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Book Reviews March 2016 Issue

Do Unto Animals

A code — and an education — for living among other species (dogs included, of course).

Any reader of this newsletter has got to like a woman who writes a book about animals in general but entitles a chapter near the beginning, “The Dog: I Have to Admit, Hands Down My Favorite.”

That woman is Tracey Stewart, who followed her heart more than 15 years ago and left the field of design to become a veterinary technician, or animal nurse. Her love of animals started with dogs — well, one dog in particular, Muffin, who comforted her in the night during her childhood when she feared everything from “ghosts in my closet“ to “the thought of facing Joannie Keaggy the morning after she’d challenged me to a fight.”

She likens dogs to protectors, saying that “if guardian angels really exist, mine don’t have wings. They have wagging tails, soft bellies, and terrible breath.”

Animal lover Tracey Stewart with two of her four canine companions: Li'l Dipper (left) and Barkly. (Scout and Smudge couldn't make the photo shoot.)

Stewart’s intimate, close-friend tone is the charm of her book, Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better. But wrapped within that tone is the wealth of knowledge she imparts about every animal from dogs to cats, birds, sheep, squirrels, rabbits, cows, horses, and the list goes on. It’s all supported by the backbone of Stewart’s approach to life, which is that without compassion for animals, we cut ourselves off from an essential part of who we really are, from our instinct to follow the golden rule all ways round, not just with other people.

Much of the information she imparts about how to get on with dogs is good to share with children, or grandchildren: what dogs’ stances and various expressions mean; why it’s a good idea for dogs to have play dates; how to potty train a dog lovingly; and so on. She also offers opportunities throughout the book for crafts you can engage in with children to enhance the lives of dogs (and other animals), often with recycled materials. She even gives instructions for making your own dog bed, along with toys and baked treats.

But there’s plenty of new information for the grown-ups, too, including “Six Ways to Massage Your Dog” and reasons why it might be a good idea to adopt an older dog rather than a puppy, including the fact that you don’t have to potty train it or otherwise teach it how to fit into your household because the pet has already been taught the ropes in someone else’s home.

She talks, too, about activities you can engage in to help dogs, including adopting one virtually, meaning helping to take care of one at a shelter while putting out the word to everyone you know, including via social media, that there’s a sweet, lovable pooch waiting to be taken home.

Animals who live outside the home

While more space is devoted to the dog than to any other animal in the book, it’s Stewart’s discussion of animals with which many people are not as familiar that truly takes her work into a league of its own, making clear her underlying message that animals deserve our compassion, and love.

In what is arguably the most affecting story in Do Unto Animals, she tells of spending time at a dairy farm as a vet tech student, where a pregnant cow named Miss Eyebrows had been lying on the ground for more than 24 hours, unable to rise. For a cow, problems serious enough to cause an inability to stand can be fatal, and the veterinarian teaching Stewart and her fellow classmates told the farm owner that the cow’s prospects were not good and that he could call someone who could put the animal down and get him a good price on the beef.

The dairy farmer refused, retorting that his dairy animals gave him his livelihood. He then went to get a crane that would gently place his cow in a nearby pond, after which he asked his students which of them wanted to get into the water and start massaging the cow’s leg muscles so that her circulation would return and she might be able to stand again. It was Stewart who volunteered, running into the murky water in her scrubs and rubber boots and massaging while Miss Eyebrows released several bowel movements resulting from the stress and pain of her situation.

The next day, when Stewart arrived back at the farm for class, Miss Eyebrows was standing on her own and about to give birth. It was Stewart’s own birthday, so she was chosen to assist, helping to bring into the world a healthy calf who would never have existed had her pregnant mother been sold for meat.

“Only after the calf was born,” says Stewart, ”did we notice that all of the other cows, which had been scattered far out in the pasture prior to the birth, were now lined up against the fence looking to get a view of the new baby that would be joining their family. I was hooked on cows and on the beauty of the relationship between animals and humans,” she remarks.

Here are some other animal-human connections shared by Stewart that you may not have been aware of. These are connections that in a number of cases are deepening for her now that she and her husband, television personality Jon Stewart, have bought a farm that they are populating with ever more “family members”:

Turkeys love a good snuggle with a trusted friend, sitting for hours nestled by a person’s side while receiving gentle pats.

- Cows love soothing music.

- A goose will delay its migration if a fellow goose is injured and in need of help.

- A pig who runs toward you, swaying his head and hips back and forth and spinning in a circle, is letting you know he’s ready to play.

- Sheep gravitate toward calm, smiling faces and avoid angry or anxious ones — even when those are associated with food.

All show the depth of emotion animals feel. No wonder Tufts’ own Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Director of our Animal Behavior Clinic as well as a world-renowned animal behaviorist, says, “I love this book…beautifully written, and with a profound message that everyone needs to hear. Tracey Stewart tells it the way it is — or rather the way it should be — when it comes to our understanding and interactions with animals.”

✩✩✩✩✩ Highly recommended.

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