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A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life

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Steven Kotler was forty years old and facing an existential crisis—which made him not too different from just about every other middle-aged guy in Los Angeles. Then he met Joy, a woman devoted to the cause of canine rescue. "Love me, love my dogs," was her rule, and not having any better ideas, Steven took it to heart. Together with their pack of eight dogs—then fifteen dogs, then twenty-five dogs, then, well, they lost count—Steven and Joy bought a tiny farm in a tiny town in rural New Mexico and started the Rancho de Chihuahua, a sanctuary for dogs with special needs.

While dog rescue is one of the largest underground movements in America, it is also one of the least understood. This insider look at the cult and culture of dog rescue begins with Kotler's personal experience working with an ever-peculiar pack of dogs and becomes a much deeper investigation into exactly what it means to devote one's life to the furry and the four-legged.
Along the way, Kotler combs through every aspect of canine-human relations, from human's long history with dogs through brand new research into the neuroscience of canine companionship, in the end discovering why living in a world of dogs may be the best way to uncover the truth about what it really means to be human.

307 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Steven Kotler

31 books878 followers
Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and co-founder and director of research for the Flow Genome Project. His books include the non-fiction works "The Rise of Superman," "Abundance," "A Small Furry Prayer" "West of Jesus," and the novel "The Angle Quickest for Flight." His work has been translated into more than 30 languages. His articles have appeared in over 60 publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired, GQ, Outside, Popular Science, Men's Journal and Discover.

He also writes "Far Frontiers," a blog about technology and innovation for Forbes.com and "The Playing Field," a blog about the science of sport and culture for PsychologyToday.com.

He lives in New Mexico with his wife, the author Joy Nicholson.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 228 reviews
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,215 reviews125 followers
February 21, 2011
There are very few books that I finish actually speechless. Most of the time, in the course of reading, I make a few notes of things I want to be sure to include in the review. Not this one. This one swept me away so completely I could only read, I couldn't even think about the experience of reading, and reviewing was entirely out of the question.

Starkly, this book is the story of what happens to one man's life when, in his 40s, he realizes that his high-flying journalist life in LA just isn't cutting it anymore. First he ends up with a dog, and a 14-step outline of how to take care of that dog. The he falls in love with a dog rescuer. And before he fully understands what's happening to his life, he has moved to a tiny drug-ridden town in New Mexico and is living with an ever-varying number of rescued dogs, all of whom have special needs, and regularly starting his morning with "shit toe" (what happens when you step in dog poop barefoot.)

Many books have been written about how animals have changed a human's life. But only very rarely, in my experience, are those books written by people who didn't start out as dog people. This guy didn't. He didn't grow up with dogs. He lived alone in a city without one. (Something this book caused me to realize I could never even contemplate anymore. Three months in NYC without Lily was almost the end of me). He also didn't start out as a "pack" person; he was perfectly fine on his own, or thought he was. But moving in with a pack, and then realizing he needed them -- and further realizing that they were daily expanding and deepening his worldview threw his world for a serious loop.

Being a skeptical, hard-bitten journalist, he responded by researching the heck out of the situation. He appears to have interviewed every canid expert, ecologist, behaviorist, anthropologist, shaman, psychologist, and philosopher he could get his hands on and read a truly staggering number of books. So many books and articles, in fact, that I started wondering who was financing all this reading. These aren't books you can find in just any public library. I'm going to have to use some of my research library access to read many of them (which I'm very much looking forward to doing.)

This is the kind of book that makes you rethink your worldview in a wonderful and unexpected way. It made me realize that the times in my life I have fought depression the hardest have been the times I have tried to live pack-less. And those depressed times are peppered with my attempts to find a surrogate pack. What Kotler learned about canine and human evolution--that in a very real way we domesticated each other and evolved to live together and suffer when we live apart--made a huge amount of sense. Many of the books and much of the research he cited I was familiar with, but a lot of it was also new, and I can't wait to check it out.

His writing style was wonderful. The prose was gritty, realistic, human, humble, proud, crazy, tragic and very funny. In short, it accurately reflected what I have experienced of real life.

