Dog’s-eye view a page-turner

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Yes, I’m back here today. It’s not be­cause I’ve irked the books ed­i­tor. I know for a fact he tries to make the fi­nal page as good as the first. It’s so I have space to run a hand­ful of pho­tos from some books about an­i­mals, ahead of World An­i­mal Day this com­ing Wed­nes­day.

There’s a lot of sad­ness in an­i­mal sto­ries. Think of Bambi, for starters. So let’s start with a cheer­ful book, The Ex­tra­or­di­nary Life of Pikelet (Ebury Press, 234pp, $29.99). The first-time au­thor is Pikelet But­ter­wig­gle Stoll, though his “ma” Cal­ley Gib­son re­ceives front-cover credit for typ­ing the man­u­script. Pikelet’s life is in­deed an ex­tra­or­di­nary one. We first meet him, aged just five weeks, in a Syd­ney pound, a place where the story so of­ten ends badly.

“As cage doors opened we would all hold our breath with un­cer­tainty,’’ Pikelet re­mem­bers of his time in ca­nine de­ten­tion. “Some dogs would turn right, to­wards the doors of free­dom. Sadly, some poor pups would turn left with a pound at­ten­dant, to­ward the big grey doors of no re­turn. Last liv­ing mo­ments ly­ing on a cold metal ta­ble.” That we are read­ing a book by Pikelet is be­cause he was able to turn right, into the arms of new owner Cal­ley.

His life with her and her part­ner Brad Stoll has in­cluded lots of ca­nine — and in one case porcine — foster sib­lings. Pikelet has be­come a bit of an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion. He looks like an Amer­i­can stafford­shire ter­rier, though on his Face­book page his per­sonal in­for­ma­tion sta­tus reads “It’s com­pli­cated”.

His book is full of sweet, hu­mor­ous sto­ries. Pikelet may be a celebrity now but he tries to stay down to earth.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,’’ he says. “You won’t hear a sin­gle com­plaint from me. (Okay, maybe a few ’ cause I have #first­world­dog­prob­lems.)” There are lots of won­der­ful, lov­ing pho­tographs, even of the lit­tle pig who pokes her snout into, well, ev­ery­thing.

When it comes to pigs, the best re­cent book is Es­ther the Won­der Pig: Chang­ing the World One Heart at a Time, but I have writ­ten about it be­fore, so today I want to note two more se­ri­ous books, both of which fea­ture Es­ther’s com­pa­tri­ots on the cover. The In­ner Life of An­i­mals (Bod­ley Head, 281pp, $29.99) is by Ger­man forester turned ecol­o­gist turned writer Peter Wohlleben, who had a global hit with his pre­vi­ous book, The Hid­den Life of Trees. Wohlleben, in en­gag­ing, non-aca­demic fash­ion, essen­tially makes the ar­gu­ment that all an­i­mals, from the al­most in­vis­i­ble to the gi­ant, are ca­pa­ble of thoughts and feel­ings.

His sec­tion on slime mould is fas­ci­nat­ing. I, for one, will never eat slime mould again. And that is more or less Wohlleben’s point. He is not di­dac­tic but he would like us to think a bit more about what we eat. In short, chatty chap­ters he as­cribes ev­ery emo­tion and feel­ing to an­i­mals. “Evo­lu­tion is not the sin­gle-track process we some­times think — or maybe hope — it is.’’ And where the sci­ence has yet to de­cide, he thinks, “if there’s any doubt, why don’t we adapt the prin­ci­ple of ‘in­no­cent un­til proven guilty’? ... wouldn’t it be bet­ter to give an­i­mals the ben­e­fit of the doubt, to be sure that they are not suf­fer­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily?”

Wohlleben has a stir­ring chap­ter on pigs, mak­ing the point that if we un­der­stood how in­tel­li­gent and so­cial they were, we’d be less keen on ba­con. “If peo­ple knew what kind of an­i­mal they had on their plate, many would com­pletely lose their ap­petite. We al­ready know this from pri­mates: could any of us eat an ape?”

Yes, we could, as Amer­i­can an­thro­pol­o­gist Bar­bara J. King de­tails in Per­son­al­i­ties on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of An­i­mals We Eat (Univer­sity of Chicago Press, 229pp, $49.99 hard­back). In a chap­ter ti­tled Chim­panzees, King con­sid­ers the trade in bush­meat, which is mainly in Africa but ex­tends, via il­le­gal ex­ports, to restau­rants in cities such as Paris. Bush­meat refers to free-rang­ing for­est and sa­vanna an­i­mals killed, usu­ally il­le­gally, for food. This in­cludes mon­keys and apes, and she opens the chap­ter with a har­row­ing story of a 15-year-old na­tional park chimp poached in Cote d’Ivoire.

