Book Review: Thunder Dog- The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust

As a guide dog puppy raiser (for the school Roselle came from, no less) I always intrigued by the story of guide dog handler Michael Hingson and his guide dog Roselle. For those that don’t know about this famous duo, Mr. Hingson and Roselle were on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the planes struck the twin towers.

In his memoir of the event, titled Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust, Mr. Hingson writes about the fateful day that his guide dog saved his life- jumping up from under his desk when the plane struck his tower, and guiding him down 78 flights of stairs over the course of several hours while fires blazed above them and jet fuel fumes choked the air of the stairwell. Emerging from the tower just moments before it fell, Roselle guided them both through what must have been sheer terror, to safety in an underground subway station.

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The book is peppered with flashbacks of Mr. Hinson growing up as a blind child, his trials and tribulations from school, to college, to life with his first and subsequent guide dogs. The tales are humorous, inspiring, and set the stage for their harrowing escape from the tower. The flashbacks give you insight into how Mr. Hingson learns to navigate the sighted world with the help of adaptive technologies and establishes the trust and teamwork needed between him and his guides. Without those two things, the pair would never have escaped the tower.

If you’re looking for a feel-good book that doesn’t take too long to read, this is a great one to pick up. Mr. Hingson talks about events that led him to be in the World Trade Center that day, talks about puppy raising and training of Roselle and his previous guide dogs, and explains how she really outperformed herself getting them out of the tower, and then later that night, out of Manhattan.

michael_roselle-300x300A tribute to an amazing dog and their harrowing tale of escape, this book is definitely a must-read.

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Book Review Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

Are you looking for a good winter time dog book to enjoy by a nice warm fire?  A book that will make you laugh?  And laugh some more?  Gary Paulsen’s memoir “Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod” is your book.  Think Bill Bryson meets dog mushing.  I actually drooled a little bit at one point I was laughing so hard.  Okay, maybe I am just easy to amuse!  But really, this book a very fun read.

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Gary Paulsen is a trapper that slowly falls in love with the feeling of being Out There with his trapline dogs.  The idea of running the Iditarod slowly settles into his very being and becomes a thing he is drawn to do.  A Thing he must do.  He is completely and delightfully clueless.  About everything.

The book takes us through Paulsen learning about and aquiring the types of dogs that have what it takes to run the Iditarod.  The utter catastrophe of learning to live with, train and condition them.  (For example, I always assumed that sleds stayed Right Side Up with the musher firmly perched on the foot boards while being pulled by dogs, but this is not always the case.)  The reality of how much responsibilty running sled dogs is, and how it can become very dangerous very fast.

And at last, the race itself.  The coolest thing about this book is that Paulsen is a total rookie.  He has never run the race before.  He is learning as he goes and tells his story with second to none honest and self depreciating humor.  I loved it.  He was voted by the other mushers as least likely to finish the race.  Each page turn revealed another unsettling moment where he realized anew that he had no idea what he was doing.

The Iditarod is not easy.  It is not comfortable.  I specifically remember Paulsen referring to a day at 20 degrees F below zero as “warm.”  Yikes!  The race is run by hard people and harder dogs, all driven by the same thing – to run the Last Great Race.  What Paulsen lacks in experience he makes up for in determination and passion and love for his dogs.

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This is not a new book.  This book is actually twenty years old!  Paulsen is well known for his children’s books Hatchet and Dogsong.  But if, like me, you have never heard of this book, do yourself a favor and read it.  (I actually stumbled on the book in the borrowable book section of my dog training club.  What a lucky find!)  Twenty years later it is still an incredible and well-written story that no dog lover would regret reading.

Book Review: Animal Madness, by Laurel Braitman

Here at TU, we often joke (or, you know, “joke”) about living with our respective assortments of crazy dogs, nutball cats, and — in my case, a few years back — a series of probably-psychopathic, undoubtedly-homicidal hamsters. (Having lived with more than my fair share of the hilarious little monsters, I will always believe that golden hamsters are nature’s Scary Clowns. Oh, sure, they look adorable. But not-so-secretly they are babyeating cannibal menaces who can’t even tolerate a single roommate in a huge cage without murdering one another. Hamsters hate you and want you dead.)

ANYWAY.

When I saw the cover of Laurel Braitman’s book Animal Madness on the front page of an issue of Whole Dog Journal, I thought: that is a book that I need to read. Crazy dogs! That is exactly what we do here! The TU readership must hear about this book.

