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Tag: books on dogs

What trash should we cash?

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:

Profit.

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

 

If not for dogs, we’d all be Neanderthals

evolution

There’s no question humans played a major — you could even say heavy-handed — role in the evolution of dogs.

But might dogs and their predecessors have played an equally significant role in our’s?

invadersA new book by Pennsylvania State University anthropologist Pat Shipman, “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction,” suggests that having wolves/dogs on our side allowed humans to survive while Neanderthals went extinct.

(Well, maybe not totally extinct; I know at least two.)

In reality, most humans today — thanks to long-ago couplings between humans and Neanderthals — have anywhere from one to four percent of Neanderthal genes in their systems. (Those genes, I suspect, are responsible for making us tailgate, become bodybuilders and cut in line.) 

Neanderthals lived, evolved and pretty much ruled for about 250,000 years. After humans came along, about 40,000 years ago, the numbers of Neanderthals declined, then vanished, falling victim, some think, to the superior intellect, skills and weapons of early humans.

Shipman agrees with that theory, but argues humans having wolves on their side was a critical factor.

Neanderthals, the author says, never buddied up with the wolf, while humans would go on to form an alliance with them, tame them, breed them and assign them the kind of tasks that helped with survival — like hunting, guarding and chasing away enemies.

Given dogs were once thought to have been domesticated only 10,000 to 15,000 years ago — long after Neanderthals and humans had it out — little attention was paid to what, if any role, they might have played in the conflict.

But newer evidence, suggesting the domestication of dog goes back 25,000, 35,000, or even more than 100,000 years ago, lends credence to the conclusion dogs were a factor in the survival of our species.

It’s all pretty fascinating stuff — from whence we came, from whence dog came, and how, when and why we seemingly became allies.

But, other than the fact that knowing how our species has managed to survive this long might help it continue to do so, I’m not sure how relevant it is to modern times — unless, as one writer semi-playfully suggests in a piece for WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, how much an individual likes or dislikes dogs is related to the amount of Neanderthal within.

“Depending on the individual, you might just wonder if dog loving might be an indicator of the ratio of Neanderthal genes you’ve got,” Vicki Croke wrote on the WBUR blog, “The Wild Life.” She quotes Lauren Slater, author of  “The $60,000 Dog:”

“What this may mean: all those ‘not dog’ people, the ones who push away the paws and straighten their skirts after being sniffed, well, they may have one foot in the chromosomally compromised Neanderthal pool,” Slater wrote, while dog lovers “may be displaying not idiocy or short-sighted sentimentality, as our critics would call it, but a sign of our superior genetic lineage.”

So the next time some small foreheaded, prim and proper, club-carrying type asks that you keep your dog away from them, by all means comply, but feel free to mutter under your breath as you walk away:

“What a Neanderthal!”

An artful remembrance of Soviet space dogs

spacedogs3

Landing on the moon may have been a giant step for mankind, but, before man deemed it safe enough to venture into outer space, four-legged creatures paved the way.

spacedogs1The first earth creature to reach outer space was a Soviet dog named Laika, who died during the 1957 Sputnik 2 mission.

And, while the race to space heated up, with the U.S. opting to use mice and monkeys to test the effects of zero gravity, dogs continued to be the hand-picked pioneers of choice for the Soviets.

They  – Mishka, Belka, Strelka and more — were literally picked off the streets of Moscow as strays, trained and sent into space both before and after 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

The contribution of those dogs — both to the Soviet space program and, through that, to Soviet popular culture — is artfully depicted in  ”Soviet Space Dogs,” a new book by  Olesya Turkina, a research fellow at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

spacedogs“The Soviet public couldn’t get enough of photographs of their beloved dogs, in rockets, oxygen masks and space helmets,” a New York Times review of the book notes. “But even in that citadel of communism, quick-buck artists made money off Laika, Belka and Strelka, putting the dogs’ heroic images on anything that couldn’t move, including candy bars, postcards, stamps, pins and the inevitable commemorative plates.”

As the author of the book writes, “These dogs are the characters in a fairy tale that was created in the U.S.S.R.: They are the martyrs and saints of communism.” (You can sample the book here.)

Laika, who led the way, didn’t survive her space mission, dying from the heat. Other cosmonaut dogs died as well, and most of those who lived spent the rest of their lives in laboratories, suffering ill effects from space travel.

“The lucky ones lived out their days in the laboratory, where devoted attendants would chew bits of (hard-to-find) sausage before feeding it to the dogs who had lost their teeth in the battle to colonize space,” Turkina writes.

laikacigs

But they’d become revered in Soviet society, and served as symbols of patriotic sacrifice.

After Belka and Strelka returned alive from a day in orbit in 1960, they joined Laika as celebrities, appearing on radio and television. Their portraits were featured in newspapers, on stamps and in magazines, Turkina writes. One could smoke Laika cigarettes, or buy a Belka and Strelka storybook for their children.

“Soviet Space Dogs, while full of images, is a book for all ages — fascinating for its insights into early space travel, but also for what it says about popular culture and patriotism, and the mutts who, through no choice of their own, were catapulted first into space, then into lasting fame.

(Photos from “Soviet Space Dogs”)

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.”

wheresspot

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

katz

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)

Shake: When dogs let the fur fly

As stunning as Carli Davidson’s photographs are in “SHAKE” — a new book featuring dogs caught in the middle of letting the fur (and drool) fly — this video produced in conjunction with her may be even more breathtaking.

SHAKE, the book, was released today by HarperCollins. Inspired by Davidson’s own dog, a mastiff named Norbert, who regularly flings drool at her home, it presents more than 130 full-page portraits of dogs shaking off water. The photos began showing up on the Internet in 2012, went viral, and were shaped into a book.

As a side project, Davidson worked with Variable, a New York production company, to produce the video.

shakeThe still photos are magnificent, capturing dogs in a millisecond –  their heads caught in mid-swivel, their ears in mid flap, their jowls contorted, their fur frozen in flight, and their slung streams of drool stopped in mid-air.

The slow-motion video, though, shows the whole intricate dance – and how the simple act of a dog shaking is really pretty complex. Exactly how many different muscles, going in how many different directions, does doing that take? And how is it possible to be so grossly contorted and amazingly elegant at the same time?

The answer is you have to be a dog.

You, as a human, can dance with stars, dance with the devil, or dance ’til you drop, but I don’t think your moves will ever parallel what a dog is able to pull off in the simple — or not so simple — act of shaking off.

Davidson, a native of Portland, Oregon, began experimenting with taking high-speed photos of dogs shaking off water in 2011. The next year she began posting them online, and they received millions of views.

In 2012, members of the team at Variable saw Davidson’s photo series online and contacted her about making a video.

“Fortunately for us, Carli responded to our enthusiastic e-mail with an even more enthusiastic e-mail stating that she was totally down to collaborate and had a very similar vision! After months and many meetings of trying to figure out how we could even afford to make this film, we all just decided to empty our pockets, pull some serious strings, and make the video purely for the fun of it.”

Dogs with Old Man Faces

dwomf1

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.

Roscoe

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)