Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs

Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs

by Ted Kerasote

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544102538
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 282,903
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.22(d)

About the Author

TED KERASOTE is the author of several books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. His essays and photographs have appeared in Audubon, Geo, Outside, Science, the New York Times, and more than sixty other periodicals. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Read an Excerpt


Too Soon Over

WHEN MERLE THE DOG of my heart was dying, he rallied one morning, going outside on his own to take a pee. The sun had just risen; robins sang; geese called from the river. The snowy Tetons stood pink in the clear May sky.

Merle squatted and relieved himself. Then, walking to the spruce trees on the edge of our land, he had a bowel movement, holding himself in a perfect crouch. Just as had been the case when I tended my dying father, and any small sign of renewed vigor in him had given me hope of a recovery, these indications of normalcy in Merle buoyed my spirits. As the rising sun gilded his fur, I could for a moment deny the inevitable: that he would soon pass from this life and our remarkable partnership would end. His dying simply wasn't possible. After all, only thirteen years had gone by since we had met on the San Juan River, I a forty-one-year-old writer looking for an adventurous whitewater run, Merle a ten-month-old, half-wild pup living a very real adventure on his own in the Utah desert.

Golden in color, shading to fox red, Merle 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 his manners: no frenzied barking, whining, or licking. I gathered that he liked me as well, especially how I smelled, for he'd stick his nose against my skin, breathe in deeply, and sigh.

We went down the river together, and at the end of the trip he leapt into the truck and came home with me to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Over the next thirteen years, we hiked, horsepacked, and camped throughout the Rockies, running rivers in the spring, hunting elk in the fall, and skiing the Tetons from October until June. We were partners in the outdoors as well as in our small village of Kelly, where Merle had his own dog door so he could come and go as he wished. Each day, as I went to my home office to write, he, too, would set off to work, visiting his friends in the village, both canine and human, exploring the surrounding countryside, and making sure that everyone and everything in his domain was in order. He was called "the Mayor" and was as collected, calm, and independent a soul as one could wish for, yet he always came home, bonded to me, as I was to him.

Now, almost fourteen years old, Merle finished relieving himself and trotted across the grass, his tail swishing happily. Jumping onto the deck with a surprising bound despite his arthritis, he gave a joyful pant: "Ha- ha-ha!"

I couldn't mistake his meaning: "Can you believe it, Ted? I'm feeling really good this morning!"

"You do look good, Sir!" I replied. "Like your old self. What do you say? Do you want to come with me and do the recycling?"

"Hah!" he exclaimed. "You bet!"

As we drove south along the Gros Ventre River in our big blue truck, he sat erect on the front seat, puffed up as he always was when he wore his dog seat belt. He looked out the window at the snowcapped Tetons with a grin of idiotic pleasure.

"They sure are pretty, aren't they?" I said.

He panted twice, deeply — "HAH! HAH!" — which I translated as: "Yes! Yes! It is so good to be alive and looking at them!"

"Yes, it is good to be alive!" I replied, putting my hand on his ruff and thinking, "Here we are, still together."

I was so grateful, for only two weeks before, most of our friends and all of Merle's vets except one had suggested putting him down after twenty-four hours of seizures. The one exception had been a canine neurologist who had counseled patience and prescribed two medications that had ended the seizures and allowed Merle to begin his recovery.

The neurologist had given us a stay, and we were making the most of it, unwrapping each day as if it were a gift. We dumped the trash bags at the landfill; we sorted the bottles and papers at the recycling center; and on our way back through Jackson I stopped at Valley Feed and Pet, which was having its annual spring sale, rows of booths set up under a pavilion-like tent that had been erected in the parking lot. I could see friends milling about and eating barbecue as their dogs sat alertly at their feet, noses pointed upward, their eyes saying, "Excuse me, I could use a bite of that."

"You want to meet and greet," I asked Merle as I parked the truck, "or stay and have a nap?"

He lay down on the seat and gave a soft pant: "I think I'll stay right here."

"Okay," I said. "I'll be back in a few."