AnimalMadnessCoverAnd now that I have actually read it, I feel even more strongly about this. If you have any interest in the mental and emotional wellbeing of animals — not just our companion dogs and pet parrots, but the intelligent and sensitive wild birds and mammals who suffer heartbreaking fates in what Braitman refers to as “the animal captivity industry” (i.e., Sea World, Ringling Bros. Circus, and an awful lot of zoos) — then this is a book you can’t afford to miss. Animal Madness is packed full of fascinating anecdotes, glimpses into the strange, sad, and frequently hilarious history of how people interpreted animals’ aberrant behavior, and thoughtful reflections on how our current choices can help or harm the animals who share our world.

It’s also smart, funny, and written with such an effortlessly conversational tone that you might be tempted to forget just how solidly researched the whole thing is. According to my Kindle’s page tracker, fully 40% of the book’s length is comprised of citations; the main text only takes up 60% of the book. That is by far the highest ratio of citations-to-text that I’ve encountered outside the formal academic context, and a good measure of how seriously Braitman has studied her subject. Animal Madness is breezy enough to have landed on quite a few recommended “summer reading” lists, but this book is anything but lightweight. It is, in fact, a stealth bomb aimed directly at your brain.

The story begins when Braitman acquires a Bernese Mountain Dog named Oliver, who suffers from a variety of behavioral problems including severe separation anxiety (which drove him to jump out of a fourth-floor window, fifty feet from the ground), pica, and compulsive paw-licking that gave him recurrent, oozy sores on his feet. Her efforts to understand and help Oliver launched her down a road that took her to visit the elephant handlers of Thailand, browse the archives of Victorian writers’ musings on suicidal lions and heartbroken geese, and research the strange/sad/funny history of animal experimentation in psychopharmaceutical development.

(Yes, that’s right, “funny,” albeit in a horrible way. There is, for example, the pure black comedy of the Executive Monkey experiment. There is also a long list of Women Types Who Need Tranquilizers, which in the ’50s included both “loose” and “frigid” women. Valium: appropriate for aaaaallll the ladies in your life!)

There are so many incredible anecdotes in Animal Madness that I fear to mention any of them for spoilers (really: you have to read them as they’re described in the text), and yet I can’t seem to stop myself from mentioning a few of these amazingly peculiar tales. Braitman introduces her readers to John Daniel, the first gorilla to survive more than a few months in captivity, who lived in apparent contentment with his wealthy human caretakers in a house in London. John Daniel rode on the train like an ordinary person, slept in a bed in his own bedroom, and loved to take guests by the hand so that he could show them around his home. He liked fresh lemon jelly, milk warmed on the stove, and roses — the more beautiful the better, as “he would never eat faded ones.” Taken from his home under false pretenses, he effectively died of loneliness.

Then there’s Charlie the parrot, who may or may not have committed suicide from heartbreak, Mosha, a young elephant who suffered from PTSD after losing a leg to a land mine, and Brian the bonobo, who endured sexual abuse from his father and exhibited a list of self-harming behaviors and developmental deficiencies that strikingly mirror some of the human cases I’ve seen come out of similar situations.

Between and throughout the case studies is a reasoned, thoughtful argument about the responsibility that we share for the emotional disturbances of these animals. In almost all cases, the animals’ mental health is thrown out of balance because of some human impact on their lives. Animals are yanked out of their familiar home environments and thrust into strange, often horribly cold and barren new places. Animals are subjected to godawful abuses in the name of “training.” Animals are poisoned by chemical runoffs in their water supplies. Animals are reared in stimulus-deprived, frequently overcrowded facilities to fill the quotas of pet stores and factory farms, and are taken away from their mothers far too young and so routinely that some of their pathological behaviors (such as pet-store hamsters obsessively chewing the bars of their cages) were things that I, for one, had just accepted as “normal,” because every animal of that species I ever saw did those things.

But they’re not normal. And it is our collective human actions that cause so much suffering to these animals.

It’s not all bad, though. For every heartbreaking story Braitman relates, there’s another to heal it — case studies where compassionate, knowledgeable, and committed people were able to rebuild animals’ trust, restore some semblance of the emotional and social relationships they’d lost, and bring them back to a happier, healthier place. There is a lot of harm that we commit thoughtlessly, but there is also a tremendous amount of good that we can do when we act thoughtfully.

It sounds pretty sappy to say it, I know, but there actually is a great healing power in love, at least when it comes to restoring the mental health of social animals. Over and over, the author shows it at work. By the end of the book, she’d even made a believer out of cynical, jaded ol’ me.

That’s a powerful message, and it’s far from the only one to be found in Animal Madness. This is an important book. It’s worth reading. More than that: it’s worth thinking about.