At times, he could come off a little--well, something that could probably be called credulous, overzealous, or overly-optimistic. And while I realized that it could come off that way, it did not to me. This level of epiphany cannot be counterfeited. And epiphanies, by their very nature, often imbue one with optimism and a willingness to embrace ideas you would never have otherwise considered. While I am withholding judgement on some of his conclusions, he inspired me to explore them for myself, and to think more deeply about who I am and how I fit into the world.

You really can't say anything better about a book than that. I highly recommend this to everyone on the planet.

Profile Image for Paul.
886 reviews36 followers
March 13, 2012
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

A Goodreads friend recommended I read this book, and I must say I'm glad I did. Written by a professional writer and dog-lover, A Small Furry Prayer recounts the work of a husband and wife team of dog rescuers, a couple who adopt dogs slated for death at animal shelters in order to give them a last chance at rehabilitation and adoption, or at the very minimum a happy and loving home during their last months of life.

Interestingly, I recently finished The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a novel about what it means to be human, as opposed to a "lesser animal," where the thrust was that humans are not nearly as special as they like to think they are. Steven Kotler has the same outlook on animals and humanity. He sees, in his pack of dogs, empathy, altruism, grief, homosexuality, imitative behavior, moral behavior, intelligence, abstract intelligence, language skills, laughter, even evidence of a belief in god. Between chapters recounting his troubles setting up a dog haven ranch in northern New Mexico, and his adventures with his ever-changing pack of dogs, he devotes chapters to each of the human-like traits listed above, quoting the works of philosophers, psychiatrists, and scientists who study human and animal behavior.

I've always thought of my dog as a person; so do most of us who love dogs. If I have a soul, so does my dog. I need no convincing. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully-written book, and it puts meat on the bones of the argument that we are all one. This is one of the best dog books I've read, and it belongs on every dog-lover's shelf.
Profile Image for Lea.
439 reviews79 followers
November 9, 2011
Wow -- I've got a lot to say in this review, and it's hard to know where to start . . . I guess I should say first that I won this in a First Reads giveaway. Thanks!

I signed up for this giveaway on a whim -- I like animals (although I prefer horses to dogs), but a memoir about animal rescue wouldn't necessarily be my first choice. But the idea intrigued me, and I figured I'd just pass the book along to my sister when I'd finished it. Well, sorry, Q, you're going to have to pick up your own copy -- I just can't let this one go!

The book didn't click with me initially. The author seemed a bit . . . angsty to me. I'm a very happy person, so reading about his anxieties and the negativity he was experiencing at the beginning of the book was depressing, and even disturbing. I really wasn't sure if I could read an entire book filled with this seemingly glass-half-empty attitude.

But I did keep reading, and as the story progressed it seemed as though the author experienced a lightening of his spirit. His focus shifted to the dogs in his care, and this part of the book became more enjoyable. It was both heartbreaking and uplifting to see the compassion and attachment this couple have with not just their dogs, but ALL dogs. I can't say I could do what they do, but it was interesting to get a first person perspective of what goes into animal rescue.

The book really came alive for me when the author began writing about his research into dogs and various states of being -- he discusses altruism, sexual orientation, enlightenment, shamanism and shapeshifting, dog and human evolution, inter-species communication . . . I could honestly go on and on and on, and none of it was anything less than intriguing. I really enjoyed how he would use an experience with his dogs as a jumping off point for a scientific discussion, then circle back to the initial story. I found this made this made the technical bits more personal as I considered them in relation to the author's life.

I do believe Steven Kotler has found some form of enlightenment at his dog rescue in New Mexico. I'm not sure he will ever be as emotionally strong as he probably needs to be, given the last-chance nature of the animals he works with, but it appears he's found a balance that works for him.

I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend this book, and I will personally be searching out all of Kotler's other books.
Profile Image for Kourtney.
567 reviews20 followers
November 20, 2011
I was recommended this book on Amazon when I was buying the book about what happened to the dogs in Michael Vick's horrible case. I had put both books on my shelf until I knew there would be a day where I could cry myself senseless and not have to worry about anyone seeing my puffy eyes. I pulled this book off of the shelf on a whim and decided to give it a go.

