Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tales From A Dog Catcher

Lisa Duffy-Korpics

2009, The Lyons Press (Globe Pequot)

A collection of anecdotes from the author's career in the 1980s-1990s as a young animal officer in the police department of a small city in New York state. She encounters a serial killer Great Dane mix, a Houdini Wheaten Terrier, a pair of curious raccoons, a flock of turkeys and assorted other animals wild and domestic.

The story of Manny, a streetwise Dane mix whose hobby seems to be to entice other dogs to play in traffic with lethal results, is chilling. The story of a groundhog who pulls a fast one inside the author's police car is hysterical. Most of the other tales are pleasant but predictable, and suffer from the author's perspective as a very young woman at the time.

A few stories - the Schnauzer depressed after his owner's death, the German Shepherd condemmed to death for biting a kid - are classic animal story pathos of misunderstood creatures, heartless owners and caring but powerless animal professionals. The Schnauzer story in particular annoyed me. The dead man's relations claimed the Schnauzer, an aged but relatively healthy dog, was aggressive toward anyone but the owner, and wanted the dog euthanized. The author and various coworkers, whose experience of the dog was limited to seeing it A) grief-stricken over its owner's corpse and B) depressed after the owner was taken away, quickly jump on the bandwagon that the dog, who hasn't shown them any aggression, is a great dog and the relatives are heartless jerks who want to euthanize the dog to tie up loose ends. Maybe. Or maybe the dog was always a jerk when the owner was around. I've known several dogs who were snotty when their owners were around but butter wouldn't melt in their mouths when Mommy or Daddy are absent. The relatives genuinely may not have believed the dog could change. And the dog may have been responding to the energy of a bunch of cops, all of whom are likely not shrinking violets, and wisely deciding not to act up, wheras back in a normal household he'd have reverted.

She does make one interesting observation, however, when a dying man giving up his pet cat to the shelter comments that the kind of person who adopts an animal from a shelter is going to be the kind of person who takes care of the animal.

I had never thought of it that way. I had always been fixated on trying to take care of everything myself, using the shelter as a last resort. I hadn't thought about the people who go to the shelter and deliberately choose to adopt a pet that didn't have a home. There were many of them. I saw them there all the time, yet I hadn't given them a second thought.... In some ways I had blinders on, with the single goal of controlling everything myself. Even if my intentions were good, it was emotionally exhausting. It was selfish, even narcissistic of me to think that I was the only one who could make things better.

A common issue in shelter and rescue is the volunteer who has the good intentions and love of animals, but whose actions tend to be so controlling, so convinced that only they truly care, that they can end up doing their organization more harm than good.

Overall, an enjoyable book, and one adorable cover dog.


Author blog

Friday, November 13, 2009


Part of the reason I have such a fondness for children's books, even as an adult, is their illustrations. And animal stories always seem to get the very best pictures.

Jock's Island by Elizabeth Coatsworth, illustrations by Lilian Obligado

Lad, A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, illustrations by Sam Savitt (special edition)

Album Of Dogs by Marguerite Henry, illustrations by Wesley Dennis

A Tree For Peter by Kate Seredy

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Good Luck Dog

The Good Luck Dog

Lilo Hess, author and photographer

1985, Charles Scribners' Sons

A shaggy small dog is stolen off his owner's porch and ends up sold to a laboratory. In the nick of time, he's saved from a horrible fate when an employee discovers he's been tattooed - and the lab has a policy against using tattooed animals, as it indicates they are probably pets. Sent to a shelter, he's adopted by a little boy who names him Skeeter and who is disappointed when he's unable to train the little terrier to act like a beagle. When he gets the chance to acquire a Beagle, the boy passes the pup on to a little deaf girl, who has him trained as a hearing aid dog. The initially think the little dog is a mutt, but learn that he's really a purebred Tibetan Terrier - and Heather enters him in AKC obedience trials.

A short book which is more photo-essay than novel, with brief and inelequent writing stuffed full of obvious propaganda. I don't disagree with most of the 'message' - chained dogs are unhappy, tattooing a dog provides protection against theft, etc. - but I find the flat, dull style and unapologetic pedantry unforgivable.


Kah-Loo/Skeeter - male Tibetan Terrier

About the Author

Born in Germany, Hess grew up in Berlin and came to America in 1938. In 1939, she did PR pictures for Frank Buck, the famous animal collector whose slogan was "bring 'em back alive." Her photography and writing were featured in American magazines including Life.


Lilo Hess Museum & Gallery

Other books
A Dog By Your Side

Life Begins For Puppies

A Pony To Love

Shetland Ponies

Diary Of A Rabbit

Making Friends With Guinea Pigs

A Cat's Nine Lives

Bird Companions

Christine, The Baby Chimp

The Amazing Earthworm

Animals That Hide, Imitate And Bluff

The Curious Raccoons

A Family Of Foxes

Fawn In The Woods

Foxes In The Woodshed

Listen To Your Kitten Purr

Mouse And Company

The Misunderstood Skunk

Odd Pets

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures Of A K-9 Cop Turned Pet Detective

The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures Of A K-9 Cop Turned Pet Detective
Kat Albrecht with Jana Murphy
2004, Bloomsbury

As a kid, the idea of chosing a dog of my own and training it to respond to my commands was pure fantasy. I had calendars and posters with dogs in my room, and I made a pastime of studying dog breed guides, carefully choosing the kind I would want for my own someday.

At 20, Albrecht got her chance and adopted a mixed-breed puppy whose background represented half of her chosen breed - Weimaraner. The other half was Australian Shepherd. With Katie, she had her first taste of owning and training her own dog, and success in the sport of flyball. Ten years later, she set out to acquire a purebred Weimaraner, and bought the puppy Rachel. At the same time, she began switching careers with the ambition of being a K-9 officer. Over the years, she trained Rachel as a cadaver dog and acquired a Bloodhound puppy named A.J. When the police career doesn't quite work out due to a combination of issues, she switched her dogs over to searching for lost pets.

