My review of Pukka’s Promise: Interesting read and containing important truths about dog care

Grand Tetons at Sunset
Visiting the Grand Tetons in 2011.

I just finished the book Pukka’s Promise, written by a dog owner in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, whose research on prolonging the lives of dogs literally takes him all over the globe.  In many ways he leads a charmed life, living on the outskirts of Yellowstone Park and enjoying front row views of the Grand Tetons, majestic and towering mountains that pierce the deep blue sky with their curiously jagged appearance.  The kind of life I wish I could someday live, though I would probably prefer to be just a little bit closer to civilization.The book meanders back and forth between regaling us with anecdotes of his adventures with Pukka (and how he eventually came to find him) and a recounting of interviews with dog experts, touring facilities where dog food are made, visiting shelters, rendering plants, veterinarian hospitals, universities, breeders and more, clearly going above and beyond to sift through and dig out as much knowledge as he could find that could unlock the secrets of how we could increase the lifespan of dogs.

Much of what he concluded mirrored my own thoughts and suspicions regarding some of the myths out there regarding dog care, but it was nice to see my views confirmed by a well studied dog owner who clearly did his homework.

As thick as the book was, the conclusions could actually be condensed to a single paragraph:  choose the parents of the dog you want wisely (by exploring their pedigree and learning about important factors suchs as the coefficient of breeding), keeping the dog away from environmental pollutants (such as PFCs), providing excellent nutrition (a mostly carnivorous diet as natural, low glycemic and grain-free as possible), avoid over-vaccinations, and lastly, look for alternatives to neutering and spaying.

That last point is the one that surprised me, as I always presumed sterilization improved the overall health of dogs and reduces the risk of disease.  As it turns out, the actual truth may be a bit more muddy.  While spaying/neutering reduces the risk of certain cancers relating to the sex organs, it actually increases the risk of other diseases such as hypothyroidism.

It seems the push to neuter/spay dogs is really more about population control than it is about their health.  I always thought neutering/spaying whatever dog I owned would be a given, but now I’m not so sure, especially in light of the fact that there are alternatives to preventing unwanted breeding, such as tubal ligations.  In the case of tubal ligations for female dogs, it is unable to procreate but still retains its sex hormones, hormones that a slowly growing number of studies indicate might actually improve the dog’s overall health.  At the very least, the debate on this wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as I originally thought.

Overall I definitely recommend this book for dog owners, even if the author did have a tendency to anthropomorphize his dog to an almost absurd degree.  Roughly 1/3 of the book revolves around conversations he has with Pukka, and yet as weird as it is, I kinda get it.  Humans are social creatures as well, and even the most introverted of us need to connect with others for the benefit of our health (which means I’m probably not long for this earth).  In the absence of people who are either too incompatible or too busy, I could understand why it would be so easy to fill the void left by the lack of human bonding with the one thing that has all the time in the world for us: dogs.

If I wound up doing the same thing (and let’s not kid ourselves, we all know I will), I’m ok with it, provided that at the end of the day I understand that I am in fact talking to a DOG, and in the best interest of its health it still needs to be treated for what it is.

Remembering my dog days

Well, considering we’re into the dog days of summer, seems fitting that I started reminiscing about the dogs I used to have in my life, and it occurred to me that in all my years, I’ve never actually had a dog that I was particularly close to.  For one reason or another no emotional bond ever developed with any of the dogs I knew, at least to the extent that I could understand why they were called “man’s best friend.”  It all started with the very first dog I can remember from my childhood, a generic looking mutt that my maternal grandparents had named “Biscuit.”  And while it belonged to my grandparents, my mom often dog-sitted for them, so it spent a lot of time at my home as well.

This dog… seriously, will disappear like Jimmy Hoffa as soon as you dropped the leash.   Not even give you any time to react, just *POOF* and instantly gone like the wind.  We couldn’t even keep it in the front yard with our sturdy chain link fence, because she could expertly climb right over it and then bolt for destinations unknown.  We used to spend HOURS a day looking for her, and when we’d finally find her she’d start playing a game of chicken that had us zigzagging halfway around the neighborhood until we could finally put the leash on her.

