I just finished the book Pukka’s Promise, written by a dog owner in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, whose research on prolonging the lives of dogs literally takes him all over the globe. In many ways he leads a charmed life, living on the outskirts of Yellowstone Park and enjoying front row views of the Grand Tetons, majestic and towering mountains that pierce the deep blue sky with their curiously jagged appearance. The kind of life I wish I could someday live, though I would probably prefer to be just a little bit closer to civilization.
The book meanders back and forth between regaling us with anecdotes of his adventures with Pukka (and how he eventually came to find him) and a recounting of interviews with dog experts, touring facilities where dog food are made, visiting shelters, rendering plants, veterinarian hospitals, universities, breeders and more, clearly going above and beyond to sift through and dig out as much knowledge as he could find that could unlock the secrets of how we could increase the lifespan of dogs.
Much of what he concluded mirrored my own thoughts and suspicions regarding some of the myths out there regarding dog care, but it was nice to see my views confirmed by a well studied dog owner who clearly did his homework.
As thick as the book was, the conclusions could actually be condensed to a single paragraph: choose the parents of the dog you want wisely (by exploring their pedigree and learning about important factors suchs as the coefficient of breeding), keeping the dog away from environmental pollutants (such as PFCs), providing excellent nutrition (a mostly carnivorous diet as natural, low glycemic and grain-free as possible), avoid over-vaccinations, and lastly, look for alternatives to neutering and spaying.
That last point is the one that surprised me, as I always presumed sterilization improved the overall health of dogs and reduces the risk of disease. As it turns out, the actual truth may be a bit more muddy. While spaying/neutering reduces the risk of certain cancers relating to the sex organs, it actually increases the risk of other diseases such as hypothyroidism.
It seems the push to neuter/spay dogs is really more about population control than it is about their health. I always thought neutering/spaying whatever dog I owned would be a given, but now I’m not so sure, especially in light of the fact that there are alternatives to preventing unwanted breeding, such as tubal ligations. In the case of tubal ligations for female dogs, it is unable to procreate but still retains its sex hormones, hormones that a slowly growing number of studies indicate might actually improve the dog’s overall health. At the very least, the debate on this wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as I originally thought.
Overall I definitely recommend this book for dog owners, even if the author did have a tendency to anthropomorphize his dog to an almost absurd degree. Roughly 1/3 of the book revolves around conversations he has with Pukka, and yet as weird as it is, I kinda get it. Humans are social creatures as well, and even the most introverted of us need to connect with others for the benefit of our health (which means I’m probably not long for this earth). In the absence of people who are either too incompatible or too busy, I could understand why it would be so easy to fill the void left by the lack of human bonding with the one thing that has all the time in the world for us: dogs.
If I wound up doing the same thing (and let’s not kid ourselves, we all know I will), I’m ok with it, provided that at the end of the day I understand that I am in fact talking to a DOG, and in the best interest of its health it still needs to be treated for what it is.