I closed the door, gave him another pat through the open window, and walked toward the booths. Just then, a young, athletic-looking couple came out of their car and intersected my path. They were in their midtwenties, both of them dressed in baggy chinos, running shoes, and fleece jackets. The man held a small puppy, a chocolate Lab, with a broad, wrinkled face and bright yellow eyes that looked keenly at everything going on around him.

"Seven weeks old?" I asked as I stopped before the couple and reached out to pet the puppy.

"A little bit more," said the woman. "We just got him."

I leaned close to the puppy so I could touch noses with him. His breath smelled like milk and vanilla and young teeth. I made a smooching noise with my lips; he squirmed in delight. The man put him in my arms, and the puppy wriggled against my chest and licked my neck madly.

"Oh, you are a beauty," I told him, kissing his head. He squirmed again in happiness.

I had the sudden feeling of being watched and turned toward the truck. Merle was sitting up, looking out the window at me, his deep red fur not nearly as red as when we had met, his face as white as snow.

"Hah!" he panted. "I see you petting that puppy! Just remember who the main dog is."

I blew a loud kiss to Merle and held the puppy for one more moment — young and warm and delicious in my arms — before handing him back to the man, who snuggled him against his chest.

The couple walked toward the booths, and as I watched them go I thought: "In fourteen years, perhaps sooner, certainly not much longer, he'll break your heart. Your entire life from now until then will be colored by him: his woofs, his wags, his smells, how he swam, his yips while he dreamed, how he rode your first child on his back, and how he began to slow down just as you were hitting your stride."

I looked back to Merle, grinning at me from the truck. Like everyone's dog, he had been all that and more, and I thought: "Why do they die so young?"

I'm not alone in asking this question. In the months following the publication of a book I wrote describing Merle's life and what he had taught me about living with dogs, I received hundreds of e-mails from readers who had lost beloved dogs and closed their letters with a variation on this theme: "Why must our dogs die so young?"

Naturally, when most of us say this, we're not expecting an answer. We're expressing a rhetorical complaint: why do our best friends in the animal kingdom live so much shorter lives than we do, only about an eighth of our life span?

However, I also received more specific questions from many readers, many of them heartrending: "Why is my dog going blind from progressive retinal atrophy?" "Why has my dog come down with Cushing's disease?" "Why wasn't I told that my dog might become arthritic after being vaccinated?" "Why did my dog have to die of cancer at three, at four, at six years old?" "Why," as one person wrote, "have four of my five Golden Retrievers died of cancer?"

Some of these questions hit very close to home. Merle's best friend Brower, a Golden Retriever, was diagnosed with a malignant cancer of the snout when he was six. Another of Merle's good friends, a black Lab named Pearly, died at seven of a neurofibrosarcoma that began in a nerve root at the base of her neck. Merle himself, though no young dog at fourteen, finally succumbed to his brain tumor.

As more of these letters came in, I couldn't ignore them. I did a bibliographic search and discovered that no extensive and rigorous exploration of these questions could be found in any one place. Thinking that these questions deserved a book-length treatment, I began to investigate, and not merely because I'm perpetually curious about our closest animal friends. I knew that at some point my heart would heal and I would long for another dog with whom to share my life. I wanted to make sure that the care I would give my new dog helped him to live a long and healthy life, longer than Merle's, if possible.

It was with these two goals in mind — learning about the healthiest ways to raise our dogs and finding my own new dog — that I set out on a 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 the 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.

This book is based on that peer-reviewed veterinary literature (referenced in the notes), as well as on the work of progressive thinkers in the worlds of veterinary medicine, dog breeding, and animal welfare, whose advances and reforms may not have appeared in your local veterinarian's office, kennel club, or shelter. It was with the help of these out-of-the-box thinkers that I began to question many of the outdated notions that surround our living with dogs, everything from yearly vaccinations to the idea that dogs need consistency in their diet. Indeed, since Merle and I met on the banks of the San Juan River in the spring of 1991, the way our culture raises dogs has changed considerably, as has mine. This book is about that evolution.

One thing hasn't changed in my thinking. I still believe that dogs are individuals as well as members of a class. Even though we can make generalizations about their nurture and training, we can't ever forget that each dog is unique, both physiologically and psychologically, and capable of making its own choices in complex and personalized ways, if only given the chance.

