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)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Visitor From The Sea (1965)

Visitor From The Sea
Dorothy Simpson
1965, J.B. Lippincott

Becky Marshall is bored and lonely when she finds a stray dog on the beach. Your Highness appears to be a mix of collie and terrier, and her beautiful manners and loving personality quickly win over the Marshall family. Except for Mama. The Marshalls live in a fishing village on an island off Maine, so Mama is forced to agree to give the dog one week until the next boat can take her to the pound.

Becky spends a hard week alternating between joy at being with her dog and misery at knowing she'll lose her. Also in the mix are her disappointment in her father, who refuses to fight her mother on the dog, and the agony of experiencing a grief her family doesn't share. Her brother, for example, is sympathetic but he can still laugh and attempt to find Your Highness a new owner; he doesn't really understand. As Becky's vivid imagination constructs various ways to keep her pet, a startling number of heroic scenarios do occur - and fail to change Mama's mind.

Your Highness - collie/terrier mix
Boffin - mix
Max - black and white collie

Maine island

About the Author
Aleda Dorothy Knowlton Simpson grew up on one Maine island, Criehaven, and lived for many years as an adult on another, Gay's Island (also known as Burton's Island), with the well-known novelist Elizabeth Ogilvie.

Criehaven Island

Other books by the Author
Island In The Bay (1956)
The Honest Dollar (1957) Maine island girl Jane tries to earn money
A Lesson For Jane (1958) Jane befriends a city girl, Myra
A Matter of Pride (1958) Jane tangles with a teacher
New Horizons (1961) Jane goes to school on the mainland

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ruth and Latrobe Carroll, authors and illustrators
1951, Henry Z. Walck, Inc.

Once there was a pet store in a very big city where a man sold very little dogs.

A city family buys a tiny dog, one small enough to live in a geranium, to fit their lives. But when they move to the country and acquire a large dog, poor little Peanut is neglected and goes in search of new friends.

Out in the wide, wide fields, he felt very small and alone. He whimpered to himself, "Now cats and foxes are hunting for breakfast and maybe I'm breakfast."

Sweet illustrations and a simple story. The plot - the little boy forgets all about Peanut when he has a big dog - is a bit sad and ignoble, and the tiny dog's adventures are a bit scary for a little kid.

Scuffles - male tiny brown and white dog, like a dollhouse spaniel
Jupiter - male harlequin Great Dane

Other Books
Peanut 1951
Salt And Pepper 1952
Tough Enough 1954
Digby The Only Dog 1955
Tough Enough's Trip 1956
Tough Enough's Pony 1957
Tough Enough And Sassy 1958
Bounce And The Bunnies 1959
Tough Enough's Indians 1960
Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog 1963
The Bumble Pup 1968
Managing Hen & The Floppy Hound (1972)
Hullabaloo The Elephant Dog 1975

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roy Simpson Marsh, il. Clifford Schule (cover)
1958, Macrae Smith Company

Of the moose he had shot several days ago, only enough remained to supply two more meals, so he kept on the alert. They made better than forty miles that day because the load was now light and the snow well packed. All were famished, so Tom fed the dogs the remainder of the meat, feeling confident that tomorrow he would reach the Eskimo settlement at Point Manning.

Musher and trader Tom Fay is summering in western Alaska when one of his sled dogs, Sue, has a litter. He keeps only one pup, the cream-colored male he names Moog. When the pup is old enough, he joins and then leads Fay's team on the long trade route between Eskimo settlements, "from the mouth of the Yukon north to Point Barrow, and east along the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in northwestern Canada." But Fay's route is interrupted this year by a near-fatal attack on a friend, and his subsquent pursuit of the villain, a pursuit which takes him into a blizzard and lands him aboard an ice floe.

The observations of the dogs is warm and sympathetic, with much detail and interest. When Tom replaces Moog's aging mother, Sue, on the team, she's bewildered.

For a moment or two, looking puzzled, she simply stood and stared at her offspring. He, of all dogs, was taking her place. Slowly, her lips lifted in a snarl, and she lunged at Moog's neck. Although he saw her coming, he remained still and allowed her to bite, but her blunt, worn-down teeth only pulled out a mouthful of hair. He could have ripped her to shreds. Ordinarily, he would have escaped her snap, but not today. He was taking her place, and he acted as if she was entitled to one hard bite - to some expression of retaliation.

The story plods a bit in places, as might be expected from a narrative where most of the time, the protagonists are walking long distances. But there are frequent exciting battles and encounters with danger, and many violent, bloody fights between Moog and various creatures, and furious arguments between Tom and recalcitrant natives.

Marsh has a typically great white hunter approach to women and non-whites, summing up women by their appearance (fat or slender) and general motherliness, and the natives as either shifty or noble. To his credit, he does have a noble variety protest at Tom's use of 'Eskimo' and supply the name "Inuit." Though since Tom's been trading among these people for eight years, you'd think he'd have figured this one out by now. Tom's perception of the natives is that they are a perfectly nice alien race - which actually does have some truth to it. The American trapper and the Inuit villagers are from hugely different societies, awkward though Marsh's comments sometimes are to modern readers.

A dated but still engrossing adventure story starring a dog and his master. Very mid-20th century, but with a genuine, modern affection for dogs.

