If the business of book publishing has its high points and low points, the category of pets and animals surely is among the former. This is not just because these titles sell strongly, backlist well and afford publishers niche opportunities and myriad special markets to draw upon. Just ask any publisher who deals with the category—it's all this and much more. Animals, like babies, tap into our most tender feelings, and otherwise cynical publishing types exude palpable delight when discussing their pet books.

"We're talking about love and joy and inspiration and quirkiness," says Workman editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin, referring to veterinary nurse Jenny Langbehn's 97 Ways to Make a Dog Smile (out this month), a "how-to" picture book that shows ways in which dog owners can rub, scratch, tickle, knead and otherwise delight their pooches. "Every step of the way the book brought joy to everyone involved," Bolotin reports. "For three days in a studio we made 60 dogs laugh. The world is crazy but the book will put a smile on your face."

Smiles were the order of the day during a recent Chronicle sales conference, when the reps—a notoriously difficult audience—reportedly applauded and cooed at Laurie Frankel's Funny Bunnies, a photography book about rabbit breeds. Says editor Leslie Jonath, "I'm incredibly excited to be publishing this book. There's nothing like it out there."

Other expressions of enjoyment are harder to convey: the discussions PW had with publishers about trends in the pet market had a warmer, livelier, more engaged quality than is often the case when other categories are discussed.

In addition to the warm fuzzies and feel-good sentiments, there's confidence that pet books are sound business investments. "The right book defies standard backlist decline," says Chronicle president and publisher Jack Jensen. "The books stay current. The proper title done well can backlist as strongly as a classic children's book."

Petting the Bottom Line

Among Chronicle's bestselling titles, its ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs has sold 200,000 copies, with the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats counting in at 150,000—both titles came out in 1999. Workman has sold more than a million and a half copies of Suzy Becker's All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat. Bulfinch has net sales of almost 150,000 for If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs by Valerie Shaff, with text by Roy Blount Jr., first published in hardcover in 1998 with a 20,000-copy first printing. (A trade paper edition is due out this month.) The book has been a bonanza in special markets, says special sales director Jean Griffin. "Specialty stores order on a non-returnable basis, so they don't order large to begin with, but they come back and back. We've sold thousands and thousands through Pottery Barn." She adds that customers are never reluctant to spend money on dogs. "If the book has the right feel, the right look, it sells."

Last October, Ballantine published Jeffrey Masson's The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart, a follow-up to his 1997 Crown title, Dogs Never Lie About Love. Emotional Lives has 78,000 copies in print after two trips to press, reports editor-in-chief Nancy Miller, adding, "We keep getting re-orders." It's doing so well that Ballantine is reissuing it in hardcover in November, concurrent with the publication of Masson's newest animal study, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, about the emotions of pigs, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and turkeys. According to Miller, "No one has made the leap before from animal emotions to the food we eat." Masson's first animal book, When Elephants Weep, published by Delacorte in 1995, garnered outstanding reviews and is credited with unleashing the kind of book that explores the inner lives of animals.

Even a book as offbeat as Ian Phillips's Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters from Around the World, published by Princeton Architectural Press, has sold 20,000 since it first appeared a year ago. A heart-rending paperback collection that elevates messages from distraught owners to the level of folk art, the book has been featured in the New York Times magazine, while a Japanese company has licensed the cover image of a dog to model a stuffed animal after it.

At the practical end of the publishing spectrum, Carol Lea Benjamin's Mother Knows Best, a dog-training book published by Howell Book House (now owned by Wiley), has sold more than 150,000 hardcover copies despite stiff competition for titles of this kind. Why Do Dogs Do That? from Bowtie Press, the book publishing division of Fancy Publications, has 140,000 copies in print; its feline companion, Why Do Cats Do That? trails only slightly behind. And the news gets better: the publisher's House-Training: Simple Solutions, released last July, is on track to outsell these existing top sellers, says marketing supervisor Kate Weaver. Sales of pet titles in general appear to be "trending up," according to Weaver, with dog books leading the pack. "However," she adds, "reptile books, especially leopard geckos, red-eared sliders and bearded dragons in our advanced vivarium systems line, are selling particularly well. And every spring, we see a sales increase for Rabbits: Complete Care Made Easy."