Merle, of course, led me on this journey of understanding from the start, helping me to see the richness of a dog's mind, a mentoring that Pukka has taken over, adding an insight that Merle was unable to provide. Pukka, being a very young puppy, helped to reopen my eyes to the ever-present newness of the world.

Sitting on my lap a few days after I brought him home, he watched a training video with me, paying close attention to the demonstrator dog's every move and pricking his ears when the dog barked. Then, when the video was over, he climbed onto my desk, and, quite sensibly for someone who had never seen a computer monitor before, peered behind the darkened screen to find where the barking dog was hiding. Glancing over his shoulder, he gave me a startled look: "That dog's not there."

Many people soon learned that I had a new puppy and sent Pukka gifts, a menagerie of stuffed animals that we stored in a wicker basket beneath the large windows overlooking the Tetons: a quacking duck, a howling wolf, a growling bear, a neighing horse, a barking dog, a laughing monkey, a wailing yak, a bellowing moose, and a squeaking hedgehog, as well as an assortment of rubber rings, stuffed cloth bones, knotted ropes, Frisbees, and balls.

Pukka would take them out one by one during the day, and I would put them away at night, and he would remove them again in the morning after breakfast, starting always with his favorite, the quacking duck, trotting across the room, and presenting it to me.

"We're going to town," I reminded him on this particular morning.

"Oh, please," his black button eyes implored, "toss it just once."

I launched the duck across the room, and he bounded after it, returning it to me smartly. Ten weeks old and he was already quite the retriever.

"Let's go," I said, "or we'll be late."

He looked at me coyly, furrowing his golden brows: "Just one more time."

There is a good evolutionary reason for puppies being cute. Few can resist their demands.

"Okay," I said, giving in. "One more time." I tossed; he fetched.

"That's it." I took the duck from him and walked it to the wicker basket, where I placed it on top of the other animals. "Let's go."

The instant I turned my back and took a step toward the door, he grabbed the duck and squeezed it — quack! — and dropped it at my feet.

"Pukka," I chided him gently, "we need to go." I put the duck in the basket. He plunged his snout in after it, snatched up the bear, and gave it a shake. Grrr, the bear growled.

I took it from him and placed it in the basket as he snagged the neighing horse, biting it and making it whinny.

"Enough, Pukka," I said, trying to sound firm. But he could see me smiling.

He dropped the horse and lunged for the yak. It wailed.

"Pukka, enough, let's go!" Dropping the yak, he snatched up the barking dog — rau-rau-rau! — and immediately tossed it aside for the squealing bone. Twice he bit it — squeal! squeal! — then flung it at me, only to grab the squeaking hedgehog. He was now laughing a big puppy grin as I put each stuffed animal into the basket and said, "Everyone back in place. Neat and tidy. There we go."

"Hah!" he panted, dropping the hedgehog and grabbing the wolf, who howled. Flipping it aside, he picked up the laughing monkey, the Frisbee, the chirping ball, the bellowing moose, tossing out every single toy in the basket and running from one to the other, biting them, so as to keep his wildlife chorus going. Quacks, howls, barks, neighs, and squeals pealed around us. I fell to my hands and knees, laughing.

Pukka's eyes lit with joy: I really did want to play! He began to dash in mad circles around me, scooping up his toys and flinging them at me, his tail helicoptering.

Sitting upright, I held my belly, and he skidded to a stop before me. Placing his paws upon my shoulders, he looked me in the eyes. "See," he grinned, "there really was enough time to play." Then he licked me on the mouth, just once, sealing our deal.

Laughing, I shook my head in wonder. How many other animals will so consistently play with a member of another species? And then I shook my head wistfully, despite Pukka's young age. Why should these humorous, tender, and congenial spirits be granted such short lives when the standoffish grizzly bear lives into its twenties and many a cranky parrot into its seventies? Why has nature decreed that our friendly dogs are already ancient in their teens while giving the unhuggable tortoise more than a century of life and some whales two hundred years to swim through the polar seas?