Moog (Eskimo for 'Strong One') - Saint Bernard/Malamute cross
Sue - Saint Bernard, Moog's dam

Other Books by Author
Rusty (1961)
Kang (1962)
Tundra, Arctic Sled Dog (1968)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Clare Turlay Newberry, author and illustrator
1961, Harper & Brothers

No one, except the dog, enjoyed the ride home. He had a glorious time. He loved riding in cars anyhow, and he simply adored the nice people in the front seat. All the way to Cerro Gordo he kept licking their necks with his very large and very wet tongue. And every few moments he tried clumsily to climb over onto their laps.

Felice Romero wants a puppy but her mother falls in love with a full-grown Malamute at the animal shelter. Felice, sulky and slightly afraid of the genial but enormous Frosty, slowly comes around. Though the family cats are less flexible.

Clownie and Pussums, however, still regarded Frosty as a Terrible Mistake

When I was seven and had finally bugged my parents enough that they relented and said we could get a dog, I automatically wanted a puppy. We went to the animal shelter and walked through looking at the dogs, and I found the two litters of puppies and was trying to decide between the identical black-and-tan forms when I realized my mom had vanished. I found her gazing down, smiling, at a shaggy adult dog who was doing her best to ingratiate herself with my mom and win a pass out of being trapped in a smelly kennel with two hysterically barking spaniels. Long story short, we went home with the shaggy adult dog. She was perfect. Mothers know these things.

The beautiful illustrations are a definite draw, but the simple story does stand on its own. The slightly unusual setting - clearly the southwest, with Hispanic characters - is nice for a book this age, particularly as it isn't insistent. Felice is a believable little girl, as are her friends and neighbors, and Frosty is a most believable dog. The parents have their moments of doubting the wisdom of keeping this huge dog, and that rings true also. And from a dog owner point of view, much of the observations in the book, both explicit and implied, are still valid.

And as Frosty was treated more like a member of the family, his manners began to improve.

Frosty is a shelter dog who's unneutered and at the end of the book, the family is considering buying a female Malamute and breeding them. This is a capital crime in today's doggy world, though I have a sneaking sympathy for the idea of breeding any dog who can play with a yardfull of strange children safely. That is another archaic idea, sadly - nowadays, too many people claim that 'all dogs bite' and pretend there are no dogs that are safe with children. Also sadly archaic is the idea that a shelter dog can be a nice, normal pet. If "Frosty" had been written in 2008, he'd be 'rescued' with 'issues' and Felice would take him to doggy obedience classes to learn how to understand his lunging at children.

Frosty - male Alaskan Malamute (registered name A-put)
Poochie - female mixed breed

Pussums - male grey and white cat
Clownie - female black and white cat

About the author

Other books

Newberry was famous for her cat books, but she did one other book with a canine hero, Barkis (1939). But her cat books are also well worth finding.

Mittens (1936)
Babette (1937)
Cousin Tony
April's Kittens (1941)
Lambert's Bargain (1941)
Marshmallow (1942)
Pandora (1944)
T-Bone The Babysitter (1951)
Cats & Kittens: A Portfolio (1956)
Herbert The Lion
Ice Cream For Two
Drawing A Cat
The Kittens ABC

de Grummond Collection

Northwest Digital Archives
Newberry Cats

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bel Ria
Sheila Burnford
1977, Little, Brown & Company

In Memoriam

Amidst the confusion of the German invasion of France, a small circus dog loses his owner to German air attacks and latches onto British corporal Sinclair, who had a brief encounter with the little circus and watched helplessly as it was obliterated. When German planes sink the destroyer on which he's being evacuated, Sinclair is injured and the dog becomes the responsibility of Neil MacLean, a sick berth attendant on the British destroyer Tertian. Now named Ria, the dog becomes an unlikely agent of change for the withdrawn, curt MacLean, who never liked animals and who is at first affronted by the smallness and delicacy of the canine life he's been charged with. This little dancing dog.

On the fourth note the toe began to tap, and the dog rose to his hind legs and began to dance. The tune had a lilting rythym, and in perfect time he pirouetted in a circle, forepaws held out and head held high.

Slowly, MacLean begins to respect the fragile Ria's stubbornness, so like his own, and for the first time in his life forms an affection for an animal. But he has promised to return the dog to Sinclair and when the ship takes a brief rest from its work patrolling the supply convoys that are all that keeps Britain alive, he sends the dog ashore with a crewmate's sister. When her house is bombed that night, it seems that Ria must have been killed. But the delicate little dog survives, and finds a new home and a new identity as Bel, pampered pet of elderly Mrs. Alice Tremorne. And as the war ends in Europe, events come to an almost full circle as Donald Sinclair manages to make his way back to the circus dog he'd scooped reluctantly out of the mud nearly five years earlier.

Burnford, best known for The Incredible Journey, surpasses herself here with a book that manages one of the harder tricks of fiction - putting a fictional personal story against the bitter background of war without taking away from either. Here, the tragedy of a small dog is given the same full consideration as the war; neither aspect of the plot detracts from the other. There is no sense of a dog's story cheapening the horror of war.

It's clear from the dedication of the book, quoted above, that Burnford regarded her book as being about the war, as well as her characters.

Reissued in 2006 by The New York Review Of Books Children's Collection

Bel/Ria - small male mixed-breed dog (probably terrier/poodle)
Louis - Capuchin monkey
Barkis - white male bull terrier
Hyacinthe - tortieshell female cat

Other books by Author
The Incredible Journey (1961)