Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Bestseller
The amazing story of a very smart Border collie who is redefining animal intelligence.
Chaser has a way with words. She knows over a thousand of themandmdash;more than any other animal of any species except humans. In addition to common nouns like house, ball, and tree, she has memorized the names of more than one thousand toys and can retrieve any of them on command. Based on that learning, she and her owner and trainer, retired psychologist John Pilley, have moved on to further impressive feats, demonstrating her ability to understand sentences with multiple elements of grammar and to learn new behaviors by imitation.
Johnandrsquo;s ingenuity and tenacity as a researcher are as impressive as Chaserandrsquo;s accomplishments. His groundbreaking approach has opened the door to a new understanding of animal intelligence, one that requires us to reconsider what actually goes on in a dogandrsquo;s mind. Chaserandrsquo;s achievements reveal her use of deductive reasoning and complex problem-solving skills to address novel challenges.
Yet astonishingly, Chaser isnandrsquo;t unique. Johnandrsquo;s training methods can be adopted by any dog lover. Through the poignant story of how he trained Chaser, raised her as a member of the Pilley family, and proved her abilities to the scientific community, he reveals the positive impact of incorporating learning into play and more effectively channeling a dogandrsquo;s natural drives.
Johnandrsquo;s work with Chaser offers a fresh perspective on whatandrsquo;s possible in the relationship between a dog and a human. His story points us toward a new way of relating to our canine companions that takes into account our evolving understanding of the way animals and humans learn.
"Humorous, jubilant and touching by turns, this story of the relationship between man and dog is informed by the author's grasp of animal research and his attachment to Merle, a stray dog he adopted. A Labrador mix, Merle first appeared while the author was on a camping trip. Kerasote (Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age), an award-winning nature writer, decided to take his canine friend home to rural Wyoming. This chronicle of their 13 years together is interspersed with studies by animal behaviorists that strengthened Kerasote's desire to see Merle as a responsible individual rather than a submissive pet. Merle set his own eating schedule (though not without early mishap), refused to hunt birds (although not elks) and, according to the author, possessed a range of emotions and sentiments similar to those of humans. Kerasote tends to anthropomorphize Merle's every look and movement, but this narrative is entertaining and Kerasote's strong love for Merle and enthusiasm for life in the wild will win over many readers. Kerasote's joyous relationship with Merle is balanced by a bittersweet account of a close relationship the author had with Alison, a neighbor and fellow dog owner. Kerasote's last weeks with the dying Merle are beautifully rendered. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A thoughtful look at animal intelligence and the human-dog connection." Kirkus Reviews
"It is no exaggeration to say that Merle's Door could be the best book ever written about dogs." Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
"Kerasote has created a whole new work of art. Merle's Door is the best, the most utterly compelling translation of dog to human I have ever seen. A terrific book, a superb book, I can't think of a single other book that conveys the love of a human for a dog so well." Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of Dogs Never Lie About Love
"Merle's Door is a window into the mind of a dog. You will experience his loyalty, fears, and joys and his true inner self. Everybody who loves dogs must read this book." Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
"Merle's Door is a love story for grown-upsan intense reciprocal relationship between a dog and his man, and how we and our dogs genuinely share feelings and emotions." Dr. Bruce Fogle, DVM, author of The Dog's Mind
"Merle's Door is a joyous, sad, gripping, and deeply moving testament to the fulfilling relationship that can grow between human and dog." Juliet Clutton-Brock, author of A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals
"To be entertained and educated at the same time is rare in dog books, which makes this one definitely worth reading." Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think and The Intelligence of Dogs
PRAISE FOR BLOODTIES"The world is lucky to have this book."ELIZABETH MARSHALL THOMAS, author of THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGSPRAISE FOR OUT THERE"[A] sly, funny, and wise look at the world beyond the walls that we erect to keep ourselves safe from the wilderness and to keep the wilderness safe from us."ALEXANDRA FULLER, author of DONT LETS GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT
"In telling Merle's story, Kerasote also explores the science behind canine behavior and evolution, weaving in research on the human-canine bond and musing on the way dogs see the world. Merle is a true character, yet Merle is also Everydog. An absolute treasure of a book."
"Merle’s Door is a love story for grown-ups—an intense reciprocal relationship between a dog and his man, and how we and our dogs genuinely share feelings and emotions." --Booklist (starred review)
"It is no exaggeration to say that Merle's Door could be the best book ever written about a dog or dogs--one dog in particular, the magnificent Merle of the title, but also about dogs in general.... It is beautifully written, a real page turner, often funny, always fascinating, and very moving. It's a book you will never forget."