It was then that I learned that the bulk of the search-and-rescue community considered tracking lost pets to be taboo. It wasn't that my peers considered the idea to be impossible - most just considered it to be beneath them.

In part, that attitude comes from pure practicality and the need to maintain the value of the dogs as human trackers - police dogs can't be distracted by animal scents while tracking a criminal or a lost child, after all. But part of it is a bit baffling. Since Albrecht had already retired her dogs from police work, she had no conflicts with their human training - now unneccessary - and after she lost one Bloodhound briefly in the woods, she had a new appreciation for the plight of owners searching for missing pets.

A very interesting book, both as a memoir and as a guide to how to find a missing pet. Cats apparently behave very, very differently than you'd think when they get disoriented from their normal routine, essentially going into a sort of silent emotional shut-down where they will not answer or go to their calling owners. Despite assumptions often made that skittish, fearful animals discovered running loose were abused or abandoned, many well-loved and spoiled house pets will behave skittishly and fearfully when lost. People who discover a stray pet will often be reluctant to turn it over to a shelter, the one place where the owner will go looking, and it's vital to put up large, unmissable signs so that they or their friends will realize that the 'abandoned' and 'abused' dog they found on the highway is really a lot pet.

Author's Website
Missing Pet Partnership

MSNBC story

Thursday, September 10, 2009

She's My Girl (aka You Can't Take Twenty Dogs On A Date) (1949)

She's My Girl!

Betty Cavanna (as Elizabeth Headley)

1949, Macrae Smith Co.

Jo knelt and took Sherry's muzzle in her hand. His right eye was covered with a milky film, and as she ran her hand along the dog's back to bring him toward her for a closer inspection he suddenly yelped in pain.

17-year-old Josephine 'Jo' Redmond faces a depressing summer in suburban Pennsylvania. Her father's illness has made it neccessary for him to go away to a rest home in the Pocono mountains, resulting in a family financial crisis that's put the kibbosh on her college plans. And she misses her dog, killed recently by a car. Casting about for a money-making venture, Jo decides to start a summer boarding kennel for vacationing neighbors, since her family's oversized backyard still holds the remains of the former owner's kennels. Despite the initial discouragement of her uncle and boyfriend, Jo perseveres and begins coping with a flow of boarders, from a Houdini puppy to an abandoned Beagle. And of course, she manages to win the respect of her mocking boyfriend along the way.

This is one of Cavanna's early books, and it shows. There is some awkwardness in how she manages to provide a picture of her heroine, who looks approvingly at a friend and compares herself:

A much more striking combination than my brown eyes and almost-red hair, Jo thought.

The male disdain for female endeavour and ability is stated much more strongly and unapologetically than in later books, and the heroine is much more forgiving. This could just reflect the facts of the earlier era, but could also reflect a younger version of Cavanna. Jo is irritated by the boyfriend's attitude, but rather readily accepts the idea that men are naturally more able to do manual labor, etc.

Canine Anachronisms

Jo's puppy, Inky, died after running into the road. Both Jo and the local vet seem to feel this is just the risk run by young dogs who haven't "developed enough sense not to dash into the road without looking." The dogs eat canned horsemeat. When one dog is injured on loose wire, Jo charges the owner for the vet bills - though the dog's injuries were her own fault.

Other editions (shown above)

re-titled "You Can't Take 20 Dogs On A Date"

Betty Cavanna, il. Alex Stein (cover)

1977, The Westminster Press


The University of Southern Mississippi de Grummond Collection

George School (mentioned briefly in book)

Martin's Dam Club in Wayne- Photo 1


Suzy Beagle - female Beagle

Roger - fawn Great Dane puppy

Inky - puppy

Mac - Scottish Terrier

Bitsy - fat Cocker Spaniel

Trinket - poodle

Sherry - red Cocker Spaniel

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Puppies For Keeps

Puppies For Keeps

Dorothy P. Lathrop, author and illustrator

1943, The Macmillan Company

A rather thin story of two children who watch a litter of Pekingese puppies grow up. The writing is uninvolving, but the illustrations are lovely.

About the Author


Dorothy Pullis Lathrop

The winner of the first Caldecott Medal, for her book Animals Of The Bible in 1938, Lathrop was most famous for her illustrations in Rachel Field's 1930 Newberry Medal book, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Much more information can be found at the following websites.




A Journey Round My Skull Blog

Books written and illustrated by author (partial list)


Dog In The Tapestry Garden

Puffy And Seven Leaf Clover

The Fairy Circus

The Colt from Moon Mountain

Angel in the Woods

Bouncing Betty

Let Them Live

Littlest Mouse

Skittle-Skattle Monkey

Follow The Brook

Who Goes There

Hide And Go Seek

Books illustrated by author (partial list)

Tales From the Enchanted Isles by Ethel May Gate

The Three Mulla-Mulgars by Walter de la Mare

Down-A-Down Derry by Walter de la Mare

Crossings by Walter de la Mare

Dutch Cheese by Walter de la Mare

Mr. Bumps And His Monkey by Walter de la Mare

Bells And Grass by Walter de la Mare


The Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Source: American Library Association

Newberry Medal

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Source: American Library Association

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dixie Of Dover: A Boy And Dog Story (1958)

Dixie Of Dover: A Boy And Dog Story

Jean Poindexter Colby, il. Mary Stevens

1958, Little, Brown and Company

Fists began to fly when suddenly a small furry object hurtled into the fray. It was Dixie, growling and snarling, bristling and biting.

