Tag Archives: Merle’s Door

Pukka’s Promise

Pukka's Promise coverIf I had to choose a byline for this book review, it would be ‘Ted Does It Again.”

Author Ted Kerasote has delivered another great dog book following the success of Merle’s Door which I have previously reviewed.

This book, inspired in part by the large volume of correspondence Ted received after releasing Merle’s story, documents Ted’s extensive research into the health of dogs and the factors that may determine longevity.   So many ‘dog people’ contacted Kerasote asking variations of the same question  – ‘why don’t our dogs live longer?’  And since Ted felt the same way, he did what any professional journalist would do – he asked lots of questions.

In Pukka’s Promise -The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, Ted tackles subjects including nutrition, the politics behind the pet food industry, and what diet is right for dogs.  Ted lays out the facts about raw food and commercial diets, the concerns about grains  and whether they are appropriate for dogs and a favourite topic of mine – variety in the diet.

Because Kerasote observes his dog so well, he realises that there are times when Pukka (pronounced PUCK-ah) rejects the food that is laid before him.  Pukka lets Ted know that he prefers something else one day when he follows him into the pantry.  Having rejected raw lamb, Pukka readily accepts some dried elk chips.  Ted then listens more often to what Pukka would like for his meals noting, “Today I do not want sardines, I want chicken.  Yes, I do love elk, but this evening I prefer dried elk.”

And just as he did in Merle’s Door, this communication between Kerasote and Pukka is not contrived nor do these moments come across as a story book type of anthropomorphism.  Kerasote is a keen observer and dog aficionado.  When he listens or hears Pukka, it’s because he understands what his dog is trying to tell him and translates it into words.  Few authors could achieve this in such a natural way.

An example of the communication between Ted and Pukka comes when Ted is frustrated by Pukka’s excessive barking.  Dog trainers should be prepared that Ted’s solution doesn’t come from clicker training or positive reinforcement, although Ted tries these things.  Ted’s solution is a direct result of understanding dog behaviour and putting that knowledge to good use.  It helps that Ted can communicate in dog.   Enough said; you’ll have to read the book for the ending of this tale.

Kerasote covers a range of health topics including vaccinations, the history of the ‘annual vaccination’ recommendation, and the latest research on why over-vaccinating is a concern.  A good message to take away from reading the book is to enquire with your vet about having your dog ‘titered’ to determine the amount of immunity they still have from previous vaccinations.

Still other issues that are tackled in a thorough way are the effects of neutering and alternatives to the traditional spay/neuter operation that may help our dogs retain the health-preserving effects of their natural sex hormones.  Kerasote also questions the spay/neuter philosophy in a constructive way and whether you agree with his conclusions or not, he does lay out the facts very well.

Another topic that I hold dear is the issue of cancer and the simple message – if you find a lump on your dog, don’t let anyone (including your vet) tell you to ‘wait and see.’  Some lumps, if caught early and tested, can be removed before the disease takes over the comparatively small body of a dog.  Take heed!

As a backdrop to the book’s hard facts, we also get to enjoy a wonderful story about Ted’s search for another dog and his choice of Pukka.  Once Pukka’s is on the scene, we share some of their adventures.

My only criticism of this book is its lack of photos.  Other than the cover photo of Pukka, we don’t get to enjoy any photos of Pukka, Ted, or their other dog friends (A.J., Burley and Goo) nor any of the great scenery from Ted’s camping and hunting trips with Pukka.  I don’t think photos would have detracted from the contents and scope of the book, but I guess that’s the publisher’s decision.

With 49 pages of references, this is a thoroughly researched book that took five years to complete.  Add it to your book collection and refer back to it as the basis for a conversation with your vet (your dog will love you for it).

Well done, Ted!  What are you cooking up for us next?

Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

I have just finished reading Merle’s Door (Lessons from a Freethinking Dog) by Ted Kerasote.  This book was published in 2007 and became a national bestseller.  That’s not a surprise.

Mr Kerasote is an accomplished author.  He has written for publications including National Geographic, the New York Times, and Science.  And he has other books to his name.

Merle’s Door, however, has to be one of Mr Kerasote’s top literary accomplishments and something that will be remembered as a hallmark of his writing career.  Buy it (don’t just download it into your Kindle).

Merle’s Door is a biography of Merle, a dog adopted by Kerasote when they met totally by accident in 1991.  Merle was ‘living rough’ in the Utah desert and Ted was on one of his many trips with friends to enjoy nature.

“You need a dog, and  I’m it” says Merle.  And so begins a lifetime of 13 years together where Ted learns to translate Merle’s thoughts, to give him free reign to learn about life and his surroundings and, in turn, Ted learns many things from Merle.

Using his dog door and the freedom that Ted allowed him, Merle becomes the unofficial mayor of Kelly, Wyoming and makes many friends.  Along the way Ted establishes a ‘dedicated quadruped couch’ in his house and Merle leaves lasting footprints in the varnish of the balcony of the house they built together (and where Kerasote still lives).

Merle’s Door is Merle’s biography.  Lovingly written by Ted, we learn about Merle’s trademark “Ha ha ha” as he would converse with Ted in a language all his own.  He’d go hunting for elk, but was gun-shy when hunting birds  (and we find out why later in the book).  He has his scraps with other dogs and comes out learning valuable life lessons.

Later in life, Merle’s back end starts to deteriorate and Ted employs the use of acupuncture and massage to help his dog recover (no wonder why I like this book!).  With respect, he lets Merle define what will be a good day and a bad day and they enjoy one another’s company to the end.

Mr Kerasote does a wonderful job in depicting the human-dog bond that so many of us dog lovers have appreciated in our lives.  And he does it with the flair of an accomplished writer.

Like all true dog stories, be prepared for the end of Merle’s life in 2004 which is  obviously written by someone who has lived through the last days of their dog’s life.  Have a box of tissues handy – you’ll need it.  (I did)

This is a book I intend on keeping and adding to my dog book collection.  I’m grateful for Mr Kerasote’s writing talent because, not only is this Merle’s story, but it is well referenced with footnotes to key pieces of dog research (15 pages of references in total).

Through Mr Kerasote’s writing, Merle’s story lives on for all of us to share.  A wonderful dog that walked this earth for almost 14 years and left pawprints on many hearts….