Barron's, too, sees growth in offbeat areas. "Five years ago," says marketing director Lonny Stein, "cat titles made up 15% of our list and were the second leading pet topic after dogs. Today cats account for only 9% of the list and have been passed by fish, exotics and birds." Recently published titles in these areas include books on prairie dogs, poison dart frogs and spiny-tailed agamids, a kind of blunt-nosed lizard. Pet book sales at Barron's were up 32% last year, primarily due to the opening of new distribution channels. The booming pet trade (pet stores and distributors) now represents 50% of Barron's sales—impressive growth from the mid-1980s, when the company entered this publishing arena with four titles. Two of the latest pooch publications are Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs by Colin Tennant (Apr.) and, coming in September, Doggy Fashion, a whimsical tome in which Alison Jenkins provides instructions for making 12 canine costumes—a couturière Coco Chanel, perhaps?

It's Reigning Dogs and Cats

The U.S. pet industry keeps growing and growing; estimates are that Americans will spend $31 billion dollars this year on their companion animals, up from $17 billion in 1994. The number of American households with pets was 63.4 million in 2000, about 47% of the total number of households. Dog ownership is the largest segment, at 40 million households; cats are next, with 34.7 million households, followed by freshwater fish (12.2 million), birds (6.9 million), "small animals" such as mice, rats and guinea pigs (5.5 million) and reptiles (4 million). These numbers come from a pet owner survey conducted in 2001 and 2002 by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a not-for-profit trade group.

Echoing the observations of book publishers, the survey also found that more dog owners than cat owners invest in reading material pertaining to their animals, though the numbers are in decline in both categories. (Only 20% of cat owners bought reading material in 2000, a drop of 13% in six years. With dog owners, the percentage buying reading material was 33%, a decent number but down from 42% six years earlier.)

What the survey doesn't touch on is the passion people feel for their pets, but it's exactly this reservoir of strong emotion that drives the acquisition and sales of pet titles. Among the books whose purpose is to explore the range of feelings pet owners feel toward their animals, several stand out for their poignancy. Second Chances: Tales of Strays Who Landed on Their Feet (Lyons Press, July) by Elise Lufkin with photos by Diana Walker is a collection of short pieces about people's experiences rescuing dogs from miserable existences. While the stories end happily, the depth of feeling from the people narrating their tales brings tears to the eyes. This is also true for The Man Who Talks to Dogs: The Story of America's Wild Street Dogs and Their Unlikely Savior by journalist Melinda Roth (St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, Dec. 2002), about St. Louis dog lover Randy Grim's efforts to save and find homes for hundreds of large street dogs.

Another title, Dog Stories (National Geographic, June) by Washington Post journalist Angus Phillips and National Geographic photographer Richard Olsenius, celebrates the bond between people and their dogs through photos and heartwarming vignettes. "The challenge to market this will be to make sure we communicate the essence of the book to a potentially huge and avid market," says marketing director Ruth Chamblee. "In general in the marketplace you're getting either gift-oriented books without a lot of serious content or you're getting text. This is a serious look at man's love affair with dogs."

Memoirs of living with a beloved canine companion almost always plumb the depths of interspecies friendship and tug at the heartstrings. In fact, notes publicity material from the Globe Pequot Press, this sort of book seems to be a definite growth industry in publishing. Globe itself is reissuing one such classic in paperback, Hal Borland's 1961 The Dog Who Came to Stay (Aug.) The dog in question, a rabbit hound, was one of two who showed up one stormy night at Borland's Connecticut farm and stayed on to become a member of the household. Lyons is also bringing out Spotted in France: A Goggle-Wearing, Scooter-Riding Dalmatian Traverses the Countryside (With His American Driver) by film and TV writer Gregory Edmont. In the words of editorial director Jay Cassell, "It's a really cool book."

Other entries in this often gripping category include For Bea: The Story of the Beagle Who Changed My Life (Tarcher, May), in which Kristin von Kreisler tells about the arrival into her life of an emotionally abused beagle, an animal that demonstrated to her that "even the smallest packages can deliver the power of love." Amazing Gracie, about the deaf, anorexic Great Dane that inspired the creation of the Kansas City—based Three Dog Bakery is just out in paper from Workman (the hardcover sold some 50,000 copies). And pooches become writers in a September Capital Books release—in Dear Kilroy: A Dog to Guide Us, Nora Vitz Harrison, a volunteer puppy-raising leader for Guide Dogs for the Blind, chronicles inspirational true stories via the "canine correspondence" between Kilroy and Riley.

Even celebrities are getting in on the canine action. In February, St. Martin's published The Gift of Jazzy, the uplifting true story of how a Yorkshire terrier showed noted columnist and Gotham socialite Cindy Adams that, in the publisher's words, "there's more to life than Park Avenue glamour." Says publicity manager Gregg Sullivan, "Cindy worked night and day promoting her book, resulting in a wave of national publicity and a surprise bestseller."