The stories that Steven Kotler tells about the actual dog rescue and how it started was great. I volunteer at a no-kill shelter, so I could relate to a lot about what he was talking about. I have 2 rescue dogs of my own and know about the personality problems and trying to deduce what the dogs need to show them that this is a safe place to live. Those parts were great and were what led me to rate this book at 2 stars. What I didn't like where the breaks in the story. I thought, based on the summary, that this would be a story about Steven's life with maybe some examples of other dog rescues. Instead, there was a LOT of research mixed in about psychological and scientific experiments that were conducted to come up with how dogs behave. I don't care about that. If I wanted to read about scientific research I would go hang out on Lexxus Nexxus. I was looking for something from the heart, not something to pad out a few essays to make it a book. Not to mention that right when I was getting into a story BAM there were 5 pages of boring research. I was having to flip through to find out what happened to the dogs (almost as though the end of the story was just an afterthought). Maybe next time Steven can co-author a book with his wife so we the readers can experience the emotions of what a true dog rescuer feels, and not just a retelling of some experiments from yesteryear.
Profile Image for Larry Strattner.
Author 9 books2 followers
December 12, 2010
I love dog books. I read all dog books. I read dog books from training books, to breed tomes, to stuff like Marley and Dog On It,(a good detective story by the way).

If you read dog books too this book is a must. It is the best mixture of story and science about, or related to, dogs I have read in a long time.

The author is a rescuer. He gets a lot of chiuauas at his rescue operation. If I never saw another chiuaua it would be too soon. In spite of this bias I loved the book and the dogs who dropped by, chiuauas included.

If you are a dog person this book will amaze you.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,090 reviews64 followers
October 11, 2017
I like dog stories, always have, so I liked Kotler's book just for that reason. What I particularly liked about this one was that it was about a couple-Steven and Joy-setting up a sanctuary for dogs and dealing with all the problems involved with that.. We meet a lot of different dogs with special needs and we see Steven's approach to socialize the dogs and create a family for the dogs ( as well as for himself and Joy). But with the joys come the inevitable heartbreaks. Furthermore,"the Rancho de Chihuahua" is set up in the mountains of northern New Mexico, a land teeming with strange characters where a frontier ethos reigns, with an attitude that is not always dog-friendly....
Kotler writes well and I also enjoyed his musings on the history of the human-canine relationship and other aspects of that unique relationship in nature. Dogs have not only adapted to humans as no other animal has, as Kotler suggests, but dogs have made us the humans we are...
Profile Image for Melinda The Opinionated Crackpot.
468 reviews7 followers
February 20, 2022
I had a new book to begin, but it was late at night, and I knew I only had about 15 minutes until I should go to bed, or decide to stay up until morning, reading. Starting a new book would probably end up being the latter.

I had bought A Small Furry Prayer years ago, when I was feeling brave. I had never read it until now, because I was afraid to. You see, I’m an animal lover and soft heart extraordinaire. I can read horror, murder, zombies, and godless anarchy, but one little blurb on the news involving an animal can upset me for weeks. I thought I could tell in 15 minutes or so whether I should finally read it, or for heavens sake give it away.

This book was not what I thought it might be, and I’m glad I read it! (There were a few mentions of ugly abuse, but if I can handle it, anybody can.) This is about what happens when a talented writer falls in love with a woman whose dream it is to start a dog rescue. He tells his story with plenty of humor, and enough philosophical thought, scientific studies, and factoids, that I was totally absorbed in no time! Wrapping up the book by throwing in some truly fascinating research along with metaphysical possibilities, well, heck, this turned out to be my cup of tea!

Not only is the setting interesting (a heroin town in New Mexico- a place they could afford to set up a rescue), but the lifestyle is interesting as well.

After reading this, I defy anyone else who has read it to say they have not had the urge to snag family, friends, coworkers, or complete strangers and say, “Hey did you know that…” because there are SO many things you will learn. One thing I learned is that as much as I love dogs, NEVER in this lifetime would I be cut out to share my house with 20 of them, some feral. Rescuers are downright saintly.

Totally enjoyable read!
Profile Image for Amy.
161 reviews4 followers
July 11, 2012
I listened to A Small Furry Prayer on my commute back and forth to work. I'd find myself so engrossed in what was being said, that I'd realize 10 minutes had passed, and I had reached my destination!