"Beginning with Jock of the Bushveld in 1907, many biographies have been written about wonderful dogs whose lives have crossed the borders between the wild and the tame, but none surpasses Merle's Door. It is a joyous, sad, gripping, and deeply moving testament to the fulfilling relationship that can grow between human and dog."
"A thoughtful look at animal intelligence and the human-dog connection." --Juliet Clutton-Brock, author of A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals
"Kerasote gives readers much to consider that will enrich their own relationships with their pets. His book is highly recommended, but it does come with a tissue alert."
"This exquisitely written book is sure to be controversial, but it raises important questions that every thoughtful dog owner should consider."
"[T]his summer's Marley? In his memoir cum training manual, Kerasote waxes poetic about his mutt Merle and provides tips for deepening the dog/human bond."
"Humorous, jubilant and touching by turns... Kerasote's strong love for Merle and enthusiasm for life in the wild will win over many readers."
"Reading Merle's Door involves more than just sailing through an engaging biography of a man sharing his life with a rare and free-spirited dog since it contains islands of useful and scientifically sound information about dog behavior as well. To be entertained and educated at the same time time is rare in dog books, which makes this one definitely worth reading."
PRAISE FOR MERLE'S DOOR
and#147;This summerand#8217;s Marley.and#8221;and#151;People
and#147;Anyone who ever loved a dog will find something to enjoy in Merleand#8217;s Door.and#8221;and#151;The Christian Science Monitor
and#147;Merleand#8217;s Door is a window into the mind of a dog. You will experience his loyalty, fears, and joys and his true inner self. Everybody who loves dogs must read this book.and#8221;and#151;Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
and#147;A truly wonderful bookand#151;iconoclastic, mind-blowing, and gorgeously written.and#8221; and#151;Delia Ephron, author of Hanging Up and Frannie in Pieces
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
andquot;Insightful and philosophical, Jans probes the boundaries between wilderness and civilization and our responsibilities to the untamed creatures in our midst.andquot; -- Publishers Weekly
andquot;The sweet and cautionary tale of a wolf that liked to play with dogs...An astute, deeply respectful encounter between man and wolf.andquot; -- Kirkus Reviews
andquot;Jans is an exceptional storyteller andmdash; no nature writer can top him in terms of sheer emotional force andmdash; and he frames even the smallest moment with haunting power.andquot; --and#160;The New York Timesandquot;A thoughtful, highly detailed account of one communityand#39;s poignant encounter with a truly magnificent creature.andquot;and#160;--and#160;BookPageandquot;Beautifully written, A Wolf Called Romeo is a thoughtful and moving story about one of natureand#39;s most evocative animals. Be forewarned: I read it cover to cover in one sitting late into the night. The author owes me a good nightand#39;s sleep; but it was well worth it.andquot; -- Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leashandquot;The compelling, grounded account of a black wolf that stepped forward in the half-light between wilderness and civilization and the people who met him there. From the powerful first moments to a hard-won conclusion that becomes our journey, too, A Wolf Called Romeo is a book to keep a reader up nights, and a book that carries long after the last page is turned.andquot; -- Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing and The Possibility Dogsandquot;A Wolf Called Romeo is one of the best books Iandrsquo;ve read in a great many years. It gives heart-wrenching insight into an amazing animal, important insight into the shining side of our relationship with that animal, and important if bitter insight into the dark side. Itandrsquo;s told in a quiet, even-handed manner which makes it all the more compelling, and itandrsquo;s riveting. In short, this is a real page turner-- one that years from now you will remember in all its detail. If you have only the time to read one book, read this one.andquot; -- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and A Million Years With You
"Chaser is the most scientifically important dog in over a century. Her fascinating story reveals just how sophisticated a dogand#8217;s mind can be."
and#8212;Brian Hare, coauthor of The Genius of Dogs
"After you read Chaser, you will realize that you may have underestimated the intelligence of your dog. Marvelous insights into a dogand#8217;s mind."
and#8212;Temple Grandin, author of
Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
"This is an extraordinary book, full of warmth and wisdom that has the potential to forever change the way we look at dogs. While Chaser herself seems extraordinary, maybe she is also every dog, in showing us what every dog is capable of. and#12288;Maybe not every dog can learn over a thousand words, but every dog I have ever known can read our heart, and that, to me, is the great secret between dogs and humans that we are just now learning, and which is so deeply evident in this wonderful book: and#12288;Chaser loves people, and because of that love she will do anything asked of her, even learn the names of one thousand toys! Dr. John Pilleyand#8217;s work with Chaser is not only a loving affirmation for readers who already know how much they adore and trust the ability of dogs, but is also a game-changer for skeptical scientists, who must find themselves, after reading this remarkable book, inching closer to recognizing the full humanity of dogs."
