Between The Covers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, August 2020 Issue.

The tail’s like a clock pendulum, and you know what that means.

Your dog needs something, and you’re going to get it for him because, after all, he makes you happy, so you’ll return the favor any time. Only the best for your best friend, your baby, your fur kid, your helper — but how do you know when he’s finally happy? In Wag by Zazie Todd, you’ll see how science is not just for the lab.

Treats, toys, food, and water. You make sure your dog is covered in those categories and all should be well. He has a nice place to sleep. He has windows to the outside world. What else could a dog want?

Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy by Zazie Todd, foreword by Dr. Marty Becker
c.2020, Greystone Books $19.95 / $26.95 Canada 304 pages

Fifty-five years ago, a U.K. firm developed a report called The Five Freedoms and though it originally applied to farm animals, Zazie Todd says that it’s a good list for dogs, too. It states that animals should have freedom from thirst and hunger, freedom from physical discomfort, freedom from illness, freedom from fear, and freedom to exhibit normal behavior. These might seem like simple things but, says Todd, science can help enhance whatever efforts you put forth to make them a reality.

Having a happy dog starts by getting the right dog for you. Though it’s tempting to gravitate toward dog-of-the-moment, ignore movie and pop culture influences. Be realistic about the dog you’re thinking about bringing home.

As for training, the first thing to know is that reward-based methods work better than do aversion methods. Make things fun for you and your dog and reward good behavior, rather than punishing the actions you don’t want; Todd herself uses Push Drop Stick rules to teach her two dogs.

By using science, you can help lessen (or even eliminate) fears that your dog might have. You’ll understand why play is essential for a pup’s well-being, and how to create a great relationship between dogs and kids. With science, you’ll know that your dog loves you. And when it’s time for the end of a doggo’s life, it can help you cope.

When you think of science, white coats and Bunsen burners probably come to mind, not squeaky toys and kibble. Wag changes all that, in a most delightful way.

At first brush, it might appear that this is just another book about canine behavior, but that’s not so. Author Zazie Todd adds her (human) social psychologist background to her training skills to look at things with a dog’s mind in mind, which leads to many AHA! moments for dog devotees who are up for a little experimentation. Even if this information’s been right in front of your muzzle all along, there are still fresh takeaways.

Some of those nuggets are buried, like juicy bones, inside Todd’s own experiences with her two dogs, her cats, and her family that loves them, and those bits will charm you. They serve as further teaching moments and glue to hold the scientific lessons together, all which helps to make Wag a pretty informative tail tale.

The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
c.2019, Little, Brown and Company $17.99 / $23.49 Canada 32 pages

What can you see outside your window?

Take a look: trees, cars, people, other buildings, things you can touch. And those things you can’t see? As in the new book, The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff,you still know they’re out there, right?

It was a Friday and school was over for the week, which made all the other kids excited, but Zack was sad. He just wanted to go home, although he wasn’t sure why. Jojo wasn’t there. Jojo wouldn’t be there anymore.

Jojo had been Zack’s best friend for a long time. They played games together and slept in the same room, they loved to go hiking, “and when the moon was full, they howled together as it smiled down upon them.” Life was best with Jojo, and though Mom and Dad told Zack that when the time was right, they could adopt another dog, Zack wouldn’t listen. No other dog would ever be as good as Jojo. Not. Ever.

The only person who seemed to understand was Zack’s friend, Emily. She’d lost her cat, Roxie, a while ago and she told Zack how much she cried when it happened. And then she told him “the very best news ever!”

It was a secret that her grandpa told her: when a pet dies, it’s still connected to you by an “invisible leash,” You can’t see it but “it’s the realest thing in the whole wide world,” Emily said. It “connects our hearts to each other. Forever.”

Zack thought that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard! How could there be a leash that connected him to who-knows-where when Jojo was gone? Jojo hated leashes, and he knew that Roxie was never, ever leashed.

But Emily kept talking. The Invisible Leash, she said, connects all animals to their people, from beyond to here and back. When you miss one another, she said, you’ll feel the tug on the leash. You’ll know that your pet is with you because the tug feels “like love.”

And if you’re not crying now, your soul is made of ice.

That’s one of the odder things about The Invisible Leash: while the story here is a major comfort for children who’ve experienced the loss of a pet, it’s one powerfully emotional book for the adult who’s likewise lost the animal.

Author Patrice Karst presents a concept that kids will eagerly (and easily) grasp, one that doesn’t feel one bit impossible for a child who’s used to worlds of pretend and imaginary beings. It helps that Zack and Emily are Every Kid, and that quiet delights are hidden-not-hidden inside the artwork by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Those things help start the healing as you read aloud.

That is, if you can stop sobbing yourself. Yes, it’s that kind of book.

As a companion to Karst’s The Invisible String, this story is perhaps best for kids ages 5-9, or for an adult who needs to read it. Find The Invisible Leash, but see to it that you bring tissues, too.

Half Broke: A Memoir by Ginger Gaffney
c.2020, Norton $25.95 / $34.95 Canada 272 pages

The last time you went riding, the weather was perfect.

Did you notice that? Or were you thinking about something, some niggling issue, a thorny problem that needed to be solved from the back of a saddle? They say that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. In Half Broke by Ginger Gaffney, the same goes for the inside of a woman.

She knew she wasn’t going to get paid for the job.

That was fine. Ginger Gaffney had a calendar full of work that paid the bills for the small homestead she and her partner shared. No, a gig working with a New Mexico ranch that served somewhat as a transitional option for inmates was Gaffney’s way of giving back. Gratis work was gratitude for a good life.

It wasn’t always good, though.

To say that Gaffney was quiet as a child is putting it mildly: she didn’t speak until she was six years old. She felt like a “genderless thing,” she was angry, scared, hurt, mistrustful, had little self-control, and she sometimes lashed out. Then she got a horse.

And now she’d volunteered to work on this “alternative” ranch with horses that had gone feral because nobody knew how to handle or train them. She knew exactly how those animals felt because she’d been like them once, as had the ranchers Gaffney was asked to teach: former addicts, lawbreakers, alcoholics who’d been tossed aside, who’d applied for an opportunity to work with horses, and who were constantly monitored and mentored to give them the best chance to avoid being imprisoned again.

Every horse has a story to tell. Every rancher had one, too, but the rules were strict about when they could share them so Gaffney really knew very little about the people she taught: Eliza, who’d been nearly mute; Flor, an admitted liar; Randy, who dieted to ride; Tony, who had anger issues. Sarah, the biggest enigma of all. And Marco, who leaves this book with a surprise ending.

The first time you were on a horse happened so long ago that it’s like having a finger or a nose: it never wasn’t. You probably don›t even remember it, but you won’t forget Half Broke.

Swinging timelines like a lariat, author Ginger Gaffney tells her own barnboard-rough story, but that absolutely takes a back seat to tales of horses she’s known and people she knew at the prison ranch near Santa Fe. Her tales are told with deliberateness, and quietly — even the ones that pulse with anger or gnashing teeth — but the graciousness and generosity here comes out loud and clear, leaving readers with a sad smile, a good chuckle, a gasp, and the thought that books like this just don’t last long enough.

Yes, the skies can be cloudy all day in this memoir, but it’s a wonderful one that horse lovers, armchair cowpokes, and reform workers shouldn’t even try to resist. If that’s you, you should know that Half Broke is a heckuva ride.

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