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Tag: philadelphia inquirer

Our allegiance to dogs has never been higher

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.

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A walk in the woods

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin was taking his dog Harley for a short morning walk. You know the kind. Hurry up and do your business … It’s cold … Gotta get to work. But — as will happen when new dog meets freshly fallen snow — the short walk turned into a long walk, an acquaintance turned into a friend, and, more important for Dan, taking the time to go down a new path or two turned into a column. Here’s what he posted on his Facebook page, which he later condensed into a column, which appears in today’s Inquirer.

Harley’s first step out the door is up — straight up — all 100-or-so loping, furry, orsine pounds of Bouvier twisting, leaping, soaring into the air. He looks back, wild-eyed and grinning.

To be a dog in the snow.

The idea was to walk him long enough so he could do his thing, then I could excavate the car and drive into town, where bad roads and deadline awaited.

But everytime this dog sees a blanket of snow, he’s seeing it for the first time. I’m not sure how bright he is. But he does know how to live.

We took the middle of the road, usually a whoosh of morning traffic, but there were no cars, no sound. There were no sidewalks yet either at 7 o’clock, just slight furrows in the virgin snow.

In the next block a lone figure shoveled the deep, airy powder. He was pink-faced and wore a beret, a field jacket, sweats and Wellies.

“Nice day for a walk,” he said, happily stopping for a moment.

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Temple Grandin makes a house call

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.”