Guest Author: Ted Kerasote
For many of us dogs are our most important relationship, touching us in a way that fellow humans do not, something I found out firsthand in 1991 when I met a half-wild, ten-month-old pup on the San Juan River in southern Utah. Golden in color, shading to fox red, he was of indeterminate ancestry and had strong Lab features — the tall rangy Lab, the field Lab — with perhaps a bit of hound and Golden Retriever thrown in. I liked his looks, and I very much liked how collected and intelligent he was, an individual with refined survival skills and a good sense of humor. I named him Merle and he came home with me to Wyoming, where we spent the next thirteen years together. When he died, he broke my heart.
As a way to get over my grief, I wrote his biography, Merle’s Door: Lessons From A Freethinking Dog. The book spent nine months on The New York Times bestsellers lists, and I received thousands of letters from readers who told me, with a torrent of emotion, that the book had made them face an uncomfortable but in the end uplifting truth: they had never wept as much for their gone husbands or parents as they had for their gone dog. Often, these readers closed their letters with a plaint: “Why do our dogs die so young?”
After a few months, I felt that could no longer ignore the letters nor what I had come to realize: I wanted another dog, and I wanted him to live longer than Merle had, if possible.
So I set out upon a five-year quest, combing the veterinary literature and interviewing veterinarians, dog breeders, and shelter workers about the factors that affect dog health and longevity. Six factors were on almost everyone’s list: inbreeding, nutrition, environmental pollutants, vaccination, spaying and neutering, and a shelter system in which too many dogs end their days. One factor that wasn’t frequently mentioned, but which I believe is also important, is the amount of freedom dogs enjoy.
The book I eventually wrote, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest For Longer-Lived Dogs, examines all these topics while interweaving the quest for my own new dog, a quest that took me across the United States and Europe until I found just the right pup, whom I named Pukka, which means “genuine” or “first-class” in Hindi. Along the way, I discovered some key information about how to help our dogs live healthier, longer lives. In a nutshell, the book’s message is this:
Choose dogs who still have their historic conformation—longish legs and a real snout through which they can breathe—and who don’t share many similar ancestors, which can lead to a higher incidence of genetically transmitted diseases.
Don’t feed dogs grain, like corn and rice. It tends to spike their blood glucose levels and the scientific literature has shown that animals who keep their blood glucose levels low tend to have fewer chronic diseases and live longer. Today, it’s easy to feed a dog its historic high-protein/low carb diet. Numerous pet food manufacturers offer such no-grain diets in kibble or frozen form.
Vaccinate a dog minimally against parvo, distemper, adenovirus-2, and rabies. Then, every three years, have your vet take a blood sample and titer it to see if the dog still has immunity. If it does, no need to revaccinate.
Consider leaving your dog intact, if you can reliably control its sex life or, if you can’t, give it a vasectomy if it’s a male, or a tubal ligation or hysterectomy if it’s a female. Unlike spaying and neutering, which remove a dog’s testes or ovaries, these procedures leave them in place so that the dog retains its full complement of beneficial sex hormones, which protect against cancer, orthopedic injuries, and endocrine dysfunction.
Keep your dog away from environmental toxins, like lawn chemicals, give it a stainless steel or glass bowl instead of a plastic one (many forms of plastic contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates), and make sure that your dogs gets to run off-leash at dog speed with other dogs several times a week. Such exercise helps to keep your dog both physically and psychologically healthy.
All these points are described in greater detail in Pukka’s Promise, as well as the story of how this new little golden pup opened the door to my heart once again.
Ted Kerasote is the author of many books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There: In The Wild in a Wired Age, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. Ted’s writing has often focused on the interrelationship between people, animals, and the natural environment, and during his four-decades-long career, his essays and photographs have appeared in magazines as wide-ranging in their subject matter as Audubon, Geo, Outside, National Geographic Traveler, Sports Afield, and The New York Times.
To find out more about Rick, you can visit http://www.kerasote.com/