Book Review: Part Wild, by Ceiridwen Terrill

The classical definition of a “tragedy” is a dramatic or literary work in which the main character is brought to great suffering or ruin as a result of a tragic flaw — a grievous misjudgment, moral failing, or inability to cope with difficult circumstances.

This book is, in every sense, a tragedy. It is beautifully written, unsparing in its honesty, and very, very sad. It is absolutely not a book that everyone will enjoy. But it’s also brilliant and important and cathartic.

Part Wild is the story of a troubled, naive young woman who purchases a wolfdog puppy after fleeing an abusive relationship. The puppy, Inyo, grows up to be what her nature dictates she must: a creature that fits uncomfortably in the space between wildness and domesticity, unable to belong fully to either world.

Inyo, like her parents, proves impossible for her people to contain safely or humanely. She is a natural predator, with lethal consequences for endangered wildlife and unlucky pets that cross her path. She is relentlessly active and relentlessly destructive, ruining her owner’s house and possessions; her constant howling and wild behavior cause her owners to lose home after home. But she is also dog enough to feel some desire to bond with people, and to be completely unable to survive without human support. Much of the story chronicles Terrill’s desperate efforts to find a place in the world where she and Inyo can live. Unsurprisingly, however, no such place seems to exist. Only while hiking in the rugged outdoors — another environment in limbo between wilderness and civilization — do either Inyo or Terrill seem to approach anything resembling happiness.

Inyo isn’t the only troubled creature in the equation. Terrill is also very candid about her own struggles with mental health and emotional stability throughout this period. She suffers from OCD, depression, and awful relationship choices. During the part of her life chronicled in this memoir, she isn’t even in a good position to own a normal dog (as is made too tragically clear).

What follows is a story that is as predictable as it is heartbreaking. All the classical elements of tragedy are there: the warnings that are not heeded until it’s too late, the misjudgments and mistakes that mire the central characters deeper in their doom, the slow inexorable inevitability of the ending, from which there is and can be no escape.

If you’re looking for an uplifting story of triumph over adversity, this ain’t it: the author’s struggles pretty much all end badly, and then she goes out and grabs some more adversity, because apparently the previous go-around wasn’t enough. If you’re prone to getting frustrated when you have to sit back and watch somebody follow bad decisions with worse ones, then Part Wild might just make your head explode. And if you’re the sort of dog lover who already has a bleak view on how animals suffer when the people who are supposed to be responsible for their lives make choices that hurt them, well, you might want to give this book a pass. (Spoiler: neither the people who breed wolfdogs nor the people who buy them are models of dog savvy or great ethics.)

Reading Part Wild felt a little like renting my soul out as a punching bag for Mike Tyson on PCP. It hurt. I had to put my Kindle down several times and walk away before I threw it out the window.

And yet, for all that, I think it’s a tremendous book.

The great virtue of Part Wild, to me, is that it is so clear that breeding and keeping wolfdogs is a tragedy. Yes, the author is painfully ignorant when she buys puppy Inyo from an equally ignorant, profoundly unethical BYB… but afterward, she does the research, she seeks out the answers, and she learns through both education and experience that it is not possible to give these creatures a safe, happy, fulfilling life. She can’t do it, and no one else who offers to take Inyo can do it, either.

While some rare few wolfdogs do live comfortably in domestic surroundings, they’re one in a hundred — and the other ninety-nine of their siblings, parents, and cousins ended badly. Terrill interviews several breeders who did their level best to develop lines that would be able to live happily among people, and found that they had gotten out of breeding wolfdogs, because there was no way to do it ethically.

The mythology that surrounds these animals leads to a lot of very real suffering, and the value of Terrill’s work is that it so compellingly documents her own journey from being lured by that mythology to being disillusioned by the reality. The very existence of wolfdogs is the source of their tragedy. These unfortunate animals exist only because of human hubris and human egocentrism: the desire to imagine that a powerful, noble, wild creature will magically be a spiritual companion to an equally powerful, noble, and wild soul.

But, of course, the truth doesn’t bear much resemblance to that.

And, as the book shows (without ever explicitly underlining the conclusion), the people who buy into the myth are frequently people who lack self-awareness or agency in other aspects of their lives, and who are looking to create a better reality by wishful thinking. They’re often in shaky life circumstances even before taking on the tremendous burden that living with a half-wild creature entails. This, too, contributes to the inevitability of the outcomes (and, on a personal note, my frustration with a lot of the people breeding these creatures. Watching the animals suffer because of the callous irresponsibility of their people hits aaaallll my Rageful Rescue Person buttons, and there’s a lot of that in this book).

