December 2007

Raining cats and dogs

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December 2007

Raining cats and dogs

Feature by
December 2007

Raining cats and dogs

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Who else but Anna Quindlen could make the short life of an ordinary Labrador retriever so profound? Good Dog. Stay. is a short, elegiac book of black-and-white photographs sprinkled with text, based on a popular Newsweek column by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Object Lessons).

Barely touching upon the predictable shoe-chewing antics of Lab puppy Beau, a 40th birthday present, she dwells most movingly on the more difficult aspects of aging alongside her dog, noting creaky legs, clouding eyes and the fleeting bittersweet arc of a life that follows children growing up and leaving home. When it comes time to say goodbye, Quindlen lays Beau on their patterned carpet favored as it hides the dirt that a sick, old dog creates surrounded by her now grown children and watches as the dog is put down while her husband's tears fall like raindrops on her head. "Occasionally someone will tell me that they won't have pets because they're messy, and I suppose there's some truth to that," Quindlen writes. "I have to choke down the temptation to respond that life is messy, and that its vagaries go down hardest with those who fool themselves into thinking that they can keep it neat."

The messy, brutal and random lives of strays is the compelling subject of fine art photographer Traer Scott's latest book, Street Dogs. Scott, whose previous collection was the bestseller Shelter Dogs, shot her captivating sepia-tones on the streets of Puerto Rico and Mexico, revealing enigmatic expressions on the faces of animals that reproduce, roam and forage on the streets due to overwhelmed animal control agencies. Scott captures more than 90 close-ups including an exhausted young dog digging a hole in the sand to keep cool on Puerto Rico's Dead Dog Beach and a litter of puppies huddled at dusk in a lot in San Felipe, Mexico (whose rescue caused Scott to get bitten). Despite abuse, neglect and illness, the dogs still wag their tails. While it should be depressing, Scott's work reaffirms the decency of all living beings, the daily miracles worked by shop owners and rescuers who feed, water and rehabilitate the dogs for adoption in the United States, and the indefatigable canine spirit. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

Cats live on a higher plane, of course, and now they have their own Planet Cat. More than 400 lists of head-scratching and fascinating feline facts, advice and trivia are packed into this entertaining cat-alog, illustrated with line drawings and black-and-white photos. The culture of cats through history, including feline saints, famous cat lovers (and haters) and cats in ancient art is followed by short useful sections and sidebars about cat anatomy, behavior and training, from how to read a cat's eyes, ears and tail, to the reason Chloe bites, has litter box problems, or hates swallowing a pill (Chloe being the most popular female cat name, according to the book). Tons of amusing trivia, including famous cartoon, television and film felines, British pub signs featuring cats, and the nine kitties that have won acting awards, round out this fun blast through Planet Cat.

When you can make yourself vulnerable by lying on your back in the sun then curl and bite the hand that pets your soft tummy you know you're a cat brought to life in a cartoon drawn by Suzy Becker. This updated version of her best-selling All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat (and Then Some) features old favorites plus nearly 50 new cartoons drawn by Binky, Becker's mischievous kitty sage. The delicate, one-panel drawings contrast with dry and sometimes wicked captions, from a cross-section of the place where no one can find you (under the bed) and a time-lapse of litter box antics, to illustrations of how to drink from the toilet ( Challenge yourself ), recycle trash, commune with the birds by splaying yourself across a window pane, build your own bed out of warm, clean laundry and recognize the toy in everything. With advice on helping with the dishes (insert sandpaper tongue here) and accepting the fact that not all company will like you, Becker's cartoons are subtle enough to win the hearts of sophisticated literary magazine readers, and funny enough to win the hearts of animal lovers everywhere.

Owning land and a few horses is a common city-dweller fantasy, but learning to care for livestock can come with a steep learning curve for those not raised in the country. Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac: The Essential Month-by-Month Guide for Every Horse Owner puts a metaphoric arm around novices on the way to the barn. Hill, who runs Long Tail Ranch in northern Colorado, covers every aspect of horse ownership, broken down into tasks for each month and season, including buying, conditioning and feeding a horse, lifting a hoof and calling the vet, dealing with muddy pastures and electric fencing, stable flies, flooding, trailer loading and foaling, and setting up the tack room and farm office. Add illustrations and fascinating sidebars on horse history and trivia and you have an indispensable resource for any new or aspiring horse owner.

These days, domesticated dogs are more likely to dine on organic kibble and be toted about in frilly pink satchels than to roll in dead skunk or chase down prey. Present and former staffers at satirical online newspaper The Onion, writing as Rex and Sparky, come to the rescue of these pampered pooches in The Dangerous Book for Dogs: A Parody, illustrated by Emily Flake. Advice for uncovering latent canine rebellion includes chapters on Things You Can Chase; Begging: A Primer; and Poop: An Indelicate Discussion. Rex and Sparky also take canine wimps through building a doghouse (clue: a hammer won't be involved), escaping fenced areas, picking a pill out of peanut butter, handling a thunderstorm, escaping humiliating costumes, managing territory and taking epic walks. Bound in a retro library binding and dripping with faux-nostalgic tone, these observations are driven home with a wicked funny bone, buried correctly, of course (see page 72, How to Bury a Bone ). Owners who long to let their pets roam free or feel a twinge of guilt over a box of $10 designer biscuits will wallow in this ode to old-school dog.

Good Dog. Stay.
By Anna Quindlen
Random House

ISBN 9781400067138

Street Dogs
By Traer Scott

ISBN 9781858944081

Planet Cat
By Sandra Choron
Houghton Mifflin

ISBN 9780618812592

All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat (and Then Some)
By Suzy Becker

ISBN 9780761147664

Horsekeeping Almanac: The Essential Month-by-Month Guide for Every Horse Owner
By Cherry Hill

ISBN 9781580176842

The Dangerous Book for Dogs: A Parody
By The Onion

ISBN 9780345503701

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