Barkley: A Dog’s Journey

For those of us who’ve had the privilege of sharing our lives with pets, there are usually one or two with whom we bonded more tightly and who will always shine brighter in our memories. LA Times columnist Al Martinez and his wife had that in Barkley, an ebullient Springer Spaniel who was a beloved member of their family for nine years. “Barkley: A Dog’s Journey” documents a 3,000-mile road trip tailor made for Barkley up California and Oregon and back down to LA during a period of remission from the leukemia that killed him prematurely, with philosophical musings, local color, and recollections from the author’s long life thrown in for good measure. Thoughtful and lyrical, it encourages readers to contemplate their own lives and loves, but without being maudlin or indulging in over-sentimentality.

In the final chapter, Mr. Martinez explains that since Barkley’s death, they have not seen fit to replace Barkley with another dog because that would be too difficult. Instead, a feisty cat named Ernie is now attempting to fill some of the vacuum Barkley left behind. So life goes on, and the journey continues. Small book, big message.

When poetry is good it touches your mind and intellect. But, for me, great poetry grabs my heartstrings and emotions. It won’t let me go even when I close the book. That is how I felt after reading Calico Tales…and Others. No cat lover could read this book of poetry without a tear, a laugh and a smile of recognition. The incidents and emotions portrayed in the poems perfectly reflect the personality of cats. The author has captured the playfulness, aloofness, warmth and love cats share with their chosen people. But you get more than graceful, effortless poetry, although that would have been enough. Each poem is balanced by a beautiful black and white photograph showing cats in the mood of the poem. The two together make it an outstanding book. My personal favorite poems were “Jump the Moon,” “Sleeping Cat,” “The Street” and “Flat Out.”

Whether you like poetry or photography or you just love cats, this is a must have book. I know I will look at these photographs and re-read these poems whenever I need to touch the essence of what a cat is all about. This would make a wonderful gift for any cat lover on your list.

Margy Ohring has captured the true essence of cat in this wonderfully touching book of sonnets. Her poems celebrate ordinary events – feeding time, using the litter box, sleeping sitting on a windowsill, or playing with a toy. Yet the reader sees every nuance of the scene in great detail. It would be difficult to pick favorite poems here because each of them works. It is nice to see a classic poetic form used with a modern subject to such good effect. Ohring manages to get inside the minds of the felines she so lovingly describes. I felt I knew the personality of each cat in the book. This is a wonderful achievement that any cat lover would enjoy dipping into frequently when a smile, a laugh or even a tear is needed. Bravo for such a delightful read

Buddy, the pampered, rescue cat who lives indoors, and Jett, the feral who has survived life in the alley, may just look like cats to the average person but in reality their intertwined fate will play out the age-old clash of good vs. evil. They are locked in battle to be the next Cat Master, spiritual leader of all felines. Which one wins is at the heart of this book.

The old Cat Master is dying. He sends out a message, “Rise from the alley, my son. Of all my blood, you are the Chosen.” But his message is telepathically interrupted so Buddy hears only, “Rise from the alley…” The feline world plunges into darkness waiting for the next leader.

Buddy was badly hurt, when The Boy found him and nursed him back to health. Now Buddy lives the life of an Indoor with two other cats, Pris and Zekki. They are young and look up to Buddy for training and guidance. Buddy is haunted by the message that keeps playing over in his mind, “Rise from the alley…” and the arrival of Jett in his yard. Even though he doesn’t want to leave The Boy, he knows he must return to the alley to meet his fate. He warns Zekki and Pris to stay indoors where they are safe. But, like most cats, who are burdened with endless curiosity, they don’t listen and wander out the front door instead. Jett lures them into the dangerous world of the Outs where they become bait in his trap to lure Buddy into his web.

It takes the help of five cats, two dogs, a lizard, a possum and a mockingbird for Buddy to fulfill his mission. Of all the minor characters, Orie, the lizard, is the most satisfying. His actions turn him from a timid lizard into a lizard who is special indeed. The heroic German Sheperd, Tenba, continuously demonstrates the courageous loyalty of her breed.

Pemberton uses exciting, vivid descriptions to describe the animals, their surroundings and the perils they face on their adventures. Some of the fight scenes are filled with gore leading to death, which might be a bit strong for younger readers. But Pemberton depicts the bonding of animal to animal and animal to human beautifully. When I finished, I felt I these characters were part of my family.

I would recommend this book for older children and adults. Pemberton gets into the animal mind and gives her readers access to the mysterious feline world.

