Summer Book Reviews

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

The Cats of Thistle Hill, by Roger Caras.
Simon & Schuster (1230 Ave. of the Americas, New
York, NY 10020), 1994. 236 pages. $22 hardcover.
An excellent book for youngsters who demand to
know why they cannot have as many pets as they like, The
Cats of Thistle Hill is a melange of feline biographies,
information about the origins of the species and current
breeds; hints on the care, feeding, and behavioral problems
of cats; and anecdotes about the other animals on Thistle
Hill Farm, which seems to be less a farm than an animal
refuge. Roger Caras, now president of the American SPCA
and formerly an ABC television personality, apparently
maintains the fiction of farming as a front for animal rescue.

He provides a dollars-and-cents analysis of the adoption
costs associated with each animal that someone else has irre-
sponsibly dumped, adding debt-shirking to the already con-
siderable list of charges against those who contribute to ani-
mal suffering. Caras is quite frank is his opinion of such
people and what ought to be done with them.
Readers may have to keep turning pages back-
ward, unfortunately, to see if they have missed transitional
sentences, as Caras often begins new topics abruptly. The
end of one and beginning of another may be indicated only
with a top-of-the-page picture, while “from the barn bul-
letins” about new additions to the menagerie contribute little
beyond further breaking his continuity.
––Phyllis Clifton
Smart Cats: How To Understand & Train
Them, by Sigrid & Harald Theilig. Stirling
Publishing Co., Inc. (387 Park Avenue South, New
York, NY 10016), 1994. 87 pages. Color photos,
illustrations, index included. $8.95.
Reading this book clued me in on everything I had
done wrong in trying to transport cats by car or having them
walk on a leash. The kicker is that the techniques of cat
training are absurdly simple and make eminent sense,
which is probably why they might tend to be overlooked
when one is dealing with one’s own cat(s).
The authors are careful to point out that cats in
general have a personality only a few degrees removed from
the wild. If this is respected and worked with, one can have
cats who are pretty good companions, rather than the aloof,
contrary, and sometimes hysterical fluffballs we often end
up with. The method, which is carefully broken down for
each particular training activity, requires patience, consis-
tency, and genuine affection on the part of the trainer.
The book makes plain that cats are to be trained
not for the purpose of showing off pretty tricks that reflect
only on the owner, but rather to make life easier for all con-
cerned. Necessary trips to the vet, housebreaking, and pre-
venting furniture scratching all can be done without trauma
to either cat or owner.
––P.J. Kemp
Ruffly Speaking, by Susan Conant. Doubleday
(1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036), 1994. 261
pages, hardcover. $19.95.
Light reading for the summer? Susan Conant’s “dog
lover’s mystery” might fit the bill for people who are not too dis-
cerning about literary quality. Holly Winter, Conant’s fictional
heroine and owner of two Alaskan malamutes, has just lost one
of her friends to a poisoned salad. The question is, was it an
honest mistake or were the noxious greens deliberately insinuat-
ed into the salad? If the latter, why?
For the first half of the book, the reader might also
ask, who cares? Instead of getting into the plot, Conant favors
distracting “dogliness is next to godliness” philosophical ram-
bling; discussion of the professional dog show circuit; descrip-
tions of grooming and handling tricks; the pros and cons of vari-
ous training methods; and observations about the sometimes
fierce competition between show dog owners. Readers may
well wonder how much actual love of dogs is part of their psy-
chological makeup.
The most interesting parts of Ruffly Speaking concern
the training of hearing dogs. This adds a clever angle to the
murder plot, but can’t quite compensate for stilted characters
and a plot lacking any sense of intrigue.
––P.J. Kemp
Making It Happen: Networking to End
Companion Animal Overpopulation, edit-
ed by Esther Mechler. Published by Spay USA,
a program of the North Shore Animal League Intl.
Division (14 Vanderventer Ave., Port Washington,
NY 11050). 240 pages. $10.00 paperback.
Ubiqitous as fleas and rarely more useful,
anthologies of conference proceedings are purportedly
published for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend the
flea-circus in question, but usually serve mostly as expen-
sive souvenirs for the speakers.
None of the above applies to Making It Happen,
the proceedings of the 1993 Spay USA Action
Conference. Unlike your average proceedings editor,
Esther Mechler has paid close attention to lucidity, so that
this volume actually reads like a book. Further, the event
it records uniquely assembled a range of perspectives on
just about every aspect of low-cost neutering: starting a
program, starting a clinic, adapting a program to suit
one’s own region, statewide programs, government pro-
grams, private programs, combined programs, working
with animal control departments, working with veterinari-
ans, legislative approaches, public education, using the
media, marketing, and fundraising.
Many of the contributors to Making It Happen
are appallingly little-known within the humane communi-
ty despite their wealth of expertise, in part because
they’ve spent their long careers doing their jobs well
instead of politicking on the conference circuit. Make the
most of this introduction to them, including among others
deserving of mention Donna Bishop, Mary Herro, Sue
Skaskiw, Barbara Bonsignore, Mert Davis, W. Marvin
Mackie, Pam Burns, Peggy Larson, Jeff Young, and
Henry Suhrke. They share the secrets to doing what
you’ve always wished you could do, if only you could
figure out how.
––Merritt Clifton
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