website and on his Facebook page.

Abandoned dog was living in a knothole

booEver have one of those days when it seems like humanity isn’t treating you with the proper respect — the kind that makes you just want to crawl into a hole and hide?

Apparently that was the case with Boo, a Chihuahua mix who was spotted a couple of weeks ago in a rural area in Sonoma County, California, living inside a hole in a large tree.

A call to Sonoma County Animal Control led Shirley Zindler and other officers to the spot.

It was an area, they say, where people commonly abandon dogs.

It took a few hours, but the small dog was finally coaxed out of the knothole.

The officers named her Boo — after  the To Kill A Mockingbird character, Boo Radley,  who left gifts for children in an oak tree’s knothole.

boo1aBoo Dogley, as she is now known, was dirty and underweight when she was found. Officers estimated she was about one year old and had been living in the tree at least a week.

Possibly, she picked the hiding place because she was about to deliver a litter of pups. Unfortunately, none survived.

Zindler says Boo is skittish around people and was likely mistreated.

“She thinks the world’s out to get her,” Zindler, who is also the author of The Secret Life of Dog Catchers, told The Huffington Post.

Zindler is caring for Boo now, while seeking a “very, very patient person” to give her a forever home.

boo2Boo’s recovery is being documented on Zindler’s Facebook page,The Secret Life of Dog Catchers.

“She’ll stay with me until the right home is found,” said Zindler, noting it’s not the first time she has taken an unwanted dog home. She has four others.

“I take them home and fix them up so they can find a forever home.”

(Photos by Shirley Zindler)

 

Creator of “Where’s Spot?” dies at 86

hillEric Hill, whose children’s books about a mischievous dog named Spot sold more than 60 million copies, died last Friday at his home in central California.

Hill, whose first book, “Where’s Spot?” was published in 1980, passed away after a short illness, according to Adele Minchin, a spokeswoman for his publisher, Penguin Children’s Group.

The book told the story of Spot’s mother, Sally, as she searched for him around the house, finding a hippo, a lion and other creatures along the way.

Hill was born in England. His career as an illustrator began when he became an errand boy at an illustration studio during World War II, which led to a position at an advertising agency, according to the Associated Press

While freelancing as a creative marketing designer in the late 1970s, he drew a picture of a puppy using his now-famous flap innovation, which fascinated his 3-year-old son, Christopher.

He was so pleased with his son’s reaction to his work that he invented a story to go along with it, which, eventually, became the highly successful “Spot the Dog.”

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That came after countless rejections from publishers who were wary of  his use of paper flaps to hide parts of his illustrations — such as a flap in the shape of a door that is lifted to reveal a grizzly bear.

“Familiar as we are today with a children’s book market where flaps, pop-ups and all kinds of novelty and interactivity are taken for granted, it is hard to recall what an extraordinarily innovative concept this was in the late 1970s,” Minchin said in a statement.

“At that time, Eric’s idea was so different that it took a long while before anyone was brave enough to consider publishing his first book about Spot,” she said.

“Where’s Spot?” was followed by “Spot’s First Walk,” “Spot Goes to the Beach” and many others.

Hill, who moved with his family to the United States in the 1980s, is survived by his wife, Gillian; his son, Christopher; and his daughter, Jane.

Learning to love your lover’s dog

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What do you do when the woman you’re falling in love with has a dog that, seemingly, can’t stand you?

Beef jerky, trust and patience are key, but it also helps to be Jon Katz.

The author of numerous dog books recounted in Parade last week how he came to marry Maria — an artist who was using one of his barns as a studio — and how that required much woooing of her Rottweiler-shepherd mix, Frieda.

Katz was still married when he met Maria and cut a deal with her allowing her to use a barn as a studio in exchange for helping with his animals (a herd of sheep, four donkeys, four chickens, three dogs, and two cats) at his farm in upstate New York. Both later saw their marriages end, and they began developing a friendship — or at least to the extent Frieda would permit.

Frieda was fiercely protective of Maria and, Katz writes, “whenever I approached the barn, Frieda would fling herself against the door in a frenzy, barking ferociously.”

Frieda had been dumped, pregnant, along the New York State Thruway by a man who had been using her as a guard dog. She lived in the wild before she was captured and brought to a shelter. That’s where Maria met her and adopted her, Katz says:

“They were the perfect pair, the human-canine version of Thelma and Louise, united in their devotion to each other and in their great distrust of men.”

As Katz and Maria made the transition from friends to something more, Frieda continued to act out in the presence of Katz and his dogs. At night, Frieda stayed in the  barn. Even though it was heated, it was not a desirable arrangement.

“I was falling in love with Maria,” Katz writes, “and I hoped she would agree to marry me one day, but I knew I had to work things out with Frieda first.

Katz says he bought $500 worth of beef jerky, and began a morning ritual, tossing a piece to Frieda every day. He started getting a little closer to the dog on each visit and, after months, Frieda let him put a leash on her and walk her. “My goal was to get her into the house by Christmas, as a surprise for Maria, evidence of my commitment and good faith.”