Forget about playing fetch too.  Toss her a ball and she’ll run and get it… and then never come back.  She could be sweet otherwise, but at the same time she always seemed distracted and not really focused on me… nor anyone else in my family for that matter.  At the tender age of 5 or so I remember thinking I just wanted a dog that would never leave my side, and would always want to play with me and shower me with affection.  You know, everything Biscuit wasn’t.

It would be a few years before my parents would finally get a dog of their own, I think partly because shedding and allergies was a concern, so when the time finally came to bring a dog into our lives, my parents narrowed it down to a male poodle we found at one of the local animal shelters.

Now THIS particular dog wanted to hump everything in sight.  Seriously, it didn’t matter what it was.  NOTHING WAS SACRED OR SAFE.  Even after it got neutered too.  I don’t remember much else about the dog except that shortly after it was fixed, it turned incredibly violent and viciously bit my father’s hand one day (which in hindsight, is probably the best thing it ever did).  Sadly, it had to be put down, and despite not being particularly close to the dog, my mom and I took it very hard.  I was around ten at the time, but that was the last time we ever had a dog of our own.

A divorce and a few years later, we moved into my stepdad’s house, and his parents had a dog named “Whisky.”  I think this dog was picked out as a pup by my stepsister if I remember right, and Whisky was another one who regarded me as one of her peasants rather than a member of the family.  She was pampered silly by my stepdad’s parents, and spent most of her time living upstairs with them.  Occasionally she would come down to sniff here and there, and when she did I’d try to pet or play with her, at least when she could manage to sit still for 30 seconds.  Every time I did pet her, she would react quite affectionately… by urinating on me, and then happily prancing right back upstairs with not a care in the world.

I hated that dog.  To me it exemplified everything that I utterly despised about my stepfamily: self-absorbed, cold, emotionally distant and mentally unstable narcissists (sans my stepdad, who was the one good apple in a completely rotten bunch).  I know it wasn’t the dog’s fault, but she had become an unwitting sponge absorbing all the ugly traits of her owners.

During those days I was ready to give up and conclude all of God’s creatures would always hate me, and I probably would have too, were it not for a cat that suddenly showed up out of the blue at our doorstep one day.  Apparently it had made the decision of deeming us worthy to be its new caretakers, and refused to leave until we took it in.  For the first time in many years, we had a pet again.  A few days or so after the cat’s arrival, Whisky (otherwise known as Queen Sheba-Dog of the mighty suburban jungle) came downstairs as usual and started sniffing around until it noticed we had a new resident.  So she waltzes up to the cat for a good sniff, and the cat regards Whisky for maybe 2 or 3 seconds… and then rips into her face with her claws.  The dog SCREECHED like the little weenie sissy dog it was and BOLTED right back upstairs.  At that point I don’t think it ever came down again, at least not indoors.  Teh Kitteh now ruled the jungle.

I think that’s when the worm finally started to turn.  At last an animal had taken my side and become my ally and my friend.  Indeed, whenever I was sad or depressed, Teh Kitteh was always there to comfort me.  Somehow she just knew when she needed to be around to keep me company.  I was in a truly dark place then, but my cat (and it was indeed MY cat) proved herself a true companion who helped me get through it all.

It’s been over a decade since Teh Kitteh’s passing, and while I never did have occasion to own another dog or cat since then, I noticed my encounters with animals have become much more amiable over the years (except for slugs and ticks, which I will always hate with death’s hatred).  Almost every time I saw a dog in public now it would look at me and practically smile.  I remember the first time I noticed it too: while on vacation a few years back, I visited a stable to go horse riding, and a labrador mix lumbered up to me and started showering me with affection like I was the bestest friend it ever had.  I was 27 years old, and yet that was the FIRST time I had an experience with a dog like that.  Sheesh, where WERE these dogs hiding my whole life???  It’s funny, because as brief and random such moments with these awesome dogs would be, I can still remember them fondly because they stood in such stark contrast to my experiences as a child.