Ten-year-old Gersholm Converse Montgomery III (aka Gerry) gets the little Welsh Terrier pup Dixie as a gift from Lt. John Reed, who is forever grateful to Gerry's dad, Captain Converse Montgomery, for saving his life in WWII. The captain is dying of a blood infection picked up in the Pacific, and when he dies, the scrappy little dog helps everyone adjust to a new life in the city. He accompanies Gerry on a paper route to help with the family finances, and pitches in when Gerry tangles with tough new neighbor Bill O'Brien.

Almost English, with the genteel family moving from a rural estate in Dover and private schools to an old-fashioned house owned by their grandmother in a dodgy neighborhood in Brookline and public schools. And the following scene of an obnoxious child is almost too Brit to bear:

...a boy who pranced up to Gerry and said, "I'm going to have your room and I'm going to mark up that fancy wallpaper, and bust up your birdfeeder, and grind a hole in that workbench."

But there's an air of realism in the book - the family is never said to be poor, simply not as well off as previously. In short, they had to let the maid go and sell the 15-acre gentleman's farm, but they still have a big city house (albeit in a less nice area) and a maid.

Who is Irish. And big and bossy. It was inevitable she'd be either Irish or Negro (to use the term which would have been used here, likely). The mild-mannered WASPy family fits in fairly well with their new neighbors, whose multiculti 1950's style features the friendly Italian family the Delasapios, and the surly, touchy Irish kid Bill. And there's some other fun fifties stuff.

"What's a pizza?" asked Gerry.

Although Bill probably saves Gerry's life by advising him to NOT wear capri pants to public school (ok, I know they weren't capris, but - they looked it.) but remains wary of Dixie and unfriendly except to Mrs. Montgomery, who keeps encountering him in her new job at the local library. There's an odd sort of twist at the end, but until that point it's quite satisfying.


Dixie - male Welsh Terrier

Duzzy - male spaniel mix puppy

Other books




Peter Paints The USA

Jim The Cat

The Elegant Eleanor


Plimoth Plantation Then And Now

Tearing Down To Build Up

Writing, Illustrating And Editing Children's Books

Mystic Seaport: The Age Of Sail

The New Wellesley

The Children's Book Field

Lexington And Concord, 1775

Jesus And The World

About the Author

Jean Poindexter founded Junior Reviewers, a monthly magazine which reviewed new children's books, and was an editor at Ariel Books.


The U. of Southern Mississippi, du Grummond collection

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Animals Can Be Almost Human (short stories)

Animals Can Be Almost Human
Reader's Digest, ed. Alma E. Guinness

A friend wrote me later, "They ask so little and they give so much."

In this large, colorful collection of animal stories from Reader's Digest, including several taken from longer works, dogs rule. There are stories of horses, cats, and other animals, but the dog stories are by far the most numerous. Which is as it should be.

A Dog Named Cider
Corey Ford
Ford recalls his life with an elegant English Setter named Cider, who never unbends sufficiently to stoop to actually licking his hand and who as a solemn puppy chooses Ford as a master by extending a paw through the mesh of his kennel in greeting.

Jack O'Brien, il. Harry Schaare
Spike, an Alaskan husky, proves crucial to the success of Admiral Byrd's First Antarctic Expedition in 1928.

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold
William Iversen, il. Ben Prins
A stray dog ingratiates himself into a family - and then, is reclaimed by his original owners.

Poor, Sick Irving
Herbert Tanzer, Nick Lyons, il. Joe Krush
A vet diagnoses a depressed Yorkie as physically health - and mentally devious. From the book Your Pet Isn't Sick (He Just Wants You To Think So).

Our Canine Kleptomaniac
Estelle Mendelsohn, il. il. Joe Krush
A Dalmation named Plato never showed an interest in learning until he discovered retrieving.

Skeezer, The Dog Who Healed

Elizabeth Yates
A stray mutt from an animal shelter is recruited to help children at Michigan's Children's Psychiatric Hospital. From the book Skeezer: Dog With A Mission.

The Mayor Of Bridgehampton
Willie Morris, il. Patricia Lincoln
An aloof, water-hating black Labrador who acts as the general 'dog about town' for a Long Island village moves in on an aging writer who's vowed he's not going to own any more dogs.

Mrs. Donovan's Dog
James Herriot, il. James Williamson
An elderly woman in mourning for her dog becomes interested in helping a mange-ridden Golden Retriever. From the book All Things Bright And Beautiful.

Only A Lost Dog
Jerome Brondfield
A journalist in London frets over his dog back home, who's gone missing, until a telegram puts his mind at ease - while upsetting Scotland Yard.

Look Homeward, Jeannie
James Thurber, il. Alan Reingold
A black Scottish Terrier named Jeannie reveals that along with stubbornnes and a certain blindness to the obvious, she also lacks basic canine loyalty, prefering to shop around for new owners.

Eat, Drink, And Be Merry
James Herriot, il. Marion Krupp
An indulgent owner's inability to deny Pekingnese Tricki Woo any food has turned the cheerful dog fat and sickly. His vet finally resorts to taking Tricki home, where a normal diet and plenty of exercise slim the little dog down - while care packages from his anxious owner keep the vet and his friends rolling in food and liquor. From the book All Creatures Great And Small.

Blackie, The Shark Dog
Lester C. Gunther, Jr., il. Alan Reingold
A pair of biologists trying to catch sharks for an aquarium get unexpected help from a mutt. On the mid-Pacific atoll of Canton Island, a local race of feral dogs has specialized in hunting in the ocean, herding fish and sharks to shore.

The Last Will And Testament Of An Extremely Distinguished Dog
Eugene O'Neill, il. Lorelle Raboni
A dog's-eye view of life, from the paw of a Dalmation named Blemie.

The Incredible Journey
Sheila Burnford, il. Taylor Oughton
Two dogs and a cat search for their missing family. Based on the novel.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Handy Of The Triple S (1949)

Handy Of The Triple S
Genevieve Torrey Eames, il. Paul Brown
1949, Julian Messner, Inc.