Not only is this a story about dog rescue, but it's also the philosophy and scientific research behind animals, dogs in particular. I learned that the panting noise my Chihuahua Zuzu makes when she's playing with me, and that she joins in with me when I make the noise, is actually doggie laughter. I learned that my Pitbull/Lab mix Mina is an altruistic being when, at 75 pounds, she "let's" 4 pound Zuzu win at wrestling.

There were times that I cried. Times when I had to skip ahead to the next track because the cruelty that other people showed to animals was too much for me to bear to listen to.

I commend Steven and Joy for the wonderful work that they're doing to help save dogs. We need more people like them in this world; people who value other lives as much as they value their own, and realize that we're all in on it together on this planet.
Profile Image for Darcia Helle.
Author 30 books691 followers
October 21, 2010
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I laughed and cried. I didn't want it to end.

Kotler didn't set out to be a hero to unwanted dogs. That role came to him, first with a dog named Ahab, then with a woman who said that to love her meant loving her dogs. But this is more than a story about dogs. It's about a man finding his purpose through and with these dogs, about what it means to be human, about compassion and love and what's truly important in life. This book touched me all the way to my core.
Profile Image for April.
461 reviews7 followers
December 20, 2016
I tear-stained the library copy. Having lost a dog this year ensured I'd cry reading this. Igor's story...I lost it. Lots of good sociology and biology and philosophy included.

Quote near the end: Hallucinogens then do the same job as religion - they provide proof of unity, which is still the only known cure for fear of death.
Profile Image for Ray Campbell.
776 reviews5 followers
April 16, 2014
This is a beautiful book! Kotler is a writer who retires from modern life in order to rescue dogs with his wife. The book begins with the sort of sentimental reflections one would expect given the book title, but he quickly goes beyond into an unexpected spiritual journey.

Kotler is well read and writes well. He has done a ton of research on life, the universe and dogs. As he descends into the world of rescuing dogs, he ties his experiences to philosophy, psychology and spirituality. Kotler quotes from Descartes, Stephen J. Gould, Richard Dawkins and a variety of sacred texts and relates their ideas to his experience with a pack of chiwawas! No small feat (or feet, hahah)!

I've read several studies of dog behavior and psychology. This book goes beyond the scientific studies marrying spirituality and experience to research. The book is funny and poignant while telling the story of a real couple on a mission to do something good for dogs while exploring the meaning and significance of their calling. Well worth a read.
August 16, 2012
Okay, this book was just a little weird..... I wanted to hear more stories about the dogs, and instead had to read through a lot of the author's bizarre "meaning of life" thoughts......many of which were beyond strange..... "shape-shifting"? Really? I loved hearing about how he acquired many of the dogs - and I loved hearing about how they overcame of lot of fear issues w/ some of the dogs - and I cried when I read about those who didn't live to see their forever homes....but it was tough for me to slog through all this psycho-babble about "unity" and "oneness" with the world and about how humans used to be able to actually share a common language w/ animals and "do dogs believe in God" - and how humans are NOT more "special" than animals and we should not have dominion over them (even though that's Biblical....) Too much weird new-agey sounding crap for me..... Probably my least favorite animal book ever......
Profile Image for Laura Koerber.
Author 12 books184 followers
June 26, 2013
I don't usually like dog rescue stories because they are all allike: sad dog in dire circumstances, sad human, human saves dog and thus saves him/her self. Read one, read them all.

This one is different. For one thing, it's funny. Also the suthor is a professional writer and it shows: very smooth, evocative. And he has lots to say on lots of subjects besides dogs: donkeys, trickster figures, the drug raid on the neighbor's house...

And he likes dogs, but likes them without sentimetality, as individuals. He likes their dogginess: their play, their social organization, their fur, their smell. He just likes dogs that act like dogs.

