Pukka\’s Promise

The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs
by Ted Kerasote

After Merle, was Pukka. This was not a dog chosen lightly, or found by chance. Kerasote wanted a dog very much like Merle- he figured out Merle must have been a yellow lab/hound cross, and found people breeding such dogs and selected a puppy. After meticulously examining the genetic history of the parent dogs- because he wanted a dog with maximum lifespan and health. Once he brought the new puppy Pukka home, he taught it the same lessons Merle had learned- how to recognize spoken words, basic commands and good behavior. This dog was also let free to roam once the author felt he could handle himself among older dogs and stay within safe range (closely bonded to his owner). While he had picked a dog as close to Merle as he could get in looks and breed, Pukka had a slightly different temperament and his own personality, of course- so he had to approach a few things in new ways. The story of their relationship and how Pukka grew into his own dog, learning everything from how to navigate social life among neighborhood dogs that were all older and bigger than him, to the distinct difference between flushing birds and creeping up on elk while hunting to supply meat for their freezer- makes for a pretty good read.

It is all interspersed with Kerasote\’s personal, in-depth research into all the various factors that affect the quality of life for dogs. He really goes all-out with this. He travels the country to interview veterinarians and researchers. He looks into what goes into dog food, how vaccines affect some animals adversely, why spaying and neutering is the norm when other sterilization methods are available (and why they might be better in some cases), environmental toxins dogs are exposed to, why so many of them get cancer, the prevalence of diseases and health conditions among certain breeds, why leashed dogs have different behavior than free-roaming dogs (which are definitely the minority, not everybody lives in a rural, remote area like this guy), etc. He goes to a rendering plant and a pet-food manufacturer to see for himself how commercial food is made. He visits animal shelters to learn how population problems are being addressed, he interviews breeders to see what they think about the narrowing gene pool (and detrimental effects of breeding for looks instead of functionality), and so on. Sometimes it gets pretty dense with the scientific info, other parts of the book are so anecdotal you can\’t really draw a conclusion. It\’s a lot of food for thought. He had me looking up plenty of things I\’d never heard about, or knew little of, including the silken windhound (a new dog breed) and spotted knapweed.

The main reason I gave this book three stars instead of four, was because I was constantly put off by how the author put words in his dog\’s mouth. Of course he constantly talked to the dog, but then he wrote what he thought the dog was replying with its gestures and vocalization- in words, with quotation marks. I found this a bit off-putting. I would have much rather just read the description of the dog\’s actions and surmised for myself what it may have been communicating. It made it a bit hard to take the whole book seriously.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           452 pages, 2013

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