and#8212;Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love
"A Border Collie that understands lots of words wonand#8217;t surprise people who work with these inventive dogs, but what makes John Pilleyand#8217;s tale special is his dogged determination, long after his retirement from teaching psychology, to keep his own brain fizzing with all the new words and techniques and ideas he needs to learn to get his results published in a respected science journal."
and#8212;Bruce Fogle, author of The Dogand#8217;s Mind and The Encyclopedia of Dogs
"If a truly great book leaves one better for having read it, then Chaser is quite simply a masterpiece.and#12288; Dogs and those of us who love them owe to debt of gratitude to the brilliant, courageous author and his equally heroic subject."
and#8212;Jennifer Arnold, author of Through a Dogand#8217;s Eyes
"An engrossing and remarkable tale." -- The Bark "A delightful memoir that offers a challenge to behavioral psychologists and inspiration for pet lovers." -- Kirkus Reviews "This marvelous blend of good science and heartwarming dog story will inspire all of us to reexamine our canine friends." -- Booklist, *starred* review
While on a camping trip, Ted Kerasote met a dog a Labrador mix who was living on his own in the wild. They became attached to each other, and Kerasote decided to name the dog Merle and bring him home. There, he realized that Merle's native intelligence would be diminished by living exclusively in the human world. He put a dog door in his house so Merle could live both outside and in.
A deeply touching portrait of a remarkable dog and his relationship with the author, Merle's Door explores the issues that all animals and their human companions face as their lives intertwine, bringing to bear the latest research into animal consciousness and behavior as well as insights into the origins and evolution of the human-dog partnership. Merle showed Kerasote how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of their own decisions, and Kerasote suggests how these lessons can be applied universally.
This national bestseller explores the relationship between humans and dogs. How would dogs live if they were free? Would they stay with their human friends?
Merle and Ted found each other in the Utah desertand#8212; Merle was living wild and Ted was looking for a pup to keep him company. As their bond grew, Ted taught Merle how to live around wildlife, and Merle taught Ted about the benefits of letting a dog make his own decisions.
Using the latest in wolf research and exploring issues of animal consciousness and leadership and the origins of the human-dog relationship, Ted Kerasote takes us on the journey he and Merle shared. As much a love story as a story of independence and partnership, Merleand#8217;s Door is tender, funny, and ultimately illuminating.
The remarkable true story of a six-year friendship between a wild, oddly gentle black wolf and the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska.
The unlikely true story of a six-year friendship between a wild, oddly gentle black wolf and the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska
and#160; No stranger to wildlife, Nick Jans had lived in Alaska for nearly thirty years. But when one evening at twilight a lone black wolf ambled into view not far from his doorstep, Nick would finally come to know this mystical speciesand#8212;up close as never before.
A Wolf Called Romeo is the remarkable story of a wolf who returned again and again to interact with the people and dogs of Juneau, living on the edges of their community, engaging in an improbable, awe-inspiring interspecies dance and bringing the wild into sharp focus. At first the people of Juneau were guarded, torn between shoot first, ask questions later instincts and curiosity. But as Romeo began to tag along with cross-country skiers on their daily jaunts, play fetch with local dogs, or simply lie near Nick and nap under the sun, they came to accept Romeo, and he them. For Nick it was about trying to understand Romeo, then it was about winning his trust, and ultimately it was about watching over him, for as long as he or anyone could.
Written with a deft hand and a searching heart, A Wolf Called Romeo is an unforgettable tale of a creature who defied nature and thus gave humans a chance to understand it a little more.
The heartwarming and amazing story of Chaser, a Border Collie who has learned the names of over 1,000 objects, and her octogenarian trainer, exploring the true potential of animal intelligence and the ways in which any dog lover could achieve similar results.
About the Author
TED KERASOTE is the author ofandnbsp;several books, including the national bestseller Merleand#8217;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.