The author lives in New Mexico, near Chimayo, in the sort of landscape that makes one believe in kachinas and Coyote.
Profile Image for Marcus.
439 reviews10 followers
May 20, 2021
Ostensibly the tale of city slickers moving to New Mexico to experience the grief, elation, frustrations and satisfactions of running a dog rescue. Having read his other book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance on flow states I wasn’t surprised or put off by the divergent tone as we delve into co-evolution, mirror neurons, animal rights, the grieving process and yes flow states again. A wide spanning, well written read. Recommended.
Profile Image for Quinn.
48 reviews3 followers
November 17, 2011
Simply amazing. So much more than a dog book, this book is so well written and covers so many areas and topics, but all ties back into the dogs. Absolutely wonderful.
Profile Image for Melissa.
83 reviews
November 19, 2012
I expected this book to be more about dogs & rescue than all the weird ramblings it ended up being. I rarely don't finish a book but I gave up on this one.
Profile Image for Shannon Rochester.
829 reviews71 followers
September 27, 2019
This was a book I chose because I am somewhat involved in dog rescue myself and if everything goes according to plan, I will one day have my own rescue here in Alabama. While we do have some great rescues, there are not nearly enough. I have only been volunteering for a year but what I have seen in that year has changed who I am to my very core. I guess I should start with MY dog I got from a shelter out here which brought me to the shelter I volunteer with. Hopefully she will be the face of our rescue because SHE is the reason it will be happening. I would have kept on being oblivious to everything these people see and hear on a daily basis.

This particular book is about a man who falls in love with a woman who rescues dogs...not just your normal dogs, either. She wants the ones that have much less of a chance...the ones who might need hospice care, the ones who have mental issues, the ones that seem untrainable. So we follow the road with them as they buy some land and start from scratch. We meet many dogs along the way and we lose many dogs along the way. We hear about horrible people and we hear about a community coming together in times of need. For ME, this was a great book as I am also a very spiritual person but I can see that many others were hoping this book would only be about the dogs. Well, in dog rescue that isn't just the case. And I myself like the ramblings as some people called it. I liked hearing how dogs and humans are alike and how they learn and what they feel...call me crazy but I really liked this book :)
Profile Image for Audrey.
16 reviews
June 20, 2012
While the story itself was one that was entertaining and enlightening, most of the book wasn't necessarily about the story.

I suppose the title really gives away what the book will be about, but more emphasis should be placed on the "meaning of life" part, since that is what Steven Kotler focused on more.

The basic plot behind this book is that Steven and his girlfriend, Joy find themselves struggling financially when their landlord in LA decides to sell the property and evict them. The problem with this idea is that Steven and Joy have a handful of Chihuahuas, making it difficult to find a new rental property that will allow the amount of dogs they have. Finally, with little other option, the two find a home in Chimayo, New Mexico, a place known more for their violence and drug addicted citizens then anything else. At this point, Steven seems to know that because Joy is really the driving force behind the 'rescue operation,' so he decides to fully commit, and the two begin a bonafide rescue adventure. Up to this point, the two have really only rescued Chihuahuas, but after moving to Chimayo, they quickly find they are the only rescue in town and are soon called to pick up dogs they would not normally rescue.

The story revolves around how Steven and Joy treat the rescue dogs, believing love and trust will slowly turn their sorry life around. They then try to find homes for these pups once they are rehabilitated, although they have their fair share of dogs that don't seem to change. Throughout the whole process Steven philosophizes about life and how the true meaning of life can really be seen in the behavior of dogs.

Now this wouldn't necessarily be a terrible thing...if most of the book were about the experiences Steven and Joy faced as they started their dog rescue. But Steven spends much of the book talking about a quote or finding or statistic that helps reaffirm some life lesson about trust or love or homosexuality. And so the book really seems more about the studies that other people have conducted more than the start of a dog rescue.

It certainly wasn't a book that was difficult to get through. But I did find myself sometimes thinking about other things that needed to get done while I was reading because of how off topic it sometimes seemed to get. The fact that I downloaded the Kindle version as the Daily Deal for $.99 doesn't make this book a bad pick up.
Profile Image for Nina.
108 reviews6 followers
May 28, 2012
This book was fantastic. Probably one of the best books I've read in quite a while.

First off, it was not at all what I expected it to be. I was expecting, admittedly, without doing much research on the book first as I received it for free, a sappy story about a dog rescue, compiled mostly of stories of individual dogs. Although there is a component of that in this book, the larger part is comprised of an exploration into the science and philosophy of animal psychology and the human/animal bond.

