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Pick-Up Dogs: How Two Rescue Dogs Save the West from Being Won Paperback – April 18, 2012
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
About the Author
In addition to being an animal and nature lover, Kendall Whitney has been a professor, a therapy dog handler, a translator, a mannequin dresser, a telemarketer, a door-to-door salesman, a nurse’s aid, a street canvasser, a dishwasher and a chef. After stints in San Francisco, Brazil, Spain, Costa Rica, Ireland, Vermont and Kansas, he now lives in Bellingham, Washington. Marcos is, as far as we know, a greyhound/Lab about six years old who spent about 8 months at a shelter. He works as a certified therapy dog at a local psychiatric facility, hospice and several assisted living centers. Lupe is a flat-coated retriever/border collie mix that was found abandoned on the wheat fields of Kansas. When she is not surveying her backyard, she can be found roaming the Mount Baker Wilderness Area, the Chuckanut Mountains, and the open spaces of the western United States.
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Pick-up Dogs is a great book for travelers, for people interested in the changes in values and world-vision in the United States in the last centuries, and it is a book for people that love dogs too. But perhaps the most important thing is that it is a book about our own capacity for wonder, and about how animals have the power to trigger this capacity in us by their own wonderful and awe-some sights.
Before reading "Pick-Up Dogs", this reviewer did not believe he could even finish a book about dogs, let alone enjoy it. But I did finish it, with increasing enjoyment as I continued to read. In fact, my wife, who began the book with a decided aversion to dogs, astounded me by exclaiming, after reading the first few chapters: "David, wouldn't it be nice if we had a little dog curled up at our feet in the bed every morning?" While I must confess that I remain rather neutral on the topic of ownership, and still don't agree with the author that our national parks should be replete with canine companionship, I also have to admit that I have personally enjoyed the company of Lupe and Marcos, the protagonists of "Pick-Up Dogs", on many a hike through the woodlands of northwestern Washington. It has helped to live in an area, Whatcom County, where 99% of the hikers, mountain bikers and cross country skiers tend to keep to a few of the more popular trails around Mt. Baker and the Chuckanut region of Larrabee State Park or Galbraith Mountain, bordering northern Puget Sound, while the hundreds of miles of logging roads criss-crossing the foothills remain untrammeled. Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of accompanying Kendall Whitney and his lovely wife Kirsten on many a hiking or snow-shoeing expedition, while sharing canine companionship for the first time in my nearly 62 years. While I therefore can claim no objectivity towards the author, I have been surprised and even amazed to find myself looking forward to going out on long wanderings with the often frenzied, rather wolf-like Lupe and staid, steady, laid-back Marcos. For a decidedly "non-dog person" like myself, this is saying a lot.
The most moving parts of Whitney's narrative also cover several areas to which I had previously given almost no thought: the role of the "therapy dog" in institutionalized settings for the shut-in, isolated residents, the dog and his "master", and the larger question of the relationship between wilderness and the individual, which involves another sort of "healing". The chapter "What is a Therapy Dog?" gives the reader a glimpse into the bleak world of citizens often considered outcasts in our frenetic, success-oriented consumer society, alluded to by the titles of the sub-chapters: "First day at the Psychiatric Facility" and "Touching Noses with Death". Here, I must confess to being, myself, an aging "baby boomer" who has never wanted anything more than my own space, not to be confronted with all I fear, and who now marvels at the "younger generation" of those such as Whitney. Many in their twenties and thirties may or may not get around to voting, but are more than willing to volunteer their scant leisure hours to bringing a few hours of companionship and touching to the institutionalized, bed-ridden, or even imprisoned. Author Whitney describes - not without some trepidation on his part - "intruding" into a world in which the initial skepticism he meets with cedes to a longing on the part of shut-ins, the dying and incarcerated, nurses, aides and orderlies alike, for the return of Marcos the therapy dog. It had never occurred to me what an effect, to cite just one example, a relaxed and accepting dog can have just unfolding its long legs and lying up against a suffering human being, offering comfort in a supine cocoon of warmth. The author describes his own astonishment upon spontaneously kneeling in the background, and thus removing his rather imposing, large frame from an authoritative, "overseer" position to one of equality. Time itself slows down, while the meditative atmosphere which ensues is in marked contrast to our society's typical emphasis on the self. Through crouching in a shared space, a sense of commonality and peace is achieved, giving as much strength to the giver as to the receiver, so often otherwise seen as the "victim". Even I, "cold fish" that I tend to be by nature, have felt this in the confines of Kendall's pickup truck, "Rocinante", with two dogs breathing down my neck, something for which I had previously felt only horror.
