A classic Gary Larson cartoon presents this scenario: Under the caption “What We Say to Dogs,” a man points his finger at a pooch and announces, “Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!” The lower half of the cartoon has the identical drawing, but the caption is “What They Hear,” and the man’s dialogue bubble simply reads, “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah...”
The writers and publishers of today’s dog books would certainly object to Larson’s characterization, however. One of the dominant trends in pet tomes these days is Dog Psych 101—and beyond. “The recent spate of canine psychology titles speaks to the fact that essential aspects of our beloved pets’ personalities remain mysterious to us,” says Jason Gardner, senior editor at New World Library, who worked on last February’s Your Dog Is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan. (The paperback is scheduled for March 2012.)
In May, Basic Books published Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by anthrozoologist John Bradshaw. Says editorial director Lara Heimert, “We don’t normally publish pet books at Basic; we always saw Dog Sense as a science book that happened to be about pets. And it was the science that sold it. The book shows how DNA sequencing and other kinds of new scientific studies have revolutionized our understanding of where dogs came from and how they experience the world—and that we must rethink how we treat them based on this new knowledge.”
According to Heyday Books maketing director Natalie Mulford, “There is a new gravitas to pet love. It’s not just silly dog books anymore.” Heyday just published Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates.
That desire to impute deep thinking to dogs goes hand-in-hand with increasing spending on pets. The American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2011, Americans will spend $50.84 billion on their 377.41 million pets, including birds, cats, dogs, horses, fish, reptiles, and other small animals. As has long been the case, cats are the most common pet (86.4 million in 38.9 million households), followed by dogs (78.2 million in 46.3 households), but dogs account for the vast majority of books about pets and animals.
After spending that kind of doggie dough, today’s pet owners want a window into their dogs’ brains, and possibly their souls. Free Press senior editor Leslie Meredith says, “How can animals and their stories and behavior not appeal to people? We’re animals ourselves, we live with animals, we eat them, we love them, and we want to know what they feel and think.” In August, Free Press published the paperback reprint of Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog, a memoir by Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology and the author of How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication among other titles.
“The books that seem to sell best are the ones that provide insight into the minds of our cherished companions,” says Kristin Sevick, associate editor at Forge, which just published Emory’s Gift—about a bear who helps a boy come of age in Idaho—by W. Bruce Cameron, author of the bestselling 2010 novel A Dog’s Purpose. (See “Why I Write,” p. 27.)
As A Dog’s Purpose and its ilk show, doggie Freudian thought isn’t restricted to nonfiction. Novels such as Alan Lazar’s Roam (Atria, Nov.), which received a boxed review in PW’s September 5 issue, follow in the footsteps of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain—a 2008 novel from Harper that’s spent 106 weeks on PW’s hardcover and trade paper lists—and look at the world through soulful canine eyes. In June 2012 Forge will publish Elsa Watson’s Dog Days, which Sevick describes as “Freaky Friday with a canine twist—a woman and a dog switch bodies.” Erik’s Hope: The Leash That Led Me to Freedom by Andrea Chilcote and Sara Burden (Crimson Oak, Nov.) is fiction, too, but based on Chilcote’s experiences with her own dog. And Ivan!: A Pound Dog’s View on Life, Love, and Leashes (Turner, Oct.) by Tim McHugh is a “memoir” written from the perspective of the author’s adopted pet.
In October, David Godine will publish All My Dogs, an illustrated memoir by Bill Henderson, founder of the Pushcart Press. Marketing director Sue Berger Ramin says, “There are always challenges in living with an animal. They are not toys or slaves; they are individuals in their own right, and the current slate of books focuses on helping to elucidate this.”
Of course, it’s not just dogs who stand to gain from the human-canine bond. The benefits to humans of having a pet are legion. According to WebMD, pet ownership can fight allergies, smooth the aging process, combat depression, and even decrease the risk of heart disease.
That theory is borne out in memoirs such as Bad Dog (A Love Story) by Martin Kihn, which recounts how competitive dog training helped the author recover from alcoholism. Pantheon published the hardcover last April, with the paperback to follow in spring 2012.
Another dogs-as-saviors memoir is Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself (Riverhead, Oct.) by Julie Klam. Coming simultaneously in paperback will be Klam’s 2010 memoir, You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness. Says Riverhead president Geoffrey Kloske, “Humans are animals, but many of the great human stories have been told. Pets are even cuter animals and we’ve just gotten started with the great pet stories.”