...there was something about that head - he groped around in his mind for the right word. Anyhow, it was something special; something the dogs around Solito didn't have. A collie judge, looking at the clean, straight line of that head, would have called it "quality,"

Sandy Ferguson is determined to prove that the family's new collie puppy will be a good ranch dog, but his father thinks the pup, from his sister's Eastern show kennel, will never be more than a pretty face. Sandy's mother, whose childhood dog was an intelligent and capable show collie, secretly sides with her son, but Sam Ferguson thinks the animal's name - Handsome - says it all.

He's a show dog and they can't take it. They aren't bred for rugged living and hard work. Your Aunt Frances has been raising show-type collies for so long she doesn't know what the old-fashioned kind looks like. Probably they don't have 'em in the East anymore.

Handy is treated kindly by Sam, befriended by Sandy and quite frankly adored by little sister Susie. It's while caring for Susie that Handy first shows signs of having more than just looks. The toddler slips out of the fenced yard and vanishes; when she reappears, it's with Handy patiently leading the way.

Handy paid no attention to Susie until he had put about fifteen feet between himself and the child. Then he sat down and waited for her. Again she almost caught up with him and again he moved on, keeping always just out of reach.

Sandy is heartbroken when Handy himself disappears, snatched by a Basque shepherd on his way to the summer grazing. When Sandy next meets his dog, Handy is thrilled - but has a new, adult responsibility. It's up to Sandy and his pal Frank to find a way to get the proud young herding dog away from his flock and back to the Triple S.

Animals - dogs
Handsome aka Handy - sable and white male Rough Collie
Ben - mixed breed ranch dog (deceased)
Rico - black mix herding dog

Animals - equines
Charlie - elderly retired horse
Trail Breaker - Quarter Horse stallion
Blazes - roping horse
Jennie - female burro (aka donkey)

Other books (horses)
Pat Rides The Trail 1946 il. Dan Noonan
A Horse To Remember 1947 il. Paul Brown
Ghost Town Cowboy 1951 il. Paul Brown
The Good Luck Colt 1953 il. Paul Brown
Flying Roundup 1957 il. Lorence F. Bjorklund

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talks with Michael Vick - is Vick back in pro football?

The NFL appears to be seriously considering letting Michael Vick back into the fold. It's such a strange idea. The whole debate over Vick has been such a strange idea. Cries of racism from people who claim that anyone who criticizes Vick is a sheltered middle-class suburbanite who doesn't 'get' the culture of dog-fighting. Yawns of 'it's just a dog' from people who think we should be more worried about the rapists, drunk drivers and killers who have skated through pro sports in the past. The serenely logical point out that Vick's sentence was mostly due to gambling, not to animal abuse. And some oddly specific people complain that Vick went to prison while Bush and Cheney are free.

None of which really gets to the heart of the matter. Dog-fighting is illegal in large part because it is blatant, violent animal cruelty. The gambling - ie, the money - makes it big-time, and gives enforcement the teeth so often lacking in other animal cruelty cases. But it would never be legal in our era, even if there was no money involved. It's just too vicious. Unlike other sports or activities involving animals, dog-fighting is by definition the maiming or killing of dogs. The activity doesn't exist unless dogs are being hurt and killed. Horse racing has taken some criticism in recent years for the deaths of horses - Eight Belles, Barbaro - but it does not exist expressly to create pain.

The things Vick directly participated in with his dogs and kennel, and the things he contributed to indirectly, were extremely cruel, were done over a long period of time, and were done when he was an intelligent adult with plentiful resources. The NFL should not take him back. And yes, it's unfair. He's a superb talent at the sport, and people seem to think sports should be pure. But they're not, because humans are not. Sport is unfair. Talented athletes blow their chances all the time. Vicks blew his. And because he blew his late, he still walks away with a lot of money and a lot of adulation from people who think he was wronged by a flawed system. Is it fair to compare a blown knee, a bad season, etc., with a felony? Is it fair to say that a man who's done his time should lose his profession? No. But it's still the right thing to do. Vick may be redeemed; he may be a new man. But how does that equal having a right to step back into an elite position of respect and financial gain? He's paid, with years of his life, for the negative effect his illegal actions had on the society; his return to the NFL would have a new negative effect, begging the question - what was the point?

Friday, July 3, 2009


Beverly Cleary, il. Louis Darling
1964, Morrow Junior Books

Ribsy began to run. He ran as fast as he could, dodging in and out among the acres of parked cars in the direction from which he thought he had come. He could find no landmarks. All the white stripes on the asphalt were exactly alike, and all the cars looked pretty much the same to Ribsy. No matter which way he ran there were more cars and more white lines. He was confused, bewildered, and frightened. He was also sopping wet.

Ribsy gets his own book chronicling his adventures when he becomes lost on a shopping trip with the Huggins family. The friendly mutt's amiable nature is clear as he's adopted by a family of aggressive children, dressed up by a doting old lady, and becomes a mascot for a second-grade classroom.

But he never stops longing for Henry.

"Go home," repeated the principal. After one more sad backward glance, Ribsy started walking. He wanted to obey the man. He wanted to go home, but he did not know where home was, and there was no way he could make the man understand.

Another simple, well-written book for young readers. Poor Ribsy's plight is lightened by cheerful adventures with kind people, and there is, of course, a happy ending.

Other books about Henry
Henry And Beezus
Henry And The Clubhouse
Henry And The Paper Route

Other dog books by Cleary
Two Dog Biscuits - picture book

About the Author
Beverly Bunn was born in McMinnville, Oregon. She lived on a farm in Yamhill as a small child, moving to Portland for school. In 1934 she went to college in California. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and studied at the University of Washington, Seattle to be a librarian. She was a librarian in Yakima, Washington, until her marriage to Clarence Cleary. She wrote two autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. She has had a school named after her, and her famous characters are featured in a mural at a Washington library branch, and as statues in a park in Oregon.