In later chapters such as "Of Wolves and Dogs: Connecting Civilization and Wildness" and "Have Dogs. Will Travel. Healing Nature Deficit Disorder", Whitney delves into the paradox of wilderness. We live in a society which desperately flees the isolation created by the rapidly evolving, technologically crowded urban and freeway culture of noise we have imbedded ourselves in, to seek out a rapidly vanishing wilderness which just may begin to heal us. And thus we have filled even the wilderness with rules, gear and throngs of like-minded seekers of solitude. Here, Whitney points out that we can, again paradoxically, at times gain more from bumping down a narrow dirt road, basically "lost", in the wide-open spaces of the prairies of the "fly-by" states such as Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas than from the bumper to bumper, often desperate search for peak photogenic experiences in, say, the Yosemite Valley on a summer weekend. And the accompanying hounds are also more likely to feel at home running free in the "wastelands" than on even the most scenic trail among the redwoods and sequoias of Whitney's home state, California. This is, especially when travelling with dogs, due to the common evolutionary thread between man and wolf, between the familial clan and the loosely affiliated pack which both keeps its distance and can be counted on to "ring out a warning" should danger intrude itself too closely.
Reading these passages remind me of Kendall's never-ending wails of "Lupe-dee-loo" as we approach a thicket or a bend in the trail. In the early days, I was disturbed by the noise of his calling out to the hounds and their eventual response, until I gradually came to realize that in all probability, all three parties involved stood to benefit. In the woodlands of the Cascade foothills, bears lurk always, normally unseen, sows travelling warily with cubs in tow. As humans, we move in a linear mode, while the hounds circle constantly in wolf-like fashion. Bears can and do adapt, given the warning of human cries and canine responses, by simply giving us a wider berth. While this paradigm may have - perhaps a bit ironically - originated in the hunt, with throngs of "beaters" and hunting dogs, it persists in hiking through bear territory with dogs. The great majority of hikers, dressed brightly and smartly, will tend to seek out the trails of high status. This was once true of me as well. In canine company, however, we seek out the normally shunned logging roads, many gated much of the year, to be "used" officially only once or twice a century, depending on tree cutting cycles. It is these spaces which have become our haunts, and I have come to love them as well. My perceptions have been broadened in a way I would scarcely have imagined through witnessing interactions I can only describe as positive, despite my initial skepticism. It must be said that Kendall's relationship to his dogs and the natural world is a work in progress, and he exhibits anything but a Pollyanna attitude, wondering himself whether Lupe will always return when called, and instead lead a bear back to us, which all parties could only regret. He even quotes the dean of Northwest wilderness preservation, Harvey Manning, who called for dog owners to voluntarily leave their pets at home when trekking in designated wilderness.
Indeed I do find Whitney's yearning for a world where man, dog and wildlife can live in harmony to be somewhat utopian in his wish that we all might emulate the move in the Boulder Mountain Parks towards certification of dogs which truly do heed voice commands should hounds meet up with bears or cougars. This would truly be an ideal solution, and Whitney admittedly confines his arguments to the West. From what I have seen of the "entrance communities" on the outskirts of Smoky Mountain National Park, with their traffic jams and miles of strip malls of souvenir shops, or even of hipper, counterpart communities such as Estes Park, Colorado, it is hard for me to imagine such a localized, participatory experiment such as Boulder's working on a national scale. And fortunately, the author's tone is never strident or ideological, but rather based on experience and reflection.
In the end, "Pick-Up Dogs" is a personal story, of a man's search for healing, of the abandoned "shelter dogs" he has adopted, and of himself, whether in his interactions with shut-in, equally abandoned patients or with wilderness itself. While based on anecdotal, experiential evidence where it most successfully confronts the reader with the American West, it is clear that Whitney is also an academically trained Ph. D, as he takes the utmost care while quoting and includes a well annotated bibliography in the final pages. This, Kendal Whitney's first work, will hopefully not be his last, as it explores questions dog lovers, the uninitiated such as this reviewer, and a society in constant expansion and thus in conflict with the natural world while attempting to preserve some vestige of it, will continue to face for generations to come.
Reviewed by David B. Fiero, Western Washington University
The author makes it clear that his dogs are distinct in their mental make-up. Lupe requires that people earn her love, whereas Marcos unconditional love allows him to function as a therapy dog. I personally found the stories about Marcos' ability to deal with the ill and infirm at local hospitals to be one of the highlights of the book.
The book is well documented, and it appears the author has put a lot of time and a part of his soul into it.
I highly recommend this book.
This book is not about just one thing, it is about many. The history of dogs and their place in our society through the ages. The healing powers they have on us in various ways. The bond we make and how to make the most of this for both parties. It is an ellaborate road trip that weaves a beautiful journey through all these topics and so much more, so can be appreciated and valued by those who have never even owned a dog.
In Kendall Whitney, we have discovered not only a brilliant mind and writer, but a natural photographer. The images of his own beloved pooches and those he has come across in his work are poignant and beautiful, resonating the themes he sets out on the pages.
After reading this book, the mere thought of 'The Adventure Buddies' can only bring a smile to your face and a yearning for a wide open space of land to enjoy and treasure. Buy it and see what I mean. You won't be disappointed.