Pukka’s Promise by Ted Kerasote, The Quest for Longer Lived Dogs
One of the perks of writing a blog is that I get complimentary copies of books to review. Even better is to get an advance copy. Pukka’s Promise is available on pre-order to be released February 5.
When Kerasotes’ heart dog, Merle, died, he set about on a quest to eventually find a new dog and explore ways to allow our companions to live longer lives.
Although Merle, a stray dog, lived to be 14, longer than expected for his size, the question many of us ask is why do our dogs die so soon? Parrots and tortoises can live on for many decades, and whales can sail happily through waters for over a century. Why do our best friends have a life span of 7 to 15 years, depending on the size and breed?
Pukka’s Promise is a combination of delightful anecdotes and thorough research. The difference between Kerasotes’ research and the research that you and I do is that he has the resources to fly all over the world to seek out and interview experts in the various fields that might affect the health and longevity of dogs.
His approach in the book is not to start with a conclusion and then cherry pick studies and data to support his conclusion, as many writers do. Rather he presents all sides and then leads to his own resolution.
He has respect enough for his readers to acknowledge that each reader has a different situation and different experiences. What is best for Pukka may not be the best plan for all dogs.
Although what he does in raising his own dog is not possible for most dog owners, we can learn from his experiences and research.
Heredity is important for long life. Over breeding and inbreeding have brought about a lot of health problems in modern dogs. After a long search for a dog to follow Merle, he chooses Pukka from a litter where he has met both parents who have been screened for known genetic problems. Although Merle was a stray puppy when they found each other, Kerasote outlines his reasons for choosing Pukka.
Lifestyle is important to a long life. Obesity and boredom lead to shortened lives. Pukka lives an idyllic doggie lifestyle in a village just outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a view of the Tetons. The dogs in Pukka’s world are free to roam the neighborhood, even going into each other’s houses to find companionship and playmates.
Part of Pukka’s diet is elk from the surrounding wilderness. Felling an elk and field dressing it for the doggie’s dining pleasure is not something most of us can experience. He has a thoughtful chapter on the morality of killing one animal to feed another. However, eating vegetarian is not a cruelty free answer since thousands of small animals and birds are destroyed in the process of growing and harvesting vegetables.
One of the main considerations for long life is diet. The information on nutrition is quite thorough. He outlines the history and realities of pet food companies today where marketing is often more important than producing a good product.
Dog is the descendent of the wolf and the wolf does not eat corn. Does that mean that all dogs should live on a diet of raw meat and avoid kibbles? Not really. It is the process and ingredients in the kibble that is more important.
There has never been a definitive, long range study contrasting the diets of dogs to reach any hard conclusion. What there has been, he cites, is a study of Labradors from the same litter over a long period of time. Half of the dogs were allowed to eat all they wanted. The other half were given 75% of that amount. Genetics and exercise were the same, but the dogs who ate what they wanted grew fat, had more health problems and died younger. Which seems to indicate that how much a dog eats is more important than what.
If you are paranoid as I tend to be, you might want to skip or skim rapidly over the chapter in which he outlines all of the pollutants and toxins in food, water, packaging, processing, containers, etc. that seem to be part of modern living. It’s amazing that we even got into the 21st century.
And finally, he is at his best in the book when he questions some of the traditional ideas of veterinary medicine.
What about yearly vaccinations? What dogs should get heartworm treatments and shots for Lyme Disease? For some time I have felt guilty that I may have over vaccinated my dogs in the past. It never seemed logical that dogs needed yearly vaccinations, but we were convinced that good pet owners did that. This section is quite valuable for pet owners and answered many of the questions I had.
His ideas on spaying and neutering might cause alarm to the dog world. Pukka will not be neutered.
As almost all dogs today are sterilized, are we doing a disservice to the health of the dogs by taking away sex hormones from their bodies? A female dog can breed only twice a year. Is it too much to expect owners to keep them cloistered for a short amount of time?
Tubal ligations and vasectomies are less invasive and time consuming to perform and could be a healthier means of birth control in the future.
Although the book is long, almost 400 pages, I was sorry to reach the end. It is followed by 51 pages of notes and an index which I am sure I will use for further reference in the future.