The book is very well researched, and much appreciated by me, the author provides and extensive references list at the end of the book. I think I will end up looking a lot of these up and checking them out.

A Small Furry Prayer documents the author's journey from a dog owner to a dog rescuer. The journey he describes is largely an emotional change, as he discovers a kinship with the dogs which leads him to question common belief that animals are not sentient beings - that self awareness and emotional range are special traits reserved only for homo sapiens. He uses his stories of his experiences with the dogs as a springboard for taking the reader on a trip through his research, and what that research has led him to conclude. It was extremely interesting, and very enlightening. There were parts of this book that were so hilarious that I had to read them aloud to my husband, and there were parts that were so serious I needed to read them twice to get a full grasp. There were also parts that were terrifying, horrifying, and incredibly sad. This will definitely be a book that I will remember for a long time.

I appreciated this book because in sharing my life with six animals I find myself asking some of the same questions that Kotler did. It was refreshing to read such a well researched book that followed along with my own thoughts about wildlife, farm animals and companion animals.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who works in animal rescue (of any sort), or is interested in animal psychology.
Profile Image for Erin.
223 reviews12 followers
April 8, 2015
I won this book in a First Reads giveaway, and I tried really hard to get into it, but I eventually gave up. I really wanted to read this book as I love reading books about how dogs and pets can change a person's life. But, after getting about 1/4 of the way through the book, I had had enough.

I loved the fact that the author and Joy take in so many dogs, but I just could not relate to either person/character. I couldn't get past the narrator's/author's arrogance and selfishness. He constantly complains about not having enough money or space or whatever for the dogs. He talks about everything he had to give up when he and Joy got together, moved and started taking in dogs. When I stopped reading, he complained that he was going to spend $500 a month for dog food. While I think what he and Joy are doing is awesome, at the same time, he should WANT to do it and with that wanting comes the responsibility of paying the bills (whether it be for food or vets or whatever). If this is something they are passionate about, then they should be accepting of the fact that it may take more than they have (and either find a way to finance it) or stop taking in new dogs. I just got the impression that he thought Joy's taking in new dogs was a burden to him and his lifestyle and it was something he did not want to deal with. I often felt like he was telling this story only so he could get praise/sympathy from others for "what he did" and "what he had to give up to get there" and "what he went through for love and his girlfriend" and although I truly appreciate their efforts and wish more would do the same...it was their choice and they should do it for themselves and for the animals and not expect or want anything in return be it praise or sympathy or whatever.

Maybe I'm just bitter and upset that I couldn't relate to the characters but I just really had a hard time with this book.
Profile Image for Naomi.
4,679 reviews138 followers
October 24, 2010
I won this book on First Reads and, probably with this review, will never win another one! I must say I had a very difficult time with this book. I thought it was going to be different than it was. It ended up going on very diffent tangents, from rescue, gay animals to animal psychology, with very little focused in the nuances of animal rescue. It was simply all over the place. I thought it was poorly formed and written from someone who is a professional writer. Sorry.
64 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2013
Starts off as a great book about dog rescue and the "magic" that is the relationship between dogs and humans. Then becomes a book about the magic of shamanism and talking animals. (No, I'm not kidding.) When it's about dogs it's great; when pontificating about the connection between souls and the universe (or whatever) it's insufferable.
Profile Image for Jane Petermeier.
229 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2013
If you have always felt that humans have a deep connection to animals, and animals are connected to us and other animals, a connection that cannot be explained... read this book. Full of amazing facts, great theories and heartwarming stories. It's spiritual, educational and philosophical. There are Chapters that will leave you with a feeling of "Huh, really??" or perhaps..."how cool is that?"
Profile Image for Jack.
32 reviews20 followers
February 26, 2015
A great collection of anecdotes about dogs interspersed with deep inquiry into big spiritual questions. It could well have been called "Zen And The Art of Dog Rescue Maintenance". I loved every moment of it, and I don't think I'll ever look at a dog in quite the same way ever again,
Profile Image for Michelle.
414 reviews11 followers
July 6, 2013
what a lovely book! if you love dogs, you should read this. if you know someone who loves dogs, you should read this. if you've ever wondered why people love dogs - read this! excellent!
Profile Image for Patricia.
1,284 reviews
May 27, 2019
This writer is funny, informative and easy to read. He shared so much about himself as well as giving some great science references. It was the right mix of humor and serious information.
Profile Image for Gina Whitlock.
740 reviews45 followers
August 7, 2018
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, at times, laughing at loud. I think Kotler is a great writer bringing you to his world filled with dogs, love, joy and pain.
Profile Image for Christy Cole.
55 reviews19 followers
July 24, 2015
Wow! This book is incredible - it blew my mind open a bit further. It of course isn't some cute story. I loved how this book weaved in really interesting research with the story of building their rescue. I would recommend this to any of my fellow rescuers. Some of my favorite quotes or sections of the book:

To start, a quote: "Because how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." - Annie Dillard

"Then, like now, there were some people who were better with animals than others. Until we started hanging out with wolves, these folks probably helped track game, but otherwise didn't play too much role in community life. But once we began cohabitating with wolves, such skills were greatly in demand. Those who were better with animals - who felt deeper empathy, responded more to neoteny, and- considering this is wolves we're talking about here - had greater tolerance for risk had an advantage. Tribes who had these folks around had an advantage. Thus the moment we began cohabitating with wolves became the moment evolution began selecting for those traits that made us better wolf lovers."

"Humans have evolved to share their lives with dogs, and our brains are no longer cut out to do this work alone..We've evolved to cohabit with dogs. Their presence is part of what makes us feel safe in the world."

"..but as the only species to co evolve with humans, dogs might be our strongest connection to that world: a superhighway to our archaic past courtesy of the one animal who was along for the whole ride."

"The depth and range of the experience vary considerably, but whatever the level, flow is considered among life's most exquisite ecstasies..During a peak experience, the individual experiences an expansion of self, a sense of unity and meaningfulness in life. The experience lingers in one's conciousness and gives sense of purpose, integration, self-determination and empathy...The sense of bondedness can be both the inspiration for altruism and the result of the altruistic act."

"Charitable deeds produce flow states with almost clockwork regularity."

"St.Francis's Prayer is all about altruism, its key line being "for it is in giving that we receive." It's also about how to live altruistically, which Francis felt meant cultivating empathy."

"While we'll never know what Francis was feeling, his faith was about unity, and his methods were of empathy. Most likely, he was feeling what Westerners call love and Easterners call compassion: a pure empathetic reverence for all life, the end result of well-trained mirror neurons, the feeling of unity. SO why did that wolf lie down at Francis's feet? Because wolves have mirror neurons too and unity is contagious, and why bother attacking yourself?"

"while in a 2006..study, nursing home residents reported that spending time alone with a dog was a far grater cure for loneliness than spending time with other people. A 2007 meta-analysis published in Anthrozoos summed up this work succinctly - The company of animals provides considerable immunity from depression."

While this is very old data, and likely higher now: "more than three thousand [of the 12,000 rescues in US] have freestanding buildings for their animals. One hundred and fifty private shelters and three hundred public ones have operating budgets in excess of one million dollars. In total, Americans spend about two and a half billion dollars on animal advocacy and sheltering each year"

"The neuronal circuitry behind aggression and play were completely different. When people tried administering testosterone to research animals - known to increase aggressive dominance, they found it actually inhibited play, wile drugs that curbed aggression did nothing to diminish it...so if play fighting wasn't training for real fighting, what purpose could it possibly serve? Turns out it is moral. It isnt a display of weakness, it's a display of a willingness to lose. The fact that animals self-handicap, might mean that the purpose of play fighting isn't to teach them how to win, but to teach them how to win and lose. All animals probably need to know both the dominant and subordinate role, because no animal starts on top or ends life on top."

"In her mind, the fact that money was being spent to help dogs when there were humans in need was a criminal injustice, a systemic sociological failure that was beyond any acceptable explanation. Unfortunately, it was Joy she asked for an explanation. Like most dog rescuers, Joy favored biotic egalitarianism. She doesn't privilege human life above animal life, nor does she hide her opinion. Which is not the first time that dog rescue has cost her a friendship."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,572 reviews22 followers
December 21, 2011
I have been turning over and over again about how to write this review. To me, there were two books in one. One book is about the personal experiences of the couple with the dog rescue in northern Arizona and the other is related or not sometimes not of philosophy of religion and animal research.