Through Terrill’s candor, however, it might be possible for others to learn from her mistakes and avoid making their own. That’s why I think this book is so valuable: it shatters all those myths and magical ideas about what it means to live with a wolfdog, and it mounts an irrefutable case for why the breeding and keeping of these creatures is morally indefensible.

If that stops one person from breeding a litter of wolfdogs, or from buying a puppy that’s doomed before birth, or even from repeating and perpetuating the myths that contribute to this suffering, then that might be a silver lining to the story of Inyo’s life and her owner’s grief.

Regardless, though, this is a brilliant and wrenching memoir. It is good. It is not happy, but it’s good. It’s the kind of book that lodges splinters in your soul.

Book Review: Little Boy Blue, by Kim Kavin

For pretty much the entire time I’ve been involved with rescue, I’ve focused primarily on dogs that landed in Philadelphia after coming up from a variety of Southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and so on. I won’t bore you with the reasons that I made that decision (at least not in today’s post; they’re posted over here if you really want to take a peek), but because of this background, I perked up immediately when TU’s Danielle told me about Kim Kavin’s book Little Boy Blue.

There are quite a few books out there covering various rescue-related topics, but as far as I’m aware, this is the first that focuses specifically on the phenomenon of Southern dogs traveling up the East Coast (mainly, but not exclusively, along I-95) to rescue organizations in well-heeled Northern cities and suburbs. So, naturally, I had to grab a copy as soon as I heard about it. What would someone write about this curious little corner of the rescue world, I wondered? How does this scene look to outside eyes?

Blue’s story opens in 2010, when the author decided to adopt a puppy and found, to her surprise, that the puppy listed on Petfinder as local to New Jersey was actually located in North Carolina. She went through with the adoption, picked Blue up from a transporter, and later found herself curious about her puppy’s origins. How such a sweet, friendly, stable puppy could find himself in a kill shelter was a mystery, as were the hairless spots and scars along Blue’s face and body. So, being a journalist, Kavin went investigating — and those investigations turned into this book.

The first couple of chapters, I’ll admit, caused me to wince inwardly a few times. After years of dealing with totally detached-from-reality “darling angel furbaby” types in the rescue world, I’ve developed a severe allergy to even the teeny tiniest little whiff of people sentimentalizing their pets, and I get even twitchier when those sentimental descriptions are paired with a casual admission that one of those pets was habitually fitted with a shock collar for an invisible fence to keep the dog “safe” from chasing deer (oy). Thus, at the outset, I had some reservations about just how clear-eyed and accurate this book was going to be, because those intro chapters didn’t give me tremendously high hopes.

But as the book went on, and Kavin dug deeper into the issues of poverty and comparative wealth across different regions, variations in cultural attitudes toward dog care and the value of mixed-breed dogs, conflicting imperatives in the shelter and rescue world, and the struggles that face everyone who attempts to reconcile those complex and multi-faceted problems, I found my respect for the author steadily increasing. Page by page, my appreciation for her work grew greater.

In particular, I thought her discussion of one particular foster home was illuminating. One of the people in the rescue network that handled Blue was a woman named Annie Turner, and the conditions in which she kept her foster dogs are described as about a cat’s hair shy of hoarding.

Having encountered a couple of similar characters myself, I felt that the book did a great job talking about the practical and ethical difficulties of navigating through such a complicated situation: clearly that foster home is not the greatest, but is leaving dogs to die in a gassing shelter any better? What can an outsider do to fix that situation, when calling in the authorities means returning the dogs to the same high-kill shelter they just escaped from, and calling in big national charities (as the author discovered when she tried to enlist HSUS for help) accomplishes absolutely no good on the ground?

There aren’t any easy answers to that question, or to many of the others that the author and the people she interviews grapple with in this book. While there’s no question that the South-to-North “underground railroad” of dogs has saved thousands of canine (and feline!) lives, and made thousands of adoptive homes very happy, it’s not without its drawbacks.

There is little to no oversight of those small, fragmented rescue networks, and few people to turn to when things go wrong. At several points, Kavin underscores just how much the entire system runs on trusting every person to make every correct choice along the way. When they get things wrong, the mass movement of adoptable pets does contribute to the spread of disease. It arguably does take homes from locally adoptable pets (although my view is that it doesn’t take nearly as many homes as opponents seem to think, since there is limited overlap in the types of dogs available through each source). I am glad that Kavin touched on those issues, and discussed some of them at length, in her book.

Also, on a personal note, it was nifty to see a few people that I know through the rescue world making cameos as characters in the book. The majority of my foster dogs have come up from North Carolina, especially Robeson, Sampson, and Person Counties, and lots of the rescue volunteers and shelter employees from those areas make appearances in these pages. They deserve some recognition for their tireless work, and I was glad to see Kavin shining a spotlight on their efforts.

