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Culture Corner

Scribblings and Screenings for the Animal Set

A Day in the Life

Those working as animal care and control officers know that every day can bring something new and different. Occasionally, it’s an awfully sad something, but other times it’s heartwarming or hilarious. Shirley Zindler’s The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officer’s Passion to Make a Difference will ring a bell with anyone who’s ever made that long walk up the driveway to approach a house where there’s been a complaint: What awaits you behind the door? An angry owner? A hoarding situation? A pack of excitable pugs? Zindler describes her encounter with the latter—along with countless other situations with deer, ducks, dogs, and other critters—bringing compassion and humor to her stories, even as she educates the reader about the challenges officers face. “I don’t usually start my morning sitting six feet down at the bottom of a storm drain smelling faintly of canned mackerel,” she writes in one tale about rescuing a kitten. But after reading her book, you’ll realize there may be no “usual” morning in the life of an ACO.

Accentuate the Positive

Dogs don’t want to rule the world, or even their owners’ households, but some trainers treat them like they do, and that leads to misguided, punitive training that’s inhumane and dangerous, argues Victoria Stilwell in Train Your Dog Positively. The host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog says it’s wrong to assume that canines are just like humans when it comes to wanting to achieve dominance and power—that they’re constantly trying to become the “pack leader.” Truth be told, dogs focus on their own well-being, and often act aggressively out of fear, Stilwell writes. But trainers have misinterpreted dogs’ misbehavior as a play for dominance, and tried to remedy it by using physical force such as harsh yanks on the leash, which Stilwell says can drive dogs to bite. In Train Your Dog Positively, she advocates for a rewards-based training method emphasizing praise and treats, similar to modern approaches to child-rearing. “We’ve made great strides in how we raise our children; now it’s time we do the same with our dogs,” Stilwell writes. Her book offers practical advice for understanding dogs and dealing with issues from poop eating to thunderstorm phobia. The positive approach, she asserts, will help create confident, secure pooches who feel no need to misbehave.

Divine Interventions

Jennifer Skiff says she shed many tears while writing her latest book, The Divinity of Dogs: True Stories of Miracles Inspired by Man’s Best Friend. The book collects people’s sweet, sad, educational, and inspirational experiences with their canines. Readers will meet Emma the rottweiler, who helps prevent her owner’s suicide; Gunny the Labrador, who comforts a teenage girl on the worst day of her life in high school; and Capone the pit bull terrier, whose soul seems to awaken after he’s rescued from being chained in a concrete yard. Part memoir, the book also features Skiff, a longtime journalist who worked for CNN, writing about the dogs who helped her through her own difficulties. “More than anything, they have taught me how to be a better person,” she writes, and The Divinity of Dogs is filled with examples of dogs providing lessons in patience, loyalty, acceptance, and of course unconditional love. Skiff said in a recent interview that she’s heard from readers who say the book inspired them to get their first shelter dog. Also available is a companion music CD featuring soothing music for dogs and their owners.

Strangers in Our Midst

Cats began their association with humans some 10,000 years ago, yet their essential aura of mystery remains intact, which at least partly explains their enduring appeal. But while we love and coddle them, we really don’t know all that much about these fascinating creatures, contends anthrozoologist and best-selling author John Bradshaw. It’s a situation he hopes to remedy in his latest book, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. “Without a doubt, if cat owners understood more about what makes their cats tick, many cats could live much happier lives,” he writes. What’s needed is a firmer grasp of what cats actually want from us, but felines haven’t quite captured the attention of researchers to the degree that dogs have. There have been significant advances in recent years, though, that have affected scientists’ interpretation of how cats view the world, and now owners can draw upon their findings to provide their pets with a more satisfying existence.

Read the rest of this issue from Animal Sheltering magazine

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