Still, in spite of the dark cloud that seems to have been lifted in my relationship with the dog kingdom, I wonder if I’ll ever have another real opportunity to emotionally bond with a dog and enjoy the kind of canine friendship I’ve always yearned for.

Or maybe I’ll just get another cat.

Yeah, I’m still on the dog thing…

When I think about owning a dog, I envision us spending time together like so:

Jesse Stone with Dog on Bus
Only thing missing from this picture is the Stetson.

Ah, Jesse Stone, a man after mine own heart.  He’s even got the brooding “I hate the world and everything in it” look down pat.  Aside from the loner lifestyle and pretty much the most perfect house a guy could ever ask for (and by perfect I mean rustic, broken down, cheap and way out in the boonies), he’s also got a dog that he takes everywhere.  Literally, EVERYWHERE.  It goes with him to work, home, on patrol, the supermarket, and in the above particular instance, on a bus trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The dog rarely barks, never misbehaves, and is content to sit or lie down quietly for extended periods of time.  The perfect travel companion.

Where can I find a dog like this?

Of course real life won’t be quite as accommodating, as I rather doubt they’ll let me keep my dog at work, nor would I be able to travel the way I usually do, which is usually to stay at snobby 4 star hotels where I ring the bellhop for no other reason than just because I can.  I’d suddenly have to become intimately familiar with every pet friendly hotel chain out there, while researching how I can bring the dog along on flights, if I can even bring him at all.  Kennels would be out of the question, so I’d have to leave it with a friend.  Too bad I don’t have any.

Still, it’s a nice idea being able to take the dog with me on the road, and presuming I have a well behaved one, I’d just have to plan my trips more carefully and accept the necessity of forgoing some of the perks and convenience of pet-free travel.  I think ultimately the trade-offs would be worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a ton of Dog Whisperer books and TV episodes I need to go read and watch.

Going to the dogs (Can a single man successfully care for a doggie?)

I’ve always wanted a dog.  Not just A dog though, but a Siberian Husky.  There’s just something about owning a wolf-like dog that would be one step closer to fulfilling the lifelong fantasy of living in a cabin in the mountains, man’s best friend cozily stretched out near the fireplace, while the world’s best cappuccino machine chugs away in the kitchen.  Hey, a cabin tucked away in a valley somewhere doesn’t mean I’m not without my creature comforts, ya know.

The only thing is, the kind of dog suitable for my current lifestyle needs to be one with the mind of a… cat.  One that wouldn’t get lonely while I’m working, because it pretty much slept the whole day, and one perfectly content with the confines of a dinky apartment (at least until said cabin is eventually purchased.)  You know, the exact opposite of what would keep a Siberian Husky happy.

Siberian Husky Puppy
Hoooosa prettypuppy? Hooooooosaaaaa pretttypuppppy???

I wonder how apartment dwelling single folks do it.  Most dogs are social creatures and can’t be left alone all day, so sans pet-sitting 5 days a week, the only other solution to avoid this is getting a second dog, which is already starting to complicate things more than I’d like.  (Plus TWO dogs in a small apartment? Ehhhhh…)

So if I’m to get a dog now, it’d have to be a breed more suitable to my current living conditions.  And no, I ain’t getting a toy dog.

Siberian Husky Eats Cookie

Ultimately, I think I need to focus on a career change rather than wring my hands over what kind of dog I could manage to take care of.  One that allows me to stay at home while I work, which incidentally would not only make it possible to care for a dog and keep it happy, but allow me to get OUT OF THIS STATE ONCE AND FOR ALL too.

I see a picture in my mind of the near perfect life complete with doggie woggie, but it looks like it will all have to first start with finding  a new job in a new state, preferably one with lots of mountains.

Siberian Husky chills out on lawn
A young Siberian I came across while sightseeing in Telluride, Colorado
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