By the time I got to the end of the book, my initial doubts had been laid to rest, and I’d switched to being a fan. Sure, there are a couple of teeny little things I might be inclined to nitpick… but for that to be the worst criticism I can level against a book that confronts so many hot-button issues is a pretty good recommendation, I think.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a fuller understanding of the South-to-North transport and rescue scene — anyone who has adopted or considered adopting one of these dogs, anyone who’s thought about fostering for one of those rescues, and anyone who’s just curious about why this network developed and how it works (and occasionally malfunctions). It’s not uncommon for me to run across people who indignantly demand to know why we’re “importing more dogs” when there are still dogs dying by the hundreds in ACCT annually, and I can think of few better arguments than pointing them to Little Boy Blue.

This book might not convince you that transport-based rescues are a good thing. But it will surely do a good job of laying out why they exist, what their goals are, and why a whole lot of people support them. It’s also honest about some of the pitfalls and drawbacks of the system. And for that reason, I think it is a really valuable addition to the literature on shelter dogs and rescues in the United States.

Book Review: How to Foster Dogs, by Pat Miller

Maaaannny many years ago (well, okay, three), when I first started thinking about fostering dogs, I would have loved a little guidance about exactly how to find a good rescue, select an appropriate “starter” dog, handle introductions with my resident dog (particularly since my only resident dog at that time was Pongu the Insane, the poster child for jealous insecurity), and so forth.

In other words, I would have loved this book.

How to Foster Dogs is a book aimed squarely at that beginning-to-intermediate foster home. It starts with an overview of fostering, moves into a discussion of the different types of organizations that need fosters and the purposes for which they might place dogs in foster care, and then goes over how to choose, socialize, and train a foster dog. It talks about how to pick quality foods, how to avoid or discourage nuisance behaviors, and how to get started on basic training. There are concise chapters on the three most common behavioral issues presented by foster dogs (fear, aggression, and separation anxiety) and an extremely short discussion on placing fosters in their adoptive homes.

Three years ago, I would have latched onto this book like a life preserver. Because that’s what it would have been to me then.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xqkrpi_XyI An early foster. I was a LITTLE over my head with this one at first!]

Today, I look at it and think: “hmm, there’s lots of good stuff here, but…

First, the good. There’s a ton of solid, well-researched information in this book, and it’s packaged neatly and efficiently in a non-intimidating manner. Miller clearly knows her audience, too: right from the get-go, she emphasizes the importance of knowing your limits, respecting the needs of your own household and resident pets, and recognizing when a foster dog’s behavioral or medical issues are beyond your ability to handle. Having dealt with many, MANY rescue volunteers whose big hearts led them into big trouble, I applaud her for trumpeting the message that it’s okay to say no. That is something a lot of rescue people find very difficult, and the inability to say no is a huge contributor to burnout rates.

The training and behavioral advice is, as you’d expect, solidly grounded on scientific principles and dog-friendly ethics. Miller covers a broad variety of topics, ranging from getting a dog comfortable with body handling to humanely discouraging nuisance barking, and always provides enough information for a reader to at least get started on tackling the problems without suffocating under an avalanche of jargon.

And now, the “buts.”

The biggest criticism I have of this book is probably its price point. This is a slim volume, clocking in at just under 150 pages of informative content, but as of this writing, it’s priced at $14.95. That’s not out of line for Dogwise Publishing… but most of Dogwise’s other titles are aimed at a professional or specialist audience, i.e., the kinds of people (me! me!) who are totally used to forking over $100 for a 6-DVD set on training your dog to stand on things.

Most rescue people are not hardcore training enthusiasts. Most of them are pet owners who have a soft spot for needy dogs, and my suspicion is that a lot of them might balk at dropping $15 on such a compact volume. At that price point, it’s cost-prohibitive for most rescues to buy in bulk and provide to their volunteers for free, too. (By contrast, Patricia McConnell’s Love Has No Age Limit, which contains a lot of similar information and is comparable in length, was deliberately priced so that it would be affordable to rescues — as little as $3 per copy with bulk purchases.) That’s a shame, because this really would be a wonderful manual for shelters and rescues to hand out to new volunteers.

Love Has No Age Limit: Cheap enough to give away with every foster dog I place!

The second criticism I’d offer is that there’s basically no information on marketing your foster dog or screening prospective homes, and this is something that I have come to regard as critically important over time. Good marketing is crucial to finding the best possible home for your foster dog and avoiding a regrettable placement because, well, those people want the dog and you don’t have any better options. Been there, done that, regret it to this day.

