The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

Look, I find it as hard to be­lieve as you do, but we can only sub­mit to the dic­tate of the cal­en­dar: it’s De­cem­ber. With that in mind I want to men­tion pos­si­ble gift books, start­ing this week with ones on beasts (reg­u­lar ones, not JK Rowl­ing ones). My house­hold in­cludes two: black labrador Bella, who is almost 11, and more-or-less dingo Scout, who is five. Well, it’s now a tri­umvi­rate thanks to the ar­rival of Jack, a two-year-old English stafford­shire ter­rier.

I can say the fol­low­ing only be­cause Bella and Scout ig­nore this col­umn: Jack is the cutest dog in the world. Ed­u­cat­ing him on be­ing dog No 3 is a fas­ci­nat­ing process, particularly as he has a jaw that could crush a lamp­post. Bella is the se­nior dog, he’s told, and so first in line when snacks are handed out and so on.

As with all learn­ing, books are ben­e­fi­cial. When I showed Jack What the Dog Knows (Scribe), he noted the cover pho­to­graph was not of him but a dark lab. The au­thor of this en­joy­able, il­lu­mi­nat­ing, funny book on how dogs per­ceive the world is an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist with an an­ti­thet­i­cal name: Cat War­ren. She also works with ca­daver dogs, and the chap­ter on how US au­thor­i­ties have tri­alled dif­fer­ent breeds to find dead bod­ies, and live bombs, is in­for­ma­tive and hi­lar­i­ous. As an aside she men­tions that at one point her name­sakes were trained as bomb de­tec­tors and proved ex­cel­lent at it. How­ever there was a cru­cial, glo­ri­ously fe­line snag: they could find bombs with aplomb but wouldn’t deign to tell hu­mans about them. “Cats were ex­cluded … be­cause of their demon­strated re­fusal to co-op­er­ate con­sis­tently in joint ven­tures with man.”

While we’re on the mog­gies, Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Seth Cas­teel, who had a hit with the su­perb Un­der­wa­ter Dogs, has now pro­duced Pounce (Ha­chette), a col­lec­tion of colour snapshots of cats, well, pounc­ing. To my eye it’s just cats with their claws out (and I like cats), but I’m sure it will be pop­u­lar. Bris­banebased an­i­mal pho­tog­ra­pher Ken Drake has pub­lished the charm­ing Paw­traits (New Hol­land), which is full of hounds hog­ging the cam­era. I like the one of a blue cattle dog (no doubt named Red) caught lick­ing the face of a red cattle dog (no doubt named … well, you know). An­other Aus­tralian art book is Pup Art by wife-and-hus­band team Gil­lie and Marc (gillie­and­ I adore the French bull­dog com­plaisant amid chewed crois­sants. This canine trib­ute to pop art is ex­quis­ite. It’s also ex­pen­sive at $120, but then that would buy only about 4 per cent of a Frenchie.

Speak­ing of costs, now that I have three dogs, tak­ing them on hol­i­days is even harder. Who scores the front seat? So I’m keen to see Gareth Brock’s Pets on Hol­i­day (Hardie Grant, Fe­bru­ary), billed as “the ul­ti­mate cu­rated guide to Aus­tralia’s most pet-in­clu­sive destinations”.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart An­i­mals Are? (Granta), by Dutch pri­ma­tol­o­gist Frans de Waal, is an absorbing book that will make you re­think an­i­mal in­tel­li­gence. Why, for ex­am­ple, do we link in­tel­li­gence to an an­i­mal’s will­ing­ness to do what we tell it to do? To end with the pick of the lit­ter: It Hap­pened Off the Leash (Af­firm Press), edited by Mel­bourne nov­el­ist Paddy O’Reilly. This “cel­e­bra­tion of our best friends” in­cludes con­tri­bu­tions from writ­ers such as Sonya Hart­nett, Favel Par­rett, Robert Des­saix, Toni Jor­dan, De­bra Ade­laide, Ellen van Neer­ven, Da­mon Young and John Clarke, who re­mem­bers a dog that could spell. The es­says are mainly light-hearted though Phillip Adams’s child­hood rec­ol­lec­tion is har­row­ing. There are 11 chap­ters that group dogs by na­ture, from Ma­ni­acs to Pro­tec­tors to Es­capol­o­gists, and nice pho­tos. I’m re­as­sured by the one of David As­tle, aka crossword com­piler DA, and his dog, who has his back­side planted on one of the de­vi­ous hu­man’s black and white grids. And no treats for guess­ing who bril­liantly opens the Ma­ni­acs chap­ter. Andy Grif­fiths of course.

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