She quotes a lo­cal bi­ol­o­gist: “What an ab­surd, crim­i­nal waste of a life for just one meal.’’ King con­tin­ues: “… it’s fair to say that hu­man con­sump­tion of chim­panzees is a prac­tice not all that far re­moved from the can­ni­bal­ism we hu­mans oc­ca­sion­ally prac­tise on each other”. Yet, in strong schol­arly style, she notes that the eat­ing of bush­meat is more cul­tur­ally A Guinea Pig Romeo & Juliet; A Wom­bat in My Drawer;

The Ex­tra­or­di­nary Life of Pikelet com­plex. This is a drier book than Wohlleben’s, but well worth read­ing.

OK, back to the cheer­ful. Ros Al­mond’s A Wom­bat in My Drawer (Af­firm Press, 139pp, $19.99) is a de­light­ful col­lec­tion of sto­ries and pho­tos of un­usual an­i­mal bed­fel­lows, and of an­i­mals who find them­selves in un­usual beds, such as the tit­u­lar wom­bat, Kenny. My 12-year-old son and I loved this book. Our favourite sto­ries in­clude The Emus Who Think They’re Peo­ple, The Emu Who Thinks She’s a Cow, The Emu Who Thinks He’s a Horse and … well, we could go on. We like the labrador puppy and chee­tah cub raised to­gether at Taronga Zoo, and we are su­per-fond of Swino the wild pig who does a David Boon and drinks 18 beers (though not on a flight to Lon­don for an Ashes se­ries).

Speak­ing of mam­mals be­hav­ing strangely, I don’t know what it took to con­vince ro­dents to do Shake­speare in A Guinea Pig Romeo & Juliet (Blooms­bury, 66pp, $16.99 hard­back) but I ap­plaud their work, es­pe­cially the phys­i­cal com­edy of the nurse. I also like that the pub­lisher’s blurb bills this book as “Shake­speare’s clas­sic … re­told in an en­tirely new way”. Now, there’s some truth in ad­ver­tis­ing!

Small NSW pub­lisher Ex­isle has put out three pic­ture books for an­i­mal lovers, Woof, Meow (no prizes for guess­ing their in­hab­i­tants) and Spirit, which is about horses. In each the left-hand page is a photo, the right-hand page a quote, of­ten from some­one fa­mous. So op­po­site a strik­ing photo of a blue-eyed husky, for ex­am­ple, GK Ch­ester­ton de­clares: “His name is not Thurs­day.” (Jok­ing! The real quote is: “I al­ways like a dog so long as he isn’t spelled back­wards.”) Woof and Meow are $14.99, Spirit is a $29.99 hard­back.

I want to fin­ish by not­ing other books I skimmed through. Lau­ren Fern Watt’s Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life With a Very Large Dog and Dion Leonard’s Find­ing Gobi: The True Story of a Lit­tle Dog and an In­cred­i­ble Jour­ney are feel-good sto­ries about dogs who make life bet­ter for their own­ers in dif­fi­cult times.

An­thony Hill’s up­dated edi­tion of An­i­mal He­roes is about the an­i­mals who work be­side Aus­tralian sol­diers, in­clud­ing of course Jack Simp­son’s Don­key. Guy Barter’s How Do Worms Work? quadru­pled (at least) my knowl­edge as a worm raiser and gar­dener.

And, fi­nally, I also learned a lot from Laura Vis­sari­tis’s ca­nine be­hav­iour man­ual Dog­ni­tive Ther­apy, not least when Jack — my English stafford­shire ter­rier mate, who was sprawled on me as I read — pointed out the sub­ti­tle: To Change Your Dog’s Be­hav­iour, First You Must Change Your Own.

IF WE UN­DER­STOOD HOW IN­TEL­LI­GENT AND SO­CIAL PIGS WERE, WE’D BE LESS KEEN ON BA­CON

Woof: A book of hap­pi­ness for dog lovers; Per­son­al­i­ties on the Plate asks the can­ni­bal­ism ques­tion; the ro­dents have com­edy cov­ered in of the star

and Pork Chop and Pikelet lap up their free­dom in

Clock­wise from main: a hound and words of wis­dom from

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