The Adventures of Bro & Tracy

If you love dogs and you love the Southwest, this is a must have book. Joyce Fay,a professional photographer, has a love affair with dogs and the stark beauty of the Southwest, which she demonstrates in every picture. It would be difficult for me to pick my favorite picture in this lovely book, but the ones of Bro and Tracy in a tree in Monument Valley and in the Painted Desert would be high on my list. Beyond the gorgeous photographs of her dogs playing, climbing trees, sitting on stools at a restaurant, and enjoying the farolitos on Christmas Eve in Old Town, Fay gives sound advice on traveling with your dogs and just having fun. As she says, “Climbing trees wasn’t the goal. It was the accidental result of the relationship, a relationship that involves having fun, communicating, traveling and enjoying dogs.” Her love of dogs led her to found the Bro and Tracy Animal Welfare, which fosters and gives hope to homeless dogs. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to Bro and Tracy Animal Welfare to support their work. If you can’t get enough of the pictures, some of the photographs are available on greeting cards through the web site. This would be a wonderful gift book for all your dog-loving friends.

Allergic reactions to animals are one of the main reasons that animals are relinquished to shelters. But now there Is hope for all of you who love animals but sneeze at the thought of being in the same room with a cat for more than two seconds. This small book is a “must read” for anyone who suffers from pet allergies.

Kalstone is thorough in discussing what allergies are and what causes them. By the end of that section I was sneezing. Then she deals with various popular pets and explains what causes a person to be allergic to them. The main animals she covers are cats, dogs, birds and horses. But she also devotes space to rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, mice, rats and ferrets. She provides tips for minimizing the allergens in your home and office as well as giving the latest information on what doctors have in their arsenals to help allergy sufferers. Kalstone suffers from allergies herself, but it hasn’t kept her from having many animals in her life.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves animals but is afraid to adopt a pet because of allergies. Kalstone give advice, explanations and easily followed tips for dealing with your allergy symptoms. A wealth of information in a small package. Everyone needs this book either for himself or for a friend.

I have a real problems with this book and with Temple Grandin, a designer of humane handling facilities for livestock and Colorado State Professor who sees herself as an animal advocate. For decades she has been trying to straddle the vast divide between agribusiness and animal advocacy, and as a result, in my opinion, she’s made life easier for factory farmers and worse for farmed animals. She’s improved living and dying conditions for the victims of factory farming (the animals) at the expense of allowing the industry to feel less guilty and increase its profits, thus perpetuating a system that has wreaked havoc on the environment, on human health, on slaughterhouse workers, as well as on the animals who are imprisoned and murdered by the millions every year to keep it all going. It is irresponsible of Grandin, if she really considers herself an animal advocate, to enable a system that is so harmful on so many levels.

On the last page of her book, she reflects on her career choice:

“After I developed my center-track restraining system, I remember looking out over the cattle yard at the hundreds and hundreds of animals milling around in their corrals. I was upset that I had just designed a really efficient slaughter plant. . . . Cows are the animals I love best. Looking at those animals I realized that none of them would even exist if human beings hadn’t bred them into being.” (!)

So in other words, bioengineered animals should be grateful to humans for their existence, even if it’s a miserable and short one ending in slaughter? I find that a strange rationale.

In the area of pets, although I agree with Grandin that mixed breed dogs are the best bets for people to adopt, she also insists, several times, that pit bulls and Rottweilers are more aggressive dogs than other breeds-although she stops short of calling for a ban on them-even though it should be clear to anyone familiar with dogs that ANY dog is capable of being dangerous, depending on its environment and how it’s treated.

Bizarrely, Grandin also implies that insects and humans aren’t animals. Maybe she feels that insects are too lowly to be called animals and humans are superior to other animals.

I get the feeling, after reading this book, that Grandin is schizoid about our fellow animals. She obviously is attracted to them, has great admiration for their extraordinary abilities, and believes that she as an autistic person has a lot in common with them, yet she can talk about the ghastly experiments of Harry Harlow with baby monkeys without bothering to point out how sadistic they were. And she only mentions in passing her brief experiment with ethical vegetarianism that ended in failure because she felt ill, apparently causing her to conclude that she needed meat to survive. As a vegan for seven years, I know that no human needs meat to survive. It takes some getting used to, but anyone can do it. Although she does present some original and thoughtful ideas about animal behavior, as an animal advocate I can’t recommend this book.