Not only does marketing your foster dog open up a world of wonderful possibilities for that dog, but in my experience, it’s a powerful shield against burnout and foster failure. Every time I write a blog post, take a cute photograph, or strap on the Homeless Dog Vest of Shame to advertise my foster dog’s availability, I am not only marketing the dog to the outside world, but reminding myself that this is not my dog. That keeps me emotionally insulated against getting too attached. It also helps keep me looking forward to the eventual Happily Ever After that I’m sure the dog will have — and that insulates me against burnout.

In my house, but NOT MY DOG.

Nothing’s ever perfect, of course, and despite my minor complaints, I do think this book is a strong and worthy addition to the literature. There’s really not a lot out there that talks specifically about fostering dogs, and I’m glad Pat Miller stepped in to cover that gap. If you’re debating whether to get into fostering and/or looking for tips on how to start on the right foot, How to Foster Dogs is a great resource and well worth the $15.

Read-a-Bull

Reading books is one of the top ten things that I enjoy.  Dog books are among my favorite reads, and if you give me a dog book featuring any of my favorite breeds I am a happy camper.  Since my heart (and couch) is owned by Molly the Pitbull, I do love to smile (and sometimes cry) over good books about pitbulls.  Here are some that I have read and enjoyed!

onegooddogOne Good Dog by Susan Wilson. 

Great little novel about a businessman (and non dog lover) whose world is turned upside down when he loses his job.  His life takes a dramatic change in every way possible and that includes having his heart stolen by an down-on-his-luck pitbull.   It is a sweet, can’t-put-it-down quickie that was recommended to me by a dog loving coworker.

 

220px-Book-IncredibleJourneyThe Incredible Journey by Shelia Burnford. 

The bully-type dog in this book isn’t properly a pitbull, but I appreciate enough “pitbull” characteristics out of his character that I wanted to include this classic.  Bodger the Bull Terrier is a member of a mismatched band of three pet animals who travel the wilderness in search of their master.  I have to be honest that it has been many many years since I cuddled up with this book and I may have to remedy that in the near future.  Of course worth mention is that the famous Disney movie Homeward Bound was based on this book (though Chance the American Bulldog was far different of personality than Bodger.)

 

wallacethepitbull2Wallace by Jim Gorant.

I absolutely adored this book, it is everything that a pitbull lover could want.  Wallace is a pain in the ass, higher than high drive pitbull who ends up in a shelter.  Fortunately, he captures the hearts of Roo and Clara, married couple and shelter workers.  Through their dedication, a dog who was headed for euthanasia in a no-kill shelter not only finds his place in the dog sport world, he excels there in a big way.

 

imagesCA9KG75ESalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

I spied this one advertised on Amazon and picked it up for my Kindle.  The book is about a poor family in Mississippi whose home and lives are threatened by an impending hurricane, and it is moreso about their lives than about pitbulls directly.  I list it on here because ever present in the family’s lives is puppy momma and fighting pitbull, China.  This was in no way a feel-good book about pitbulls, but a realistic portrayal of the (regrettable) lives that some pitbulls live.  It was interesting and a quick read, though it left me feeling a little bit sad for both human and dog alike.

lostdogsThe Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant. 

Caution: will bring tears to your eyes.  Gorant writes a no nonesense account of the seizure and rescue of Michael Vick’s pitbulls from beginning to present day.  I felt like I learned a lot while reading this book, I felt a huge variety of emotions, and I felt so very proud of the resilience inside the heart of so many pitbulls.  This story needed to be told and Gorant has delivers in a big way.

 

And on my ‘to read’ list are even more pitbull related books:
The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression by Karen Delise.  I have not read this yet, but TU member Michelle has written an excellent review of this book (click here to view!)  The book details how pitbull (and non-pitbull) attacks are poorly represented and sensationalized in the media.
Love Like a Dog by Anne Calcagno.
Four Feet Tall and Rising: A Memoir by Shorty Rossi. Rossi is known for his Animal Planet TV show Pit Boss.  I was excited to see this book on my library’s New Release shelf, and mentally promised to read it.  I love a good memoir, especially one written by a pitbull lover.
The Dog Who Spoke With Gods by Diane Jessup. Fiction story about a pre-med student who happens upon Damien, a “lab rat” pitbull.
The Angel On My Shoulder: My Life with an American Pit Bull Terrier by Jolene Mercandante. 

Studious Molly

Well, what are you waiting for? Get reading!