In A Big Little Life (Bantam, July), a trade paper reprint of a 2008 bestseller, Dean Koontz writes about the joys brought by his beloved golden retriever, Trixie. And in Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, due from Simon & Schuster on September 27, Susan Orlean explores the life of the canine movie star who touched millions.
Lauren Slater, author of The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals (Norton, Mar.), is herself a psychologist known for nonfiction titles such as Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, so naturally she turns a psychoanalytical eye on her own relationships with animals in a book that, says Norton senior editor Angela von der Lippe, provides “insight that can help us in our everyday encounters with the strangest animal of all, the human one.”
BenBella Books is betting that readers will even want business advice from their four-legged friends. Coming in December is From Wags to Riches: How Dogs Teach Us to Succeed in Business and Life by Robert Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association. Editorial associate Erin Kelley says, “The book will make you take a closer look at your dog and maybe learn a lesson from him on how to solve problems, interact with co-workers, and generally succeed in the workplace.”
In October, BowTie Press will publish Angel on a Leash: Therapy Dogs and the Lives They Touch by David Frei, who has served as the cohost of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for 21 years. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Angel on a Leash charitable foundation, which trains therapy dogs and brings them into health-care facilities. And dogs that have themselves benefited from therapy feature in Gotham’s The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant, reprinted with updates on the 47 pit bulls who survived Vick’s mistreatment.
For the most dreaded moment in any dog lover’s life, Jon Katz, author of A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life (Villard, 2006) and many other books about the canine-human bond, has written Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die (Villard, Sept.) “I was embarrassed by my grief,” Katz writes about the death of his beloved dog, Orson. “What right did I have to fall to pieces over a border collie?”
“Even in a difficult economy the overall trends indicate that the pet category remains a healthy one,” reports Lonny Stein, director of marketing at Barron’s, which covers a large swath of the animal kingdom. But if breed books and practical guides such as Barron’s Dog Training Bible by Andrea Arden (Oct.) continue to sell, it’s in spite of several negative factors. Stein himself points out that the closing of the Borders chain “removes another major distribution channel.” Barron’s is working to identify new retailers, including nonbook outlets, that will stock its titles.
In any case, publishers show no signs of turning away from the more basic guides, and readers and the media continue to respond. In January, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will offer the paperback reprint of Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable by the faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The hardcover, published late last year, earned repeated spots on Fresh Air, Diane Rehm, and The Martha Stewart Show. In October, Merck will publish the 10th edition of The Merck Veterinary Manual with color illustrations and new sections on cloning, alternative veterinary medicine, and emerging medical issues.
Pet publisher TFH Publications is now offering books with the Animal Planet imprimatur. In the first licensing deal with the cable channel, TFH is launching a series related to the program Dogs 101, as well as the Complete Guides series.
Dog owners seeking grander achievements for their pets can check out three new inspiring memoirs. Doggie derring-do is on display in Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan (Morrow, Sept.). To pay tribute to a friend who died of cancer, the duo climbed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountain peaks, twice, in 90 days. Says Morrow executive editor Cassie Jones, “I don’t think of Atticus as a dog book, although a remarkable dog is one of the main characters. I bought the book because it’s a story of love, discovery, endurance, nature, and family.”
An unusually heroic tale centers on Roselle, the yellow Lab star of Thomas Nelson’s Thunder Dog: The True Story About a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. With the help of this remarkable pooch, businessman Michael Hingson lived to write his story—on Sept. 11, 2001, he survived two explosions and descended 1,463 stairs in Tower One of the World Trade Center.
In Emma Pearse’s Sophie: The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog (Da Capo, Feb.), a three-year-old Australian blue heeler went overboard during a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and found her way back to her family through six miles of predator-infested waters and living off the land for five months on an isolated nature preserve. Executive editor Renee Sedlar describes the appeal of such stories: “We all want to believe that our pets are amazing, even when they’re just slobbering on the couch.”
“Three clucks for the ‘in’ pet of 2011, the chicken,” says BowTie Press editorial director Andrew De Prisco. “More and more people in the suburbs, country, and cities are keeping these noisy egg machines as pets.” Indeed, based on new titles, Spot better watch his back.