Author Website
The Beverly Cleary School

The statues (including one of Ribsy) at Grant Park in Portland, OR

Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden
The real Klickitat Street

Newer, paperback edition:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Henry Huggins and Ribsy

Henry Huggins
Beverly Cleary, il. Louis Darling
1950, William Morrow and Company

He wasn't any special kind of dog. He was too small to be a big dog but, on the other hand, he was much too big to be a little dog. He wasn't a white dog because parts of him were brown and other parts were black and in between there were yellowish patches. His ears stood up and his tail was long and thin.

Third-grader Henry Huggins finds a dog at the bus stop, and takes him home after having some trouble finding a suitable container. The dog, named Ribsy for his skinny frame, becomes an integral part of Klickitat Street. An amiable soul, Ribsy learns how to tolerate neighborhood toddler Ramona Quimbly, and plays a part in all Henry's adventures, from buying a terribly fertile pair of guppies to getting out of a humiliating part in the school play, and triumphing at the local pet show. But when Ribsy's former owner appears, Henry stands to lose his pet.

A sweet, sensible story for young readers with appealing characters, brisk action and wonderful illustrations.

Other books about Henry
Henry And Beezus
Henry And The Clubhouse
Henry And The Paper Route

Other dog books by Cleary
Two Dog Biscuits - picture book

About the Author
Beverly Bunn was born in McMinnville, Oregon. She lived on a farm in Yamhill as a small child, moving to Portland for school. In 1934 she went to college in California. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and studied at the University of Washington, Seattle to be a librarian. She was a librarian in Yakima, Washington, until her marriage to Clarence Cleary. She wrote two autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. She has had a school named after her, and her famous characters are featured in a mural at a Washington library branch, and as statues in a park in Oregon.

The Beverly Cleary School

The statues (including one of Ribsy) at Grant Park in Portland, OR
Photo 1
Photo 2

Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden
The real Klickitat Street

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chuck And Danielle

And another sighthound story, this time about a Whippet.

Chuck And Danielle
Peter Dickinson, il. Kees de Kiefte
1996, Delacorte

About fifty yards up the pavement it struck Chuck that there was something wrong with her lead. It didn't have an end. Another fifty yards and it still didn't have an end. This was really frightening. Leads have ends. You hit them when you bolt. That's the system.

Danielle owns a whippet, Chuck, who is terrified of everything, but brave enough to persist in trying again and again to please her owner. This includes braving an agility course, a burglar, and various other deadly threats.

The horse peered at Chuck in a good-gracious-what-have-we-here kind of way, and nosed right forward toward her. Danielle thought she was sure to bolt now, because the horse was absolutely huge, but no, she stayed where she was. Her tail was right between her legs, but it was whipping to and fro beneath her belly, the way it does when she's interested in something but isn't sure if it's allowed. As soon as the horse's head was close enough she stretched out her tongue and licked its nose.

A cheerful book split between Danielle and her mother's fond amusement at their nervous little dog, and Chuck's POV as terrifying, whippet-eating monsters emerge from all corners of the Earth. An ongoing arrangement between Danielle and her mother holds that if Chuck saves the world, Danielle will get a much-coveted but much-denied Big Mac from McDonald's. But can a dog who's terrified of a teddy bear save anyone?

Peter Dickinson
Author's Website here

On the website, Dickinson writes a bit about the dog who inspired Chuck. What he writes about losing her (and two other dogs) just clicked with me: "The loss of a loved human is an immense and complicated network of sorrow. The loss of a dear pet is a narrow, focussed beam of pure grief."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Greyhound - Helen Griffiths

The Greyhound
Helen Griffiths, il. Dick Amundsen (cover)
1964, Doubleday

Jamie's a small, nondescript 11-year-old when he falls in love with an elderly white greyhound named Silver Streak. When he gets a chance to own Silver, he seizes it although it means borrowing an impossible sum from the class bad boy. His mother won't let him keep the dog, so a newly determined Jamie hides him in a nearby bomb ruin. This works beautifully all summer, but winter brings new worries.

A typically dreary start from an author whose realism is sometimes a bit hard to take, this book stages a late happy ending. Silver brings Jamie out of his shell in classic dog-story fashion, as the boy forms friendships with his own sister and a classmate who admires the dog. But less classically, the dog himself is elderly, distant and, at least at first, rather dull. It's a very unusual look at how a dog adapts to an owner; Silver's quiet suits his initial owner, an elderly man who loves him but is not demonstrative. Once the dog adjusts to Jamie's more youthful, energetic ways, he sheds some of his reserve and becomes more affectionate.

Awkward language mars an otherwise well-done story. I've never liked Griffiths' writing style; her characters are strong, her plots strong, and her settings memorable, but the writing itself is weak and uninvolving.

Silver Streak - greyhound

Other Books by Author
Running Wild
Grip, A Dog Story
The Kershaw Dogs
Just A Dog
Rafa’s Dog
The Dog At The Window
The Blackface Stallion

Friday, May 22, 2009

Marley And Me (2008)

Animal movies tend to be awful, so the fact that Marley And Me is not - well it's not a great movie, but it's not achingly horrible, so that's a step in the right direction. Low expectations.

Owen Wilson's wistful, wry voice is the narration used to tie together this awkward film. Many films have trouble deciding what they are, but few suffer the essential confusion of Marley And Me. For starters, it is a memoir of a middle-class man's early adulthood, the choices he makes and the regrets he has. It therefore features mature themes and is not exactly a child-friendly work. But it is irresistible to children as it features a large, lovable dog. It should have been a warning to viewers that the book's publishers saw fit to produce a separate, child-friendly version once the original became a best-seller.