Though cat books are in temporary retreat (perhaps since the country's going to the dogs?), a few forthcoming cat titles need mentioning. Facsimile reprints of Beverley Nichols' Cats' A.B.C. (Apr.) and Beverley Nichols' Cats' X.Y.Z. (Sept.), are pet projects, so to speak, of the editors at Timber Press. (These are their first venture into pet books.) "Cats and flowers have played so large a part in my life that I can scarcely think of one without the other," Nichols writes in X.Y.Z., a meditation (as is A.B.C.) on his feline companions' charms, proper care and appreciation. "The books could be confused for children's books but they're not, " says editor Dale Johnson. "They're for anyone who loves cats and gardening."

Getting in TTouch with Your Cat by Linda Tellington-Jones (Trafalgar Square, Oct.) brings to the table the TTouch Method, known for its powers of healing, training and communicating. The method is Tellington-Jones's remedy for all kinds of physical and behavioral problems.

A problem of a different sort is humorously addressed in Bob Tarte's Enslaved by Ducks (Algonquin, Nov.), about how adopting a bunny led to a rather large menagerie of animals. "It's such a hilarious and moving book, like a cross between Bill Bryson and James Herriott," says publicity director Michael Taeckens. "The author's wife wanted a bunny, and about a year later their entire house became a zoo consisting of dozens of animals, including Stanley Sue, a gender-switching parrot, and Chloe, a mallard who learns to limp."

Sociology Enters the Picture

"You don't have to look at Amazon.com to see books about people's relationships with animals have been around a long time and are very popular," says Clinton Sanders, editor of Temple University Press's Animals, Culture and Society series, whose goal is to probe the complex relationship between people and animals. The newest title in the series, Janet and Steve Alger's Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter, published last month, is a study of the interactions between cats and their human caregivers at a no-kill shelter in Albany, N.Y. "There's a great deal of sociological activity in the area of human-animal interactions," says Sanders. "Dogs are not furry sofas. Sociologists, to their discredit, have advanced this view that because animals can't talk, they can't think. What we are trying to do is confront that basic view of animals within the context of their relationship with people."

As attitudes toward animals evolve, society as a whole no longer considers it trivial to try to understand domesticated creatures and our relationships with them. As this happens, more kinds of books become possible. The focus may be on dogs (with cats coming in second), but other animals garner their fair share of sympathetic listeners. Certainly Sonya Fitzpatrick tries to listen well—with four cats and seven dogs, she's clearly had practice. In What the Animals Tell Me (Berkley, Mar.), the Animal Planet's pet clairvoyant delves into the minds of many kinds of animals to uncover the root issues of the most common misbehaviors. Fitzpatrick has signed on for several more TV seasons, says editor Gail Fortune, and has a line of pet food coming to market in the fall.

Birds off the Perch : Therapy and Training for Your Pet Bird (Fireside Original) boasts an impressive authorship—Larry Lachman, an animal behavior consultant with a doctorate in clinical psychology; Diane Grindol, a companion bird consultant; and veterinarian Frank Kocher. This March release is billed as the first authoritative guide to treating common behavioral problems in birds of all species. "It's a great book if your bird has behavior problems, and apparently a lot do," says editor-in-chief Trish Todd. "The book is doing well. We've been pleasantly surprised. We bought the book thinking it was a niche title, and it is, but in a good way." Todd, who's the owner of a new puppy, mentions that she (like many other people she knows) went out and bought every dog book she could. "People buy multiple copies the way they do with baby books, to follow their puppy's development."

Niche publishing is where it's at in this category, notes Byron Preiss, president of iBooks, which is entering the pet mainstream with a series of single-subject, low-priced guides. The About Pets series, developed in conjunction with the Dutch publisher Over Dieren, targets younger readers and the kinds of pets they want to have. Sixteen titles are available now, with About Canaries, About Cats, About Iguanas and About Rhodesian Ridgebacks coming in June, each with access to free e-book versions of the book in English (vet Lisa Karyn Allen served as consultant; Simon & Schuster is distributing to the book trade). In Preiss's words, "Special markets like educational and non-pet mass market retailers are where the opportunities are."

