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

I thought this book would be just another memoir by a radical dog rescuer, but it turned out to be so much more.   Author Steven Kotler and his wife, Joy, started out in California and then purchased a small ranch in Chimayo, New Mexico, to have room for their dogs.  The book has details of the dogs’ personalities,  their problems, and some sad or happy endings, but the author really uses these stories as jumping off places for philosophizing on man, dogs, and animals in general.

Some of the topics covered – all of which are supported by scientific study or expert opinion – are:

  • Neotony – the official name for cuteness, or infantile features that provoke a nurturing response in adults
  • Domestication of wolves – did we do it or did they do it themselves?
  • Cross-species altruism and altruism among animals – demonstrated by the Kotlers’ dogs
  • Wolves teaching early humans morality
  • Endorphins and flow states caused by helping others
  • Group flow states
  • Animals as stress relievers
  • Animal homosexuality
  • Pet loss and complicated grief
  • Disastrous effects of puppy mills
  • Dog laughter  – it’s been scientifically studied and recorded – www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcoMzyPVT9M  gives a less scholarly example
  • Land ethics
  • Animal myths, sacred animals, shamanism and spiritualism
  • Imitative behavior in animals
  • Face reading and left-gaze bias – how dogs read our faces, especially the right side, where emotions register
  • Transpersonal identification – “empathy beyond self and species and into the wider world”

It’s a tribute to Kotler’s skill that all these topics are seamlessly woven into the dog narratives, giving the reader a lot of information in an easy to read format.  A Small Furry Prayer serves as an antidote to some of the more treacly dog books being published as part of the current avalanche riding on the coattails of Marley and Me.

(Sherrie Antonowicz, Administration)

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