With photos by Andrew Perris, Christie Aschwanden’s Beautiful Chickens (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, Dec.) presents portraits of 40 different breeds. Coming in October from Guardian Books, an imprint of Random House UK, is the charmingly titled Chicken Coops for the Soul: A Henkeeper’s Story by Julia Hollander, while Fox Chapel hatches The Chicken Handbook (Apr.) and Know Your Chicken (Jan. 2012).
Explaining the chicken trend in part, Skyhorse associate publisher Bill Wolf-sthal says, “Recently, we’ve been most successful with books about animals that help people as they move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle.” The press published The Illustrated Guide to Chickens and The Illustrated Guide to Pigs, both by Celia Lewis, in January. Simon & Schuster, too, has a porcine title: Matt Whyman’s Oink: My Life with Mini-pigs, as does Fox Chapel—Know Your Pigs (Jan). Horses are getting their due, too, with manuals such as this summer’s The Original Horse Bible (BowTie) by Moira C. Reeve and Sharon Biggs, the November memoir Horses Never Lie About Love: The Story of a True Heart Named True Colors by Jana Harris (Free Press), and, from Barron’s, The Majesty of the Horse: An Illustrated History by Tamsin Pickeral (Oct.).
And what about cats? Cats actually outnumber dogs in the U.S., but because of the smaller number of households that own them (in other words, many homes have two or more cats) and the general impression that they are not trainable, cat manuals are much scarcer than those for dogs. Out this month from Square One is Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter by Jeane Adlon, who claims to have been New York City’s first full-time cat sitter, and Susan Logan, editor of Cat Fancy magazine. A portion of all royalties will go to cat rescue groups.
Unusual animals in unusual couplings is the province of Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom (Workman, July). Author Jennifer S. Holland tells the love stories of such odd bedfellows as a hippopotamus and a pygmy goat, as well as a greyhound and an owl. Editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin reports seven printings in seven weeks, prompting the house to rush out a companion calendar and step up its marketing by partnering with freekibble.com.
As with almost all books on this tender subject, it’s the emotions that Unlikely Friendships elicits that are its greatest strength. Bolotin says, “Animal lovers have always craved books that corroborate their feelings about animals’ cuteness or heroism, their loyalty or empathy, their beauty, or that quality that can sometimes make our nonhuman comrades seem better than we are. That explains the reaction readers have to Unlikely Friendships—its celebration of interspecies bonds is a powerful message in a world too much filled with hate.”
Say Cheese–Flavored Liver Snap
Few animals of any kind, humans included, are as photogenic as dogs. Two October photography books showcase canines in all their glory—and these aren’t fancy show dogs, either. Proceeds from every copy of Merrell’s $19.95 hardcover Shelter Puppies by Michael Kloth sold in the U.S. will go to the ASPCA. The equally captivating hardcover Mutt’s Life! by Fabio Petroni (White Star, Oct.) showcases the particular charm of mixed-breed dogs.
Tales of dogs participating in war are some of the few uplifting stories to come out of Iraq and Afghanistan. St. Martin’s editor Peter Joseph says such titles “are positive reminders that there are things more important than politics.” Lisa Rogak’s The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs (Oct.) covers the range of jobs performed by military dogs, some of whom can parachute from as high as 30,000 feet.
In December, Atria will publish Mike Dowling’s Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog, about a bomb-sniffing German shepherd in Iraq who was a member of the first military working dog team sent to the front lines since the Vietnam War. Says editorial director Peter Borland, “What drew me to this book was the multidimensional relationship between Rex and Mike and their dedication to each other. When I reached the middle of the manuscript, I called the agent [George Lucas at Inkwell] and said, ‘If this dog dies at the end of the book, I’m never speaking to you again.’ Happy to report, George and I are still on speaking terms.” Hero Rex is now the oldest dog serving in the active military.
Another canine stars in Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him (Hyperion, May) by Luis Carlos Montalván, an Iraq vet whose service dog, Tuesday, helped him conquer severe post-traumatic stress disorder after he returned to New York City. The title hit the extended NYT bestseller list, proving associate publisher Kristin Kiser’s thesis: “Dogs are always ‘in.’ ” And the October Allen & Unwin title Saving Private Sarbi by Sandra Lee recounts the story of the Australian army’s most famous bomb detection dog, who was lost in Afghanistan for 13 months before being rescued by U.S. troops.