The Clocks of Danger

BECAUSE THE TWO grizzly bears were young, just coming into their third year, and on their own for the first time in their lives, they were afraid of nearly everything. This was the reason that they were constantly looking up from the elk carcass upon which they were feeding. The elk had been killed by a pack of wolves in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, and though there wasn't much meat left on its spine and ribs after the wolves and the scavengers had taken their fill, it was nonetheless a rich find for the two young bears, who were chocolate-brown in color, with black humps and paws. Only a week before, they had been run off from their mother's care by a big male grizzly bear interested in mating with her, and left to their own devices hadn't caught anyone larger than a mouse to supplement their diet of roots, grasses, and forbs.

On high alert, the two young grizzlies continued to look around and saw the approaching wolf a few seconds before Merle and I did. The wolf was coming out of the aspen trees at the bottom of the grassy hillside on which the elk had fallen, and it was black and younger than the bears. By its limber stance and not-quite-filled-out shape, I guessed it to be entering its second year. Like many young wolves, it was doing an exploratory walkabout away from its pack so as to learn the lay of the land on its own before returning to report what it had seen: "Bison in the next valley. Elk on the other side of the ridge. There are two grizzly bears on our carcass whom we could easily chase away." Unlike the two bears, who would soon split up and lead relatively solitary lives, the wolf would spend the next year or more with its pack. In fact, if it decided not to disperse, mate, and raise its own young, it might spend the rest of its life with its family.

Perhaps it was this knowledge — that its brothers, sisters, mother, and father were nearby — that bolstered the young wolf's confidence. No doubt the wolf had also read the furtive glances of the bears, their hunched body postures, their tenseness and fear, all of which made it decide to take matters into its own paws. It walked directly toward them with an attitude that said, "You better leave 'cause that's my elk."


Excerpted from "Pukka's Promise"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Ted Kerasote.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

 1. Too Soon Over 1
 2. The Clocks of Danger 8
 3. Loaner Dogs 24
 4. Houndy Labs 35
 5. Sifting the Genes 43
 6. On a Farm in Minnesota 67
 7. Duration of Immunity 74
 8. At Our Start 94
 9. Outward Bound 112
 10. Building the Dikes 137
 11. In the Time of the Big Light 160
 12. Carnivore to Monovore 175
 13. Should a Wolf Eat Corn? 187
 14. Real Food, Many Forms 209
 15. Whom Shall We Eat? 224
 16. The Worst Word in the World 243
 17. Dog Speed 266
 18. The Bad Good Death 291
 19. Shelters to Sanctuaries 309
 20. Chance 323
 21. The Flip Side of Spay/Neuter 330
 22. Not Long Enough 353
 23. Forever Young 367
With Great Thanks 385
Notes 389
Index 439

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"At once encyclopedic and intimate—a tour de force in canine appreciation." —Kirkus

"A moving account of one man's journey to understand man's best friend inside and out... Kerasote's latest is heartbreaking, funny, and informative ."—Publishers Weekly

"This might be the most important book about dogs written in a decade . Kerasote tells us early on that Pukka means ‘first class’ in Hindi, and first-class is a perfect description of Pukka's Promise. It’s a brilliant integration of speculation, cutting-edge science and story, and will keep you up at night wanting to read more. Every dog lover needs to read this book."—Patricia B. McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash

"Here’s a dog lover who actually teaches his dog using modern training entirely: communication, observation, and now and then a clicker—not just to build a bond and a working relationship but also to create a running conversation between man and animal . This book also investigates kibble (Is it really good for dogs?) and vaccinations (Why so many? Why so often?) and other commercial pressures on our best friends’ wellbeing. What a good read."—Karen Pryor, author of Reaching the Animal Mind

"Pukka’s Promise is without question the most intelligent, most comprehensive book ever written about extending the lifetimes of dogs. Not only that, but it’s riveting. After years of flawless research plus a life of valuable experience, Kerasote has produced a masterpiece that everyone should read. From pet owners to professionals such as breeders, shelter-workers, and veterinarians, those who think they already know about dogs are in for a real surprise ."—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Lives of Dogs

"Ted Kerasote gently and intelligently questions our fixed notions about living with dogs. Anyone who reads Pukka’s Promise can't help but become a better dog person. I'd like it to be compulsory reading for all practicing vets and veterinary students."—Bruce Fogle, DVM, author of The Dog’s Mind