Breed books, how-to manuals, health guides, picture books, pet memoirs and impulse titles of all kinds populate the shelves, but there's always room for more, according to the publishers PW spoke with. "You have to be selective," says Ballantine's Miller. "It's a crowded area on bookshelves. But with the right book there is an insatiable drive for books about cats and dogs in particular. There are so many pet owners, if you can reach through the mainstream media to targeted markets you can do fine. Booksellers too are very supportive with the right book."

One advantage to pet books, says Michele Pezzuti, associate editor at Contemporary Books/McGraw-Hill, is that the audience is clearly delineated. "That's a lot of the battle. When you do a pet book, there's no guesswork; you know who it's for." Pezzuti bought Woman's Best Friend: Choosing and Training the Dog That's Right for You by Babette Haggerty-Brennan (Sept.) because it was something new. "I've seen women choose the wrong dog and have it not work out," she says. "This book helps women figure out what they want a dog for, and then how to train it to fit the needs of their lifestyle." According to Pezzuti, having a clear sense of the audience helps everyone figure out every aspect of the book along the way. "And you don't have to pray the bookstore will take it. In this field there are other markets." (An additional "other market," not surprisingly, is the Internet—several publishers noted that pet owners constitute an unusually strong online community, one that can be targeted via promotional campaigns.)

Jon Katz, a longtime dog writer, will also be tackling the subject of "woman's best friend" in a forthcoming book, but meanwhile his newest, The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family, is due from Villard in May. Drawing his material from interviews, conversations and observations, Katz explores the ever greater burden placed on pet dogs to provide emotional and psychological support for their owners. ("I don't think it's coincidental that the explosion in the American dog population occurred at almost the same time that TV usage also began to skyrocket," he writes. "As Americans have grown transfixed by entertainment technologies, sociologists believe they've found it more difficult to make contact with other people"). The book's release coincides with the Random House trade paperback edition of A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me, Katz's account of his life with Labrador retrievers.

Our moral obligation to companion animals is explored in several other forthcoming titles. Lawyer Steven Wise, former president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, looks at pets such as dogs and African Grey parrots and muses over their rights in Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights (Basic Books, May). "We sold around 10,000 copies in hardcover and anticipate it will backlist well in paperback," says publicist Lissa Warren. And coming in September from Lantern, a New York City—based press dedicated to the environment, animals and animal rights comes Canines in the Classroom: The Making of a Humane Society Through Animal Interactions by Michelle Rivera.

"The pet partnership concept has been growing over the past eight to 10 years," says Dale Cunningham, executive editor at Howell Book House, "and part of this is the idea that pets share in human lifestyle interests. If I'm interested my pet will be too." Howell, which was founded by writer and dog show judge Elsworth Howell in 1961, is dedicated to books on all companion animals, with 323 titles in print evenly split between books for the pet owner and books for the enthusiast/fancier. The press caters to all kinds of pet needs, from the most practical to the most playful. In this latter category is D. Caroline Coile's Beyond Fetch: Fun, Interactive Activities For You and Your Dog (Mar.), which is predicated on the notion of pet partnership, i.e., dog owners and pets as equal playmates.

Travels with Fido

If pets are now family members, why shouldn't they come along on vacations? Despite the woes of the travel industry, traveling with pets, especially dogs, has increased, according to research findings passed along by AAA. Bill Wood, the company's director of product development, tells PW that the organization's guides have long noted which properties allow pets. That information began to be collated into regional guides some years ago and, beginning in 1998, into one national edition. Traveling with Your Pet—the AAA PetBook, now in its fifth edition, has become one of the company's top sellers, with annual printings in the 20,000-copy range. For quantitative proof about the rise in pet travel, Wood notes that the number of pet-friendly lodgings in the AAA database has increased by nearly 4% each year. Retail distribution has also grown, in-house to AAA club stores and to bookstores by Simon & Schuster.

Another pet travel line is also reaping the benefits of the pets as playmates concept: Avalon's Dog Lover's Companion series, which started in 1993 with The Dog Lover's Companion to the Bay Area, and keeps adding destinations to keep up with demand. The California Companion has become the bestselling title thus far: the fourth edition has already sold 15,000 copies, while the third racked up sales of 55,000 copies since last August. Coming in December is Margaret Littman's The Dog Lover's Companion to Chicago. "Californians were the first to take their dogs along, because it's an outdoor-oriented state, but we see this as a trend in more and more places," says associate publisher Donna Galassi, quoting findings from the Travel Industry of America that 29.1 million Americans traveled with their pet some time during the past three years; 78% of these pets were, of course, dogs.