The part that I enjoyed was the telling of Joy, Steven Kotler’s almost saint like wife and his relationship to her and the dogs. Both of them had chronic illnesses. She has Lupus and he has Lyme disease. So both of them were limited physically in what they could do by their immunological diseases. Joy seemed to be driven in her desire to run a shelter operation. I didn’t know before reading that the many of the rescue dogs are often so feral that they could never be pets. They might seek the heat of a human’s body for warmth at night but if that human woke up and started to get out of bed, the dogs might bite them.

The couple moved from Southern California to Chimayo, New Mexico soon after starting their rescue operation. Partly because the place they rented was going to be sold. I had some hunches about which dogs from shelter would be most adopted. I knew without saying that the puppies that are cute and cuddly and especially those that were already housebroken are the first to be adopted. I didn’t know that the color of the dog’s coat made a difference. When searching for a dog in the pound that would be considered a candidate, they looked for the shy, the handicapped, deaf, blind, drooling, chewy, dogs who were probably not housebroken.

I learned that I probably would never be up to heartache and the disappointment of running a dog rescue operation. Joy loved the dogs so much, that it was love me and the dogs or we don’t get together. So since Steve loved her, he decided to accept the dogs and was surprised to find that he was profoundly grief stricken when they died, often of old age.

Now, the part I didn’t like. This may be because of my educational background. I took philosophy and philosophy of religion course and a full year of animal behavior courses. I have also read a great deal about animal intelligence and behavior. That is why, when the author would discuss a study or an animal story, I felt irritated. When I decided to read this book, mainly because of the endearing cover of a dog looking so forlorn, I didn’t expect to review all or most of the material that I had already covered in college. I started skipping through the book whenever a study or a religion thought was discussed.

If you are different from me and are interested in animal rescue operations, love dogs but haven’t read many animal studies than you will probably love this book and wonder at how many things we know about animals and dogs and familiar. But if you are already well schooled in this topic you might not learn very much from this book and will be disappointing.

I received this book from the Library Thing program and that in no way influenced any part of my review.

Profile Image for Michelle (In Libris Veritas).
1,914 reviews79 followers
July 9, 2011
As with the other ARCs I have reviewed please keep in mind that the page count and a few details I may mention may or may not be the same as the actual text. Now on to the review. I personally did not enjoy this book the way I had hoped. The author does have a talent for writing and his style is fluid, precise, and quick paced. However, I can't stand when people interrupt stories...especially if it's their own story. There were a lot of very interesting, cute, sad, and touching stories about the dogs that he and his wife fostered, but just as a story is starting and you're getting interested -pause- and the philosophy side story or research starts. After about a page or so of that you finally get back to the story but it's just not the same now that you are bogged down with a bunch of knowledge about a wide assortment of things. I suppose to be fair this book isn't purely about the dogs, it's about the lifestyle and how he grew into it. So the fact that he is thinking about how he and the dogs interact and get to know each other is a good thing, I just would have preferred if the information would have come before the actual story or after, or if being in the middle is the only perhaps if it was shorter in length. That was my major dislike. There were a few issues I had with the author and that was just a personality clash I suppose. There are a few editorial mistakes like for example the author's wife is named Joy, but there are a few times that he calls her Lila. It's not terrible but it's enough to make you backtrack to see who exactly he's talking about.Also I never want to go to Chimayo, New Mexico ever...it sounds terrible. The scenery sounds beautiful but the community sounds absolutely terrible. It may not be that way now but I'm definitely not going to put it on "to travel" list.

I personally love the message that this gives though. Dog rescue is hard work and by no means pretty, but the rewards come in so many different ways. This book proves that there is a lot we can learn from animals, and there are somethings we may never understand. I can't say I recommend this because it was a bit of a tedious read but if you really enjoy books about animals and/or animal rescuing I'm sure you would enjoy this a lot.

In compliance with FTC guidelines, I won this book through the First-reads program on Goodreads
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