A canine valentine for dog lovers
Why We Love the Dogs We Do
Simon & Schuster, $24
Do you think there are tests and statistics that better identify what type dog you need?
For them, Stanley Coren, a dog-loving academic with a penchant for statistics, offers a mathematical formula for choosing the right breed. He uses a simple personality test to measure a would-be owner's levels of extroversion, dominance, trust and warmth, and correlates those findings to characteristics of various breeds.
Such generalizations may raise some hackles, especially among mutt owners. But remember, dogs were bred for specific functions from hunting and herding to simple companionship. Individual variations aside, it makes sense to me that a very assertive person would be better able to handle a headstrong Jack Russell terrier than a marshmallow would, while a cool, self-contained type would dislike being badgered into tossing tennis balls by a gregarious Labrador retriever.
The book is much more than a self-help quiz, thanks to Coren's flair for illustrating his points with waggish tales -- and emotionally stirring quotations -- from a long list of historical figures. Among them are the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her beloved spaniel, Flush; Queen Victoria and her favorite spaniel, Dash; and Sir Isaac Newton, who may have loved no one but his Pomeranian, Diamond.
U.S. presidents provide a wealth of material. Richard Nixon's tear-jerking speech about Checkers, the cocker spaniel, saved his political career when he was a vice presidential candidate accused of misusing campaign funds. And Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottish terrier, Fala, became a bone of contention when Republicans spread a rumor that a warship had been sent at great government expense to retrieve the dog when he was left behind on the Aleutian Islands. FDR, as Fala's spokesman, denied the story, noting wryly, "He has not been the same dog since."
Dog haters, not surprisingly, fare poorly. Harry S. Truman, whose canine IQ was close to zero, is depicted as a cold and calculating character whose folksy image was a public relations gimmick. He was also one of the few public figures to defend Lyndon B. Johnson when the latter created a scandal by lifting his beagle, Him, by the ears. LBJ was appropriately remorseful. "I must really be wrong about this ear thing if Harry says it's OK," Johnson told an aide. "He don't know -- or even like -- dogs."
Today, skeptics say a love for dogs and other animals betrays a lack of empathy for humans. Coren argues the opposite. Animal welfare laws, he points out, set the precedent for the children's welfare movement. In fact, we could view the dog as a role model. Playwright Eugene O'Neill suggested as much when he ghost-wrote a "Last Will and Testament" for his dying Dalmatian, Blemie.
"I have little in the way of material things to leave," O'Neill wrote. "Dogs are wiser than men ... They do not waste their days hoarding property ... There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith."
Wendy Brandes supervises financial markets coverage for CNNfn. She lives in New York City, with her Pekingese, Mr. Chubbs.
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