Animal Lovers Welcome

Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with animals—both in the wild and closer to home. (And who am I kidding? By "closer to home," I mean dogs wedged into the gap on the couch between me and my husband.)

I am currently the doting owner of an elderly Australian Cattle Dog and a younger, more sprightly Chihuahua. Over the years I have also owned—and been owned by!—horses, cats, rats, mice, a hamster, and a bird. My experiences with animals have only deepened my curiosity about their lives and experiences, as well as the relationships they form with us humans.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite animal-focused reads.
Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk is at once a memoir of falconry and grief. At the beginning of the book, Macdonald explains that after her father died unexpectedly of an infection from a cut, “a kind of madness drifted in…. My mind struggled to build across the gap, make a new and inhabitable world.” An experienced falconer, she begins to dream of flying her own goshawk, and soon enough she’s found one, named Mabel. Her book tells the story of their life together in poetic prose.

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence —and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process is another deeply moving book about a bird. I first encountered author Irene Pepperberg and her African Grey parrot Alex in YouTube videos. Their work together showed the world that parrots were not just mindless mimics, but instead complex thinkers and communicators.

James Herriot's charming series begins with All Creatures Great and Small. Herriot, a veterinarian working in mid-century Yorkshire, England, offers a unique tour of the farmers and pet-owners he serves—as well as their dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses. At once hilarious and heartwarming, Herriot's books are the crème de la crème of bedtime reading (in my opinion). And if you zip through his first book, you will still have the chance to savor four more: All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and WonderfulThe Lord God Made Them All, and Every Living Thing.
Rin Tin Tin
I love all of Susan Orlean's writing, but Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend has a special place in my heart. The New York Times reviewer wrote: "As a love letter to this dog, 'Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend' is an appealing book about the emotional connections people can make with animals, and it showcases Ms. Orlean's copious gifts as a reporter: a keen eye for the telling physical and psychological detail, an ability to match the odd obsessions and leitmotifs that thread disparate lives together, and an unflagging sympathy for her subjects." Right on!
Horse Heaven
In Jane Smiley's novel Horse Heaven, horses and people share centerstage. Smiley invites her readers into the consciousnesses of racehorse trainers and owners, as well as a group of unforgettable Thoroughbred horses: Justa Bob, Epic Steam, Residual, Froney's Sis, and Limitless. This is a long, meaty, fun book perfect for a summer vacation.
Dewey
My list would not be complete without Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Vicki Myron—the director of the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa—found Dewey stuffed into the book-drop on a freezing night. At the time, Dewey was only a few weeks old. From then on, Dewey became a magical, improbable, and life-changing presence in his library and his town.

What are your favorite books about animals and their humans? Feel free to post your tips in the Comments below.

—Mimi at West Windsor Branch

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