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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, October 3, 2005

Readers May Turn These Dog Tales Into A Pet Project

A dog lover myself (my friends and family would probably say that's putting it mildly) I'm always on the lookout for books about dogs and their humans, and lately the crop has been good. If you are a cat person, or even one of those well-intentioned but misguided individuals for whom pet hair on the furniture is a disaster, stay with me here. Man's 10,000-year relationship with canines has much to teach us. Anthropology, for example: the wolves and humans of 40,000 years ago shared similar lifestyles, as both successfully developed the skills of cooperative hunting in order to kill prey larger than themselves, and the two species still share many social behaviors. Psychology: people and dogs form bonds so strong that individuals are willing to die for each other, as Hurricane Katrina so poignantly demonstrated. And, not least, love. Dogs are the embodiment of grace, and therein lies our fascination with them, in all their shapes and sizes.

First Friend: a History of Dogs and Humans by Katherine M. Rogers (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

From the first wild canids that cozied up to a cooking fire to today's companions, dogs have assumed a unique place in human society. This is a fascinating and thoroughly-researched look at that relationship. As early as the Greek and Roman eras, dogs were selected for specific tasks. These groups have evolved into the nearly 400 breeds recognized worldwide. In modern times, dogs have taken on a significance far beyond the jobs they were bred to do. Modern literature frequently portrays them as idealized humans with noble qualities. Increasingly, we view dogs as equals, with emotional needs similar to our own. We make them members of our families, with the same rights as the human component. As the author says, "Our First Friend may not be our Best Friend, but it is a good friend . . ." Even dogless readers will enjoy following the evolution of the dog/human dependency.

You Are a Dog: Life Through the Eyes of Man's Best Friend by Terry Bain (Harmony Books, 2004).

People who live with dogs often put words in their mouths. This is a doggie explanation of life, from the vacuum cleaner ("The vacuum wants to eat you and eat the sofa and eat the children") to babies ("You love the baby. The baby drops food on the floor.") The author, aka He Who Leaves the Seat Up So That You Might Drink, gives us a humorous, loving, sometimes poignant look at ourselves from the perspective of our four-legged friends. The book is divided into chapters covering all the important aspects of being a dog. "Health and Hygiene" devotes considerable space to The Bath, while "Eat and Drink" is eloquent in its praise of the Hot Dog—"the culinary equivalent of paradise." "Gnosis" contains some lessons for humans, such as "Faith:" "You have no need of faith. Faith implies that there is some question. There is no question. There just is."

What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner by Emily Yoffe (Bloomsbury, 2005).

A confirmed cat-lover, Yoffe was dragged into the world of dog ownership by her 6-year-old daughter. How many times has that happened? The family did their homework, visited shelters, and wound up with Sasha, a beagle from a rescue organization. Before she knew it, the author was immersed in taking in foster dogs herself, and encountering dogs and dog owners on a regular basis. She began to collect stories. There was Roscoe, a massively overweight but agreeable beagle who looked "as if someone had randomly glued 45 rpm records on him." And Maggie, a lovely dog who was, unfortunately, a bed-wetter—the people bed. Yoffe met Todd, dog trainer extraordinaire, whose all-encompassing love for dogs led to his death, and Laura, the founder of a beagle rescue group, who spends 20 to 40 hours a week "rehoming" dogs who have lost their homes. She became a dog person, and knows there's no going back. It could happen to you, you know!

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.