The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks, Pt. II: The Puppy Primer (Patricia McConnell and Brenda Scidmore)

[Review of what in the what now? See here for more details and here for the first installment]


After reading Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed for my last review, a book which is resolutely NOT geared towards the first-time owner or newbie trainer, reading McConnell and Scidmore’s Puppy Primer was a pretty profound change of pace. This is a book–and I mean this with absolutely zero disrespect–that you could comfortably give to, say, your awesome aunt who hasn’t had a dog in twenty years, is not too clear on this whole ‘training’ thing, and is bringing home a new puppy next Tuesday. While some of the information in The Puppy Primer might feel a little bit elementary for experienced owners, it is one of those books that I think will be a godsend to new owners who really do want to learn and do things right with their new pup. Brand new owners who are sussing out the right way to do things can find themselves accidentally drifting into Cesar Millan-land: they are people who find themselves suddenly buying a choke collar and practicing their alpha rolls, not because they are bad people but because they are worried that their puppy will otherwise become a juvenile delinquent and they start thinking that this is How It’s Done Now. If you have one of these people in your life and want to gently steer them in a more dog-friendly direction, McConnell and Scidmore’s Puppy Primer is the book you want to pick up  [and I am putting my money where my mouth is here: my dad just adopted a 10 month old Papillon and a copy of this book is currently flying across the country to him]. The tone is light and friendly and engaging throughout: McConnell and Scidmore aren’t afraid to be funny, they’re not afraid to admit that puppies can be horrible little hellions occasionally trying, and while they resolutely encourage positive training (with only minor, well-contextualized forays into the language of corrections) they are never hectoring or dogmatic about it (as some books absolutely can be: Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy, I’m looking at you.) The way information is presented is, in fact, the book’s strongest suit. I am, YOU WILL BE SHOCKED TO HEAR, nobody’s Cesar Milan fan, but I think his books’ most seductive aspect are their friendliness: generally, I think they read like, “Hey, you’re a good person, you’re trying hard, your dog’s a little bit of a monkey, let’s work together to fix the situation!” The Puppy Primer reads the same way, except that McConnell and Scidmore’s solutions are focused around early socialization, training and play, whereas Millan’s are focused around poking your dog in the side a whole bunch. [Yes, I am being reductive about this. No, I do not care. Ain't nobody claiming to be objective around here.]

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The Team Unruly Review of Puppybooks, Part I: Leslie McDevitt, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program


Here is the absolute best thing I can say about Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program (or any book, really). Five days ago, I walked into my house with a squirming, 17-week old cattle dog x JRT in my arms, feeling slightly crazy and temporarily overwhelmed. The minute I got her to settle down for a nap, I went over to my increasingly towering stack of puppy books, searching for something to reread that would remind me that, yes, I would be able to do this, that I had the tools to transform this zoomy, barky, mouthy bundle of kinetic energy into a happy, focused, engaged dog who loved to learn and was a great buddy and sports partner. The book that I grabbed was McDevitt’s.

I was predisposed to like Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program because her first book Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog rocked my world when I first read it. I got ahold of Famous Original Control Unleashed when I was trying to figure out how to work with my first dog, Lucy, who was anxious and highly reactive. The book is geared towards sports people (agility in particular) who are looking to get their dogs through behavioral issues and back into sports. At the time, I was very far from considering dog sports–I just wanted to be able to take my dog outside to pee without it being the end of the world. The stuff I learned from Control Unleashed (particularly the Look At That game, which I’ve written about here before) is what got me from the crazy dog I had then to the significantly-less-crazy agility veteran who is currently sleeping on my couch. The thing I found most revolutionary about CU is how different of an approach it took to dealing with distractions: a lot of the books I was reading, the classes I was going to and the trainer I was working with at the time were all telling me that the problem was a failure in my relationship with Lucy, that I had to be the most interesting thing in her world, way more interesting than all the things that scared her, and that she needed to be focusing on me 100% at all times. I looked at my environmentally-reactive terrier and felt hopeless: even at the best of times, I definitely had competition for The Most Interesting Thing In The World with her, and hearing over and over again that the problem was our relationship preyed on all of my fears that I was not good enough to help this dog who I loved so much and who needed my help so desperately.

McDevitt changed that. Her argument about reactivity, paraphrased, is basically this: “Look, you cannot be the most exciting and important thing in your dog’s life all the time; you can be with somebody you dearly love, and nevertheless, you sometimes still want to watch a TV show instead of interacting with them, or jump out of the way of a passing car when they’re nearby. When your dog is having a panic attack, the most important thing is the thing that is causing the panic. So the best thing you can do is give her the tools to cope with the panic in the moment, and then eventually help her get to a place where she feels she doesn’t need to panic anymore.” That argument was really revolutionary for me: as a person with a fair bit of anxiety myself, it made a lot of intuitive sense, it seemed significantly more humane (as well as significantly more realistic) and, most importantly, it was the first thing I tried with Lucy that worked, and worked well. It turned me into a lifelong McDevitt fan.