Katz and Maria and their animals are one big happy family now, and you can read all about it when The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story, comes out next month.

To learn more about Katz and his other books, visit his website, bedlamfarm.com.

(Top photo: Maria and Frieda and author Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm; by George Forss)

Columnist’s best friend?


In the old days, when a newspaper columnist started writing about his dog, it meant — at least in the eyes of your more crusty and jaundiced types — he or she had run out of things to write about.

Of course, it (usually) wasn’t true then. And it’s even less true now.

Newspapers, as they did with the Internet, have belatedly realized that dog stories are important, that dog stories draw readers, and that dog stories are actually human stories, in disguise. They’ve finally begun to catch on to dog’s new place on the social ladder, and the wonders within them, and the serious issues surrounding them, and that they are far more than just cute.

None of which probably mattered to Steve Lopez when he decided last week to tell the story of his family’s new rescue … rescue-me-again … rescue-me-one-more time … dog.

Who is also pretty cute.

Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, decided with his wife that their daughter, at age 9, was ready for a dog. Their search took them to Tailwaggers, a pet store in Hollywood, where adoption fairs are hosted by Dogs Without Borders. Though dogless for many years, Lopez knew rescuing a mutt — as opposed to purchasing a purebred — was the preferred route these days.

Canine ownership has gotten a lot more complicated than it was when he was a kid, noted Lopez, who definitely has a crusty side.

“First of all, unless you want a rescue dog, you face the withering judgment of do-gooders who have devoted their lives to saving pups from the boneyard,” he wrote. “…I live in Silver Lake, not far from a sprawling dog park. And if an abandoned infant were spotted on the curb of that busy corner, across the street from a dog with a thorn in its paw, I guarantee you dozens of people with porkpie hats and tattooed peace signs would rush to the aid of the dog instead of the child.”

At the adoption fair, his family became enchanted with a 3-year-old Corgi mixed named Hannah, who was described as “a very timid, shy and fearful little girl ” in need of “a home where she can blossom!”

(As Lopez, author of “The Soloist” and other books, may have noticed, those involved in the world of rescuing and rehoming dogs tend to use a lot of exclamation points!)

They then began the adoption process, which, he noted, required many forms: “As I recall, applying for a mortgage wasn’t quite as involved. And many of the agencies insist on a home inspection, as well as a donation fee of up to $450.”

They took Hannah home for a trial period, as a foster. There, unlike at the fair, she refused to walk on a leash.

To get her to go to the bathroom, Lopez says he carried the dog, who they renamed Ginger, to the bottom of the driveway. Given she didn’t move when he put her down, and to build some trust, he said, Lopez unhooked the leash.

Ginger took off.

Lopez ran to his car and began the search.

“My daughter had waited five years for this pup, and I’d lost her in five minutes.”

His wife called the adoption agency to report the escape and got a scolding for letting the dog off her leash. “I must admit, they had told us rescue dogs can be runners, and that we shouldn’t let them off the leash,” Lopez wrote. “On the other hand, if you’re going to call yourself Dogs Without Borders … what message are you sending?”

They searched all day, put up fliers, and posted Ginger on Craigslist as a missing dog. The next day, they found her on a neighbor’s patio and took her home.

The next day, a Monday, Lopez returned from work to learn Ginger had jerked away while being walked and disappeared again, this time dragging her leash. Reasoning that maybe Ginger didn’t want to be there, he and his wife agreed that — once they found her again — they might want to return her.

“Maybe she’d been abused, but it seemed unlikely she’d ever be the warm and cuddly family pet we wanted our daughter to have.”

On Tuesday morning, Lopez was awaked by a scratching sound on the front door. When he opened it, Ginger walked in, her leash still attached. That sight, it seems, cut right through the columnist’s crusty parts.

“We’re keeping this dog,” he said.

I’d be willing to bet they do, and that someday — when there’s nothing else to write about, or even when there is — we’ll be reading about her again.

(Photo of Ginger by Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

“DOG, INC.” struts its stuff

“Thought Provoking?” It’s not like winning best in show at Westminster, but I’ll take the sign my book appears under at this bookstore as a compliment.

A friend sent me this photo, taken at the Barnes & Noble in Towson, which shows “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” getting some pretty decent display (at least better than the bottom shelf of the astronomy section, as was the case at an area bookstore that shall remain nameless).

I can think of no other sign I would like my book to be under — except maybe “New York Times Bestseller.”

Alas, it’s not there yet, but it did rate the “Page 99 Test,” a website by Marshal Zeringue dedicated to the proposition that the quality of a book can be judged by turning to, and reading, its 99th page.

I lucked out in that page 99 of “DOG, INC.” contains a revelation — namely who it was that located Genelle Guzman, the last survivor found after 9/11, and held her hand until she could be freed from the mound of debris she was trapped under.

(Clue: It wasn’t the volunteer firefighters who took credit for rescuing her on CNN)

If you’re wondering what this has to do with cloning dogs, you can click the link to Marshal’s blog or, better yet, buy the book and allow your thoughts — and perhaps more — to be provoked.