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Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship

by Mark Derr

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-4063-3
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A sweeping, lapidary history of our relationship with dogs from Derr (The Frontiersman, 1993, etc.). A fan of the dog for many years, Derr set out to write a cultural history of the dog-human nexus, one that touched on the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects, the good, bad, and ugly ways we go about communing with the beasts. He succeeds admirably. In easy prose, he melds all manner of things canine into an entertaining story: the first encounters, eons back, with the quick, rough brutes that scavenged at Paleolithic campsites (laugh, if you will, at dog cemeteries, but the Basketmaker culture of 12,000 years ago mummified their dogs); through the slow social, cultural, and morphological shifts away from wolf to dog; on to the many hats that dogs have historically worn: sentinels and hunters, draft animals and guides, entertainers and companions, and, occasionally, main course at the family dinner table. Derr suggests that ``the single greatest problem with dogs is people,'' and he goes on to chronicle the misdeeds, from plain old abuse and neglect to the use of dogs to terrorize populations to the nasty little sport of dogfighting. Derr adeptly eviscerates the practice of show breeding, with its attendant genetic disorders and woeful tinkerings with temperament (a subject he first broached in an article in the Atlantic Monthly). Plaited through the story are anecdotes from mushers, ranchers, hunters (particularly good material on the feists and curs of the American South), shepherds, and from his own long association with dogs. What manifests itself here, brightly, is Derr's unquestionable affection for Canis lupus familiaris. It is a love song, a celebration, and a well-told tale. (photos and illustrations, not seen)