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The ‘Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy’ Literary Review, Vol. 1

All of the sudden, my bookshelves have become overrun with puppy books. In my closet right now is a teeny life jacket and an even teenier collar, both of which I saw on sale and could not resist. In my Bow Wow Flix queue, the Silvia Trkman and Jean Donaldson DVDs are now jostling for space with videos about structure and socialization and sport foundations. There’s an old shelf in my laundry room waiting to be turned into an itty-bitty A-frame.

Futurepuppy is coming.

Futurepuppy is still a very theoretical dog: he is not even currently conceived, and once he is, he will not be coming home until April at the earliest. He is, however, an actual plan: his mama is my favorite dog-who-doesn’t-currently-live-in-my-house, his breeder is my favorite breeder, and we are both thrilled about the advent of him and his littermates. Because he’s a plan and not an actual dog yet, of course things could go awry: the breeding might not take, the litter might not have the puppy I want in it, a meteor could land on my town, who knows. But my life is beginning to open up for him, he’s beginning to take up space in my brain as well as real estate on my bookshelf, I’m starting to imagine what my life will feel like with a third dog in it, the part of my brain that enjoys planning for all contingencies is figuring out all the places we’re going to take him for socialization. And that makes him real, or at least realer than “I think I might like to get a puppy someday”, which is where I’ve been for the last few years.

I’m a person who is very committed to rescue and to the adoption of adult dogs; my own two dogs are shelter adoptees who I got as adults, and I cannot imagine loving any dogs more, nor can I imagine finding another dog who is more fascinating and fun than mine. Also, while I am VERY interested in health and temperament, I’ve never been a person who’s cared much about breed; I know that this puts me in the minority of dog people, but I don’t really have any breeds that I’m drawn to above all others. Personality traits? Absolutely. Breed? Eh. So the decision to get a) a puppy, b) a purebred puppy, c) a purebred puppy from a (fabulous, extremely reputable) breeder has not been an easy or a casual one for me. Someday, I will probably write a long and meandering post about how exactly I arrived at the decision, but it’s one that took me quite literally years to make and I still feel….complex about it.

The end result of all my wibbling is that I feel exceptionally responsible for doing well by this dog. If I am going to do this puppy thing, I am going to do it as right as I possibly can. My girls have a great, happy life now, but both were raised, not to put too fine a point on it, crappily, and I want to give my puppy the things that my girls deserved but did not get when they were little. I want Futurepuppy to be beautifully socialized and to grow up into a happy, brave, confident dog who moves through the world without fear. I want him to be strong and healthy and conditioned and comfortable in his body. While I’m doing my best to resist the set of expectations that come with labeling him my ‘performance puppy’, I’d love to compete with him (I have high hopes that he’ll be an agility and a flyball dog, but mostly I just want to do something sportsy with him in a serious way.) Above all, I don’t want to screw it up.

And thus, my bookshelf and my DVD queue and the growing list of Things To Definitely Do With The Puppy that’s beginning to take shape in my head. In the next few months, before Futurepuppy comes home, I want to soak up as much knowledge as I can: I know a fair bit, but there is always more to know, and new, cool books are being written all the time. And then I thought that all of this reading might be able to be more generally helpful, since maybe some of you might also be contemplating a puppy (and maybe you are a little less obsessive and freaked out about it then I am!) To that end, I’m going to start a little series I’m calling the Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy Literary Review: I’m going to read through my growing stack of puppy books, and then I’ll review/talk about them here. Here’s what’s on my agenda right now: Patricia McConnell’s The Puppy Primer, which I’m going to read in tandem with Ian Dunbar’s classics Before/After You Get Your Puppy. Next up, the puppy version of my all-time favorite dog training book: Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed: the Puppy Program. Then, a couple of books on agility foundations, Pat Hastings’ book Structure in Action: The Makings of a Durable Dog, a book on nosework, and by then, I’m sure I’ll have some more on the list (note: experienced puppy people, please feel free to give me your suggestions for puppy lit in the comments!) My plan right now is to read ALL THE THINGS in the next couple of months and then take a couple of months to relax and deprogram so I can enjoy my new buddy’s puppyhood without feeling like I am doing everything wrong all of the time. But for now, I am in Serious Learning Mode. We’ll see how it goes!

Coming up: McConnell: The Puppy Primer, Dunbar: Before/After You Get Your Puppy.