The narrator, the charming Owen Wilson, essentially acts the role of a child - playful, happy-go-lucky, irresponsible, prone to thoughtless blutterances and lacking focus. But he's not a kid - he has a wife, a house, a job, frustrated desires to be a serious journalist, etc. He buys a dog, on the advice of his utterly charmless underwear-model handsome BFF, a serious journalist, who advises him that a puppy will keep his new wife so occupied she will quit thinking about having a baby for a few more years. The early puppy scenes are undeniably fun - the entire audience awwwwed in unison at the first shot of the golden lab puppies spilling out of their box. This charm is almost entirely dissipated by a later scene where the reluctant couple takes their adolescent dog to a training class, does a half-ass job of trying to train him, and are rewarded when the dog humps the instructor's leg. Egregiously nasty, and just plain odd in tone. A similarly strange tone is set in the center of the film, where a Wilson voiceover gives us a summary of several years' worth of action as various shots filter past on the screen.

This has been a tremendously successful film, owing to the similarly sloppy-dog charm of Wilson and his canine costars. Wilson does a fine job as the central character who goes from an amiable newlywed to a family man approaching middle age. Jennifer Aniston does what she can with her role. The locations are genuine and novel - the suburbs of Miami and Philadelphia are places less often seen in films, and the realism of the film benefits from not looking like yet another location shot in L.A. or Chicago.

The owners are shown only once even trying to train the dog, and they are shown approaching training with mocking hostility. Undoubtedly, the real family did get a difficult dog for first-time owners - high energy, large, strong, stubborn. After you own a few dogs, and see a few problem dogs owned by good people, you start to realize that a lot of what passes for 'trained' dogs is really just good luck on the owners' parts. But the film really doesn't show them doing much of anything to control their dog - Jennifer Anniston is smaller than the dog, who repeatedly gets away, chases anything that moves, mounts other dogs, etc.

A cute movie, because the human and canine stars are likeable and attractive, but not a strong movie and not a good one. The power it does have comes entirely from the genre; dog stories are always tragedies, after all, and this is no exception. There is a moment in this film, toward the end, where Owen Wilson as John Grogan stands in a dark street, a cell phone to his ear, and discusses Marley's health with his wife, who is home with their children. It is realistic, it is painfully, agonizingly realistic, as the several weeping people in the audience could have doubtless attested.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Ruth and Latrobe Carroll, il. Ruth Carroll
1943, Henry Z. Walck, Inc.

There wasn't anybody in his family for him to play with. His brother and sister were older than he was. They had left home to earn their living.

A playful little puppy is sent to school to learn what work he's meant to do, and samples a range of careers owing to his mixed ancestry.

A nicely done picture book with an amusing dog's-eye view of the world. Various dogs have different jobs, from Scuffles's brother working on a fishing boat to his mother caring for a little old lady, and all subscribe to the theory put forward by Dr. Noseworthy, the elderly St. Bernard who runs the school: "the happy dogs are the busy dogs." When Scuffles washes out of herding and running classes, he ends up in pet class, where puppies are taught games to play with their owners, and tactics for training their owners.

If your master forgets to give you water, pick up the water bowl in your mouth and carry it to him. He will understand. If he forgets to take you for a walk, go get your leash and show it to him. If he doesn't go out with you even then, talk to him. Speak right up. Be polite, but firm.

I believe my dog attended this class.

Scuffles - puppy
Dr. Noseworthy - old St. Bernard
Professor Scentry - Rough Collie
Professor Swift - Greyhound
Professor Paw-Spring - Poodle
Miss Curl - Cocker Spaniel

Other Books
Salt And Pepper
Tough Enough
Digby The Only Dog
Tough Enough's Trip
Tough Enough's Pony
Tough Enough And Sassy
Bounce And The Bunnies
Tough Enough's Indians
Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog
The Bumble Pup
Managing Hen & The Floppy Hound
Hullabaloo The Elephant Dog

Saturday, April 18, 2009

AKC to Mutts - Your Money's Good Enough, But You Still Aren't

The AKC has announced a new program for mixed-breed dogs. From their website:

The mixed breeds program will be implemented in three phases. As of October 1, 209 owners can begin enrolling their pets and receive an AKC ID number.

Then beginning April 1, 2010 enrolled dogs will be eligible to compete in mixed breed classes at stand-alone AKC Agility, Obedience and Rally events. Soon after they will have access to benefits such as discounted AKC Companion Animal Recovery Lost and Found service, a free AKC Canine Good Citizen® certificate for dogs passing the CGC test, a free initial veterinary visit, a trial offer of pet health insurance and discounted coupons for dog supplies.

The third phase will offer a dedicated Web site where dog owners can interact via an online community with discussion forums and access dog care video downloads, advice from experts and the most up-to-date news on canine health and welfare. The site will be continually enhanced with new features and benefits in order to respond to the changing needs of pet owners.

I was excited when I heard, last year, that the AKC was mulling allowing mutts into AKC events which measure skill instead of conformation. I was disappointed to learn they'd decided against that. And now I'm just disgusted. The first and third phases are worthless - an ID number and a website, what riches. The second phase sounds good, but you have to realize what it really means - a pointless political separation. To make it even more desperately pathetic, there will be mutts in the regular rings - if you have a dog who strongly resembles a known breed but have no papers, the dog can be registered with the AKC as an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP). So Buddy the AKC-registered Labrador Retriever will be running against Sally the AKC-sanctioned ILP-registration Labrador Retriever who is really a Lab mix whose Spaniel parentage isn't visible, and Rex, is a Lab/Spaniel mix whose spaniel parentage is evident in his silky leg feathering, will be in the next ring over.

I'm sure some people will say this will prevent the unscrupulous from breeding mutts for performance sports (agility and flyball, for example), but that's already happening.