"Ted Kerasote, a born storyteller, writes about dogs with singular brilliance . Pukka's Promise is great fun but is also packed with important, surprising information; with wisdom, compassion, and love."—Dean Koontz, author of A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog

"Ted Kerasote mixes science with love to take on the question every dog lover asks: Can I keep my dog alive longer? Pukka's Promise stirs our hopes for the future and gives us hard information for now."—Jon Katz, author of A Good Dog

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Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you enjoyed Merle's Door, you will like this one too. I thought some of the suggestions were over the top (e.g. I will not feed raw meat) and that Ted should have kept Chance too, but you may feel differently. Every dog owner would benefit from the research Kerasote presents.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is loaded with information on diet, overvaccinating dogs, and problems with purebred dogs such as inbreeding and breeding for looks, not health, just to name a few things. Mixed in is the author's journey to get his own dog, along with heartwarming stories about life with his new pet. It really opened my eyes to serious problems pets and humans face. Great book!
blueskynight More than 1 year ago
I read Merle's Door and could not put it down. I was so thrilled to see that Mr. Kerasote chose to research the factors that contribute to a dog's lifespan. I have learned quite a bit about this myself after living with dogs all my life and observing personally the affects of different diets and vaccines on their lifespan. It is amazing to have the benefit of his research. He is such a wonderful writer, and I find myself once again unable to put this book down. It is incredibly informative and so interesting to see the responses he received from the commercial pet food and pharmaceutical industries and verterinarians.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At last a comprehensive and well written book exploring the extending of our companions' life spans. The book prompted idea exchanges with my vets, adjustments to my dog's diet and additional supplements. It also has prompted many questions, which will mean I'll do more research- always a good thing. An added bonus is meeting Pukka through Kerasote's wise and touching observations. This book will help you enrich your dog's life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it was packed with information and suggestions on every topic related to dogs including shelter issues, neutering, food, environment, vaccinations, toys, and a whole lot more. It not only made me think, it made me change my dogs diet, speak to my vet about the frequency of vaccinations, what to use for tick prevention and change how I clean my home. I even changed the container we keep the dogs food in! If you love dogs and have one or more of your own, I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book full of information we need to know for our dogs well being.A real eye opener about dog food companies and what we are actually feeding our dogs!Ted is an excellent author.Be sure to read Merles Door that started this all!Thank You Merle and Ted.!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much-needed advice on feeding, vaccinating, spaying/neutering, and other factors which can extend the life of a dog. Some sections a bit tedious to read but very well-researched. Well worth the time if you are serious about keeping your dog around for as long as possible.
LindaB-MeeteetseWY More than 1 year ago
Pukka's Promise should be read by everyone who has a dog or wants one. Ted has done an amazing amount of research and this book is a wealth of information. He's got a huge amount of reference notes to back up what he's saying. It is very well written, often funny and sometimes heart wrenching for what is being done to our dog family in the name of breeding for beauty instead of health and strength. Terrific information on feeding healthy food and other health-related issues. I had already done my own research on all of this and Ted's book just confirms what I was working toward with my 2 Shih Tzus. Thank you Ted!!
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Buddys2ndMommy More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down and it engaged me from page 1. If you love your canine friend and want him/her to have a quality life, please read this book and consider Kerasote's suggestions. The author did an amazing amount of thorough, unbiased research. My 5-year-old Golden is my first dog. He walked up my driveway when I was 57 years old and I didn't know if I could be a good dog owner, since I was a "cat person" and already lived with 7 cats. Turns out, he was a gift from God and exactly what I never knew I needed. I wish I had read this book before I had him neutered and before I allowed him to get so chubby. Now my quest is to give him the happiest, healthiest life possible and I feel better equipped to do that since reading this book. My vet "doesn't get it" because she loves the money she makes from a huge dog food manufacturer that helped put her through vet school and now adds to her bottom line (she sells the bagged junk in her clinic). She refuses to consider any part of a raw diet and doesn't get excited about holistic approaches to yeast and skin issues, etc. I suggested this book to her because she would learn more from Ted Kerasote than she learned in vet school. And this book is delightful to read because the author is a very good writer! PLEASE read this book if you love your dog.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago