I am surprised a book like this hasn’t been written yet. It’s about time we started talking about why our dogs are dying so young.
Ted Kerasote takes on that question in his newest book, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs. Kerasote, heartbroken by the death of his beloved dog Merle, sets out on a quest to investigate canine longevity. In the process, he brings home an athletic labrador retriever, Pukka (pronounced: puck-uh), who inspires his journey into dog health, diet, genetics, and environment.
Kerasote is based in the wilderness of Wyoming, but his research takes him all over the country. He interviews dozens of veterinarians, breeders, shelter workers, and just general dog people about their perspectives on how we can extend the lives of our canine companions.
I particularly enjoyed his chapters on breeding and genetics. I’ve become increasingly dismayed at the purebred breeding practices in the United States, and Kerasote shares my concern. He examines the recorded longevity of many purebreds and notes that most breed organizations add a handful of years to the breed’s estimated longevity; in reality, most purebred dogs die many years earlier than they are “supposed to,” according to breed standards. He shares findings from studies and anecdotes from breeders intent on improving genetic health. I was especially fascinated in his discussion of the silken windhound, a breed invented by geneticist Francie Stull. By selecting dogs for health and longevity, many of Stull’s windhounds lived into their upper teens and several into their twenties, which is remarkable for a dog of any size or breed.
In choosing his new dog (Pukka), Kerasote decides to go with a breeder instead of a rescue, despite citing research that mixed breeds tend to live, on average, a year longer than purebreds of similar sizes. He makes the choice based on reliability of information: you have a better idea of what you’re getting from a breeder than from a pound puppy. However, I thought it was a bit contradictory that he railed against dog fanciers for valuing looks so highly, because he repeatedly turns down puppies because they didn’t look just like Merle, his previous dog; they had to have that “rangy look” and that “rufuous coat” or he wouldn’t accept them.
His discussion on diet and vaccinations I also found to be helpful. Particularly, his approach to vaccinations struck me as level-headed and reasonable, not swinging too much to either party line (vaccinate all the time vs. never vaccinate). Instead, he vaccinates the minimum recommendations from his vet and then uses titers thereafter.
(As a side note, I was delighted that he spent a whole chapter about his visit to the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA [CASPCA], which is our local SPCA and the SPCA that I volunteered at for a year while waiting for Pyrrha! He uses CASPCA as a shining example of a successful no-kill shelter and a pleasant place for homeless animals. I felt a lot of hometown pride.)
My only critique of the book is that I wish Kerasote’s recommendations were more broadly applicable to the average dog owner. He lives on a plot of vast acreage in Wyoming. He feeds Pukka raw, wild game that he kills himself. Pukka gets hours of free-roaming adventure and play every day. Pukka does not wear a leash, ever. Kerasote is a single, childless person who also has a stay-at-home job, so he gets to be with Pukka all day long. This sounds like paradise to every dog-loving person, but I don’t think many of us could follow all of his doggy lifestyle recommendations. Most of us have full-time jobs, human families, budget constraints, and live in suburban or urban areas in which it would be both unsafe and unwise to let our dogs roam, leash-less and intact. It would have been nice to have made some more applicable advice or shared modifications on how we can incorporate these healthy living principles into our dogs’ lives.
All in all, it’s a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read general research on dog longevity and discover some broad principles to extend the life and well-being of one’s beloved canine.
Bonus: A video of Pukka by the author.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed here are my own.