Fulcrum's canine guides, which started as a one-book phenomenon in 1998 with Canine Colorado, are blossoming. "Canine Colorado is always front and center in Colorado bookstores," says editor-in-chief Marlene Blessing. "In Colorado, dogs seem to be as important as children." The second edition was published in 2001, with 35,000 copies in print of both editions. The numbers grow each year, Blessing says. With Canine Oregon (May), "we went into gear and realized we could do a series." Fulcrum is now looking to publish canine guides for additional Western states, where being outdoors—and being with your dog—is a big part of the attraction.

For the Neigh-Sayers

Had enough of dogs? A number of publishers tell us that horses are their, um, mane attraction. Hydra Publishing, a new press established by former DK publisher Sean Moore, will target impulses equestrian on its first list with The New Rider's Horse Encyclopedia by Elwyn Hartley Edwards (May). "In September we're publishing a kids' book, Fun with Horses and Ponies: Training, Riding, Grooming, and Games," says Moore. In the future we will do dogs and cats."

Lyons Press, too, counts horse books among its core titles. "The pet category is a growing area for us," says editorial director Jay Cassell. "It's a crowded field but you can do okay with well-considered titles. We do mostly horses and farm animals—a guesstimate is that pet books account for 20% of sales, if you count the horse titles. We have more than 60 of those on our list. Girls through teen years are the buyers; it's definitely a growing market."

To feed the hunger among horse lovers, Workman will publish Hold Your Horses: Nuggets of Truth for People Who Love Horses... No Matter What (July) by Bonnie Timmons, the Caroline in the City artist who tells of her childhood passion for horses and her development into a horse rider. "She developed her quirky cartooning style after falling off a horse and drawing from her bed," says Susan Bolotin. "Her book is like reading Black Beauty again—it will always bring pleasure. You can give it to your daughter and granddaughter. It can stay in print forever."

The dogs are barking to be heard again, but it's a fitting end to a look at the category, since dogs hold such sway over people's minds and hearts. Creative Publishing launched a Kids' FAQs series last month with Marty Crisp's Everything Dog: What Kids Really Want to Know. Based on real questions from kids, the book poses such queries as What's its tail for? How come my dog never seems to watch TV with me? and Can dogs remember stuff? (Fear not: Everything Cat will follow in the fall.)

On a more sophisticated level, Bulfinch expects to make a splash with 101 Salivations: For the Love of Dogs (Oct.), a sleek photo book by New Zealand photographer Rachel Hale. "The book will do for dogs what Anne Geddes did for babies," predicts associate publisher Karen Murgolo. "People love dog books. They represent sweet innocence when the rest of life is so difficult."

"Rescuing" dogs is a concept currently in vogue, and one obvious place to do so is at the local shelter. In Successful Dog Adoption (Howell House, Sept.) Sue Sternberg, a dedicated expert in the shelter world, guides potential adopters through the process so they can end up with the perfect pooch. According to Cunningham, "Over the past 10 years there's been a 2% increase in dog ownership and a 37% incidence of increase in dog bites." The reasons are complex, she explains, but one of them is the reluctance of some shelters to euthanize problem dogs. HBO has plans to air a special about the life of Sue Sternberg next January.

Several canine anthologies are coming in the fall. Herd on the Street: Animal Stories from the Wall Street Journal, edited by Ken Wells (S&S/Wall Street Journal Books, Dec.), is a collection of more than 50 animal stories (granted, not all of them are about dogs) from the newspaper's famous middle-column human interest stories. Ballantine's Our Dogs: A Century of Words and Images from the AKC Gazette (Nov.), a volume of writing and photos culled from the flagship publication of the AKC, celebrates the lasting bonds between dogs and the owners who love them. And Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World's Oldest Friendship by the editors of The Bark (Crown, Sept.), delights in all things canine. (The book's title is in fact The Bark's motto.) According to publisher Steve Ross, part of the appeal of dogs is that they aren't cats. "Dogs let it all hang out," he says. "People are increasingly interested in understanding the relationship between them and us. We are particularly excited about the Bark book, because it explores so many different areas in the finely crafted prose of so many good writers." The announced first printing for Dog is 30,000 copies. Editors of Bark will be involved in promoting the book, and some of the writers will do local publicity.

The challenge in pet publishing, Ross notes, is that each book has to contribute something new. "Pet book readers are pretty sophisticated. They are immersed in the genre. Rehashes don't do it." The field is not too crowded in terms of high-quality books, he says "It's a genre that has more room to grow, especially as writers and thinkers from the sciences and humanities turn their attention to dogs, and readership turns its attention to new ideas."