Dogbreedinfo.com - the Border Stack page (Border Collie/Pitbull/Jack Russell mix)
And the Border Stack here (Border Collie/Jack Russel mix)

Kellen Kennels page

And from the poorly named muttpuppiesontrial (nothing wrong with mutts, it's people who create mutts deliberately for cash that should be on trial) blog, a comment on the Border Jack.

(I've heard the arguments for the breeding of non-AKC or non-conformation dogs as long as the breeders were trying for 'working' dogs. I have reservations about those arguments, but that's irrelevant. None of the arguments apply to hobby sports like flyball and agility. Simply put, the desire of Jim Smith to win an agility class is not important enough to start creating a race of agility dogs when thousands of solid agility prospects die in shelters every day. This is not Thoroughbred racing, this is not a ranch filled with sheep who need a herding dog, there is no business and no livelihood to be protected here; this is a hobby.)

So, to get back to the original issue - thanks for nothing, AKC. And a question - if, as you always say, you're "just a registry," without any sort of moral authority or responsibility to the breeders you serve, then how is it that you've arrived at this decision? If you were truly only a registry, you'd be happy to register a Persian cat as long as the owner sent in the fee. God knows you've registered mill puppies sight unseen for decades. And you've been winking at ILP mutts for years too. I wonder if this decision was to protect the good breeders of AKC dogs, or the millers, who use the word 'pure' more often than your average Klansman.

Amigo's New Hope - the new First Dog

So Malia and Sasha Obama finally get their dog! And he's adorable. And because dog people are insane, there is actually a debate about it. The dog is a purebred, from a breeder, not a shelter mutt, which Obama had claimed to prefer. Edward and Victoria Kennedy gave the children the 6-month-old puppy, a purebred black-and-white Portuguese Water Dog, after learning that the Texas breeder of their own dogs had had a littermate of their pup returned.

Right there is the reason this controversy is misguided. Bo's breeder had a contract with each person who bought a puppy from her; the contract said that if the pairing didn't work out, the puppy would be returned to the breeder. That is one very big sign that a dog breeder is ethical. Puppy mills don't do that. Large-scale breeders, by and large, don't do that. They can't afford to. Ethical breeders don't just produce puppies, they compete their own dogs and work hard to improve their breed by careful health and temperament screenings. Bo's breeder is a Martha Stern of Amigo Portuguese Water Dogs. I know nothing of her or her dogs, but the signs are good that this is a legitimate AKC breeder.

I love shelter dogs too, and all mine were second-hand, but I dislike the implication that getting a purebred puppy is somehow immoral. Immoral is buying a puppy from a large-scale commercial breeder (aka, a slightly cleaner puppy mill) like Vice President Joseph Biden, who purchased his German Shepherd Dog puppy Champ from Linda Brown's kennels in Pennsylvania. But more about this later, as I don't want to drag that ugliness into this post. Buying a purebred from a good breeder is a perfectly legitimate, ethical and moral way to add a pet to the family. I do kinda wish the Obamas had adopted a shelter dog, but this was fine.

And in case you were wondering, there is a book angle to the story. Bo is going to be the star of a children's book. The book, Bo, America's Commander In Leash is due out on April 30 from Mascot Books

And one of Edward Kennedy's PWDs already has his own children's book, My Senator And Me: A Dog's Eye Of Washington, D.C.

Related links
The Obama Dog Blog
Mascot Books
Portuguese Water Dog Club of America

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sheep (2006)

Valerie Hobbs
2006, Farrar Straus Giroux

My name is Jack, but it wasn't always. I've had so many names I can't even remember them all. Some names were good, some were bad. Some I don't like to remember. But I like the name Jack just fine. It's the one Luke gave me, and he's my best friend.

Clearly, Hobbs can establish a distinct voice. Her young Border Collie narrator looks back on his varied life with a consistently distracted tone that fits the breed quite nicely; border collies, for all their famed intentness, are oddly distractable. They don't miss anything. I've had two mixes, and they were both that odd blend of focused action and scatty reaction. I don't think either of them thought of their sire as Dad, though, or cared two damns about human musings on Hope and Dreams. Where Hobbs' voice goes wrong is that she anthropomorphizes her dogs beyond simply having thoughts and words. Her hero is just a furry boy - eager to prove himself, briefly infatuated with a baffling girl, determined to help a friend, etc. There is no mention of smells or tastes, the two senses that dominate a real dog's life. The author clearly doesn't trust her audience to read the dog's story as a dog's story, allowing the human plots to unfold largely through action and implication. Instead, she overuses exposition shamelessly. Luke, the sulky orphan the dog befriends, talks incessantly to make sure the audience gets the storyline. And the dog has a human understanding of everything, even rousing a couple to choose his Luke as their new son. This neurotic understanding of human affairs, not dancing, is demeaning to dogs.

More minor quibbles:

It can be a bit preachy and folksey:
Pg 1 - "I was giving up hope, which is about the worst thing you can do. Hope is everything."
Pg. 114 - "Truth is, a fellow doesn't need a whole lot to make him happy. A place to bed down, warm food in his belly, honest work, good company."

Language like "There was still a lot of hope left in this kid. He had to have some folks, that's all." is increasingly common in children's books. I'm not very enthusiastic about it, but that's just a personal dislike. Hobbs apparently moved from New Jersey to California in her teens, not to the ocean or to a city but into what was then a very rural region around Ojai. So at least it's authentic.

