BOOKS: Animal Magnetism

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)

Animal Magnetism by Rita Mae Brown
Ballantine Books
(1745 Broadway, New York,
NY 10019), 2009.
233 pages, paperback. $16.00.

Rita Mae Brown, best-selling author and fox hunter, in
Animal Magnetism shares poignant memories about the dogs, cats,
horses, and occasional other animals in her life and the lives of
her family members. After writing a seven-volume series of murder
mysteries set within a fox hunting club, none of which bring anyone
to justice for murdering foxes, Brown follows Ted Kerasote and
several other longtime defenders of hunting in presenting herself as
an animal lover–possibly because that’s where the money is.

My upbringing in a gritty working class section of New York
City and 22 years and counting as an animal shelter volunteer give me
a vastly different view of what it means to love animals. Brown grew
up in Virginia hunt club country. The kids in my scrappy
neighborhood hunted for change to buy baseball cards and bubble gum.
Brown became addicted to foxhounds. My first dog was a mutt I plucked
off the streets.
A Chesapeake Bay retriever given to Brown at age six became
Brown’s best buddy, but died after five years from a liver ailment.
Brown as a child spent hours watching foxes, but as an adult
persecutes and kills them. She talks of hunting contests, of a sort
now illegal in much of the world, where numbers are painted on the
hounds’ hips. A pack of dogs are released at the same time. “The
first to put his fox to the ground wins. For coon hunters their
hound must tree the coon,” she explains.
To Brown this is observing an honorable Southern tradition to
be upheld–cruel and barbaric as many others find it. This is
difficult to reconcile with the witty, gregarious and entertaining
woman I have met a few times at book signings.
Brown’s family relocated to Florida during her youth.
“Mother made good on her promise of a cat and a dog,” Brown recalls.
They visited the local shelter, full of unwanted and mostly doomed
dogs and cats begging for love. Brown adopted a kitten, but passed
by cages filled with hundreds of healthy adoptable dogs, including
cute cuddy puppies, to buy a dog from a breeder.
Brown also becomes fond of horses, but not just any horses.
“What I wanted to do was breed thoroughbreds and foxhounds,” Brown
The cover of Animal Magnet-ism calls the book “uplifting,
hilarious, and heartrending.” Nothing about breeding, hunting or
setting a pack of barking dogs after another animal is uplifting. No
balanced person should find this hilarious. But that Brown
participates in these activities and praises them is heartrending.
–Debra J. White

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