This book is intensely old-fashioned, more along the lines of the The Boxcar Children or Depression-era tales than a modern story. There is an orphanage, a crude dog pound, a broadly painted evil circus with vile low-class men who beat dogs to death. There is even the highly requisite train sequence where a boy flirts with disaster on a railroad track. Tonally, there is that desperate poverty emphasis on hope and dreams, and the sense that running away is the only solution to a bad situation because staying to fight would be too costly and dangerous. If this were a period piece, it would make more sense. Interestingly, one interview I found online quotes Hobbs as saying that among the books that influenced her growing up were Albert Payson Terhune's dog books. Now that makes sense; Sheep is very close in feel to Terhune's world. They share that sensibility of a desperately dangerous outside world, where the heroic dog struggles to survive and help his people against villains and hostile indifference. Terhune, whose books I adore, infused all his stories with an intense paranoia; every hand is always set against his heroes, the simplest situations are fraught with danger. Sheep also has that overblown terror. It seems more suited to Terhune's era than Hobbs's.

Author website

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Three Dog Winter
Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
1987, Bantam Doubleday Dell

Scott McClure reluctantly moves to Montana with his mom and new stepdad. After his dad's long illness, only his lead sled dog, Kaylah, is left of the team father and son used to train. Scott schemes to restart his racing, struggles to get along with new stepbrother Brad, and copes with a new school. A series of setbacks complicate all three situations, particularly when the miserably unhappy Brad runs away.

Scott glanced up at the low-lying range crouching on the horizon. Its look was totally different from the Sierra peaks at home. Rather than being pointed and ragged edged, these mountains looked as if they'd been shaped with a spoon, maybe a giant ice cream scoop.

A bare-bones style aptly communicates the very basic thoughts of a 12-year-old boy but isn't particularly inviting and doesn't really expand the book much beyond the immediate problems Scott faces in each scene. For a book very much about dogs, the four canines are seen only dimly. Kaylah, a Malamute who is male, has a feminine name and is seen largely as a means to an end. The stray setter Rusty is seen most clearly; both Scott and his mother regularly speak of how fond they are of him, but that ultimately turns out to be for plot reasons as well. Brad's golden mix, Bruno, is treated largely as a convenient team member, and the champion sleddog Chinook is pure plot device.

Scott's rather self-centered. When Brad's dog is badly hurt, Scott's upset but quickly focuses on how the accident has made him feel - scared to race again. When Rusty's owner appear, Scott shows no empathy for the elderly couple and their love for the dog. being preoccupied with how this ruins his plans for Rusty to be part of his dog team.

The book was turned into a movie, Kayla (1999), which appears to differ significantly from the book.

Kaylah - male black-and-white Malamute
Bruno - male retriever mix
Rusty - male brown setter mix
Chinook - male black-and-white Malamute

More books by Author
Van Steenwyk has written many books, but only a few about dogs
First Dog Fala (2008) picture book

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Dog Who Never Knew
Kurt Unkelbach
1968, Four Winds Press (div. of Scholastic Magazines)

Cary's mother breeds and shows Labrador Retrievers and despite her father's grumbling, the family owns 19 dogs. Cary's personal dog is the champion Thumper, whose first litter has just arrived. Cary's desire to keep one of the puppies, the little yellow bitch Peanut, is fulfilled in a terrible way when an accident leaves the pup blind in one eye. Cary's happy, particularly when a new neighbor offers to swap riding time on his horse for her training his out-of-control dog. But when lanky Bob falls for a cute girl who specializes in obedience competition, Cary gets competitive too, and begins training Peanut, now officially Tomboy of Walden, for obedience trials.

An easily read, dog-centric book similar to the others in this series (The Dog In My Life and A Cat And His Dogs) and very knowledgable about dogs and showing. The book lacks much depth; the heroine's never really challenged on anything, from training to human relationships, and everyone gets along just a smidgeon too well, apart from the father's token protests over the dogfood bill and the cartoon villain with her froufrou dog. But it is a satisfying read for a dog-lover, what with the insider's view of dog shows and the generally canine-centric view.

They knew Peanut would have suffered when Labs of lesser quality defeated her [in the breed ring] because they had vision in both eyes. So she was spared that humiliation and never shown.

This seems odd to me - how many dogs really care if they win in the show ring? I think this may be more about the human's humiliation than the dog's.

Some things are slightly dated - granted, the setting is the rural Hudson Valley of New York State, but the dogs seem to roam a lot. And the training methods used are somewhat old-school, with the choke chains and kneeing the chest for jumping up. She references Clarence Pfaffenberger at one point - he was one of the early people looking into the issue of personality in dogs, developing aptitude tests for Guide Dog puppies, tests that have led to today's temperament testing in shelters for unknown baby and adult dogs.

Books by Clarence Pfaffenberger
The New Knowledge Of Dog Behavior (1963)
Training Your Spaniel (1947)

Thumper of Walden - yellow Lab
Peanut aka Tomboy of Walden - yellow Lab
Folly - Thumper's dam, Lab
Duke - Lab
Brutus - Doberman
Muffy - Poodle
Hooligan - Saint Bernard
Atomic Terror - dog in class

Hermosa - dun Paso Fino mare

Other Books
The Dog In My Life* (1966)
Murphy (1967)
A Cat And His Dogs* (1969)
Uncle Charlie's Poodle (1975)
*in series with The Dog Who Never Knew

Nonfiction- Dogs
Love On A Leash (1964)
The Winning Of Westminster (1966)
Ruffian: International Champion (1967)
How To Bring Up Your Pet Dog (1968)
Both Ends Of The Leash (1968)
You're A Good Dog, Joe: Raising And Training Your Puppy (1971)
The Pleasures Of Dog Ownership (1971)
Albert Payson Terhune: The Master Of Sunnybank (1972)
Those Lovable Retrievers (1973)
How To Make Money In Dogs (1974)
The American Dog Book (1976)
How To Show Your Dog And Win (1976)
The Best Of Breeds Guide For Young Dog Lovers (1978)
How To Teach An Old Dog New Tricks: Retraining The Secondhand Dog (1979)

Nonfiction - Cats
Catnip: Selecting & Training Your Cat (1971)
Tiger Up A Tree: Knowing And Training Your Kitten (1973)