Table of Contents
chapter 1: From the Wildand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 1
chapter 2: The First Dogand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 26
chapter 3: The Synaptic Kissand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 49
chapter 4: In the Genesand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 67
chapter 5: Building the Doorand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 97
chapter 6: Growing Into Himselfand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 113
chapter 7: Top Dogand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 145
chapter 8: The Gray Catand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 169
chapter 9: Estrogen Clouds 181
chapter 10: At Home in the Arms of the Country 194
chapter 11: The Problem of Meand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 210
chapter 12: The Mayor of Kellyand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 234
chapter 13: The Alpha Pairand#160; 249
chapter 14: White Muzzleand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 270
chapter 15: What Do Dogs Want?and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 284
chapter 16: A Looser Leash 304
chapter 17:t-family: 'Times New Roman'" The First Passingand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 313
chapter 18: Through the Doorand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 327
with many thanksand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 363
Interview with Ted Kerasote, author of Merle's Door
While on a camping trip, Ted Kerasote met a dog a Labrador mix who was living on his own in the wild. They became attached to each other, and Kerasote decided to name him Merle and bring him home. But Ted soon realized that Merle's native intelligence would be diminished by living exclusively in the human world, and he put a dog door in his house so Merle could live both outside and in.
A deeply touching portrait of a remarkable dog and his relationship with the author, Merles Door explores the issues that all animals and their human companions face as their lives intertwine and uses the latest research into animal consciousness and behavior to provide insights into the origins and evolution of the human-dog partnership. Merle showed Kerasote how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of their own decisions, and Kerasote suggests how these lessons can be applied universally.
Q: Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack of dog memoirs by offering readers fascinating facts about canine genealogy and the evolution of human-dog interaction. How long did it take you to research the book?
A: One of my aims in writing Merle's Door was not only to tell the story of a remarkable dog who was one of my best friends, but also to give readers accurate information about the origins of dogs, the dog-human partnership, and how dogs think. My hope is that readers can then apply this information to their relationships with their own dogs. For this information to be both accurate and current, I went to the latest primary sources. Reading scientific papers, interviewing some of the scientists who wrote them, and reading widely in the dog literature took me two years.
Q: Most people subscribe to the commonly held belief that they should dominate their dogs. You suggest a different approach essentially one that lets dogs be dogs. Why do you think that many owners have a hard time accepting this theory? Do you think they would change the way they treat their dogs if they were aware of this model and the potential it has to improve their relationship with their four-legged friends?
A: This is a complex issue and one of the major themes of Merle's Door so please forgive me if my answer is a bit long. I think that a lot of dog owners have a hard time letting their dogs be dogs in other words, diminishing their authority over them because, frankly, authority is addictive. In our western democratic society, dogs offer us one of the very few relationships in which we can exert unlimited authority and even physical punishment with almost no legal or moral constraints. In return, we're obeyed not merely obeyed, but also loved, or at least fawned upon. This one-sided relationship is psychologically soothing; it transports us back to our infancy when we can demand anything of our parents, and usually get it. Not many of us unless we're CEOs or the rulers of countries can get away with this sort of behavior as adults except in our relationships with dogs. Sit, stay, lie down, be quiet, see you in eight hours when I come home from work this kind of authority is heady and hard to relinquish.
Such power is also hard to relinquish because dog trainers constantly advise us to be strong alphas to our dogs. After all, thats how alpha wolves treat their subordinates they keep the pack in order and everything running smoothly, right? The problem with this reasoning is that it's been derived from observing captive wolf packs, and they're dysfunctional. As eminent wolf biologist David Mech has pointed out, "Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps."
It wasn't until researchers began watching wild, unmolested wolf packs at the end of the twentieth century that they discovered that wolf society is a lot more egalitarian than anyone had imagined. The so-called alpha wolves, the breeding adults, actually share leadership with their maturing pups, letting them decide whom to hunt, when to hunt, and where to move the pack. The parent wolves don't always have to be obeyed by their teenage wolves meaning there's free will in wolf society. Yet parent wolves are frequently listened to because, just as in human society, it's the elders who have wisdom to impart.
Since dogs are wolves genetically and psychologically they, too, want some say in conducting their lives as they grow up. They want some authentic freedoms while also listening to those who are their elders, their human partners. Keeping one's dog a perpetual child and quashing this natural maturation process by not giving the dog some leeway in conducting its own affairs especially providing it off-leash time in which to socialize with other dogs often leads to what this heavy-handed approach does in child rearing: the dog acts out or becomes a yes-dog, obeying mindlessly and not realizing its full mental capabilities.
Merle sidestepped many of these pitfalls through some bad fortune. He began life on his own abused, shot at, and having to catch his own food to survive. But there was a silver lining to these hardships; they made him resourceful, self-reliant, and self-actualized. When we found each other and I gave him his own dog door so he could come and go as he wished, I simply fostered his innate curiosity and ability to solve problems on his own. The result was a dog who was my peer in many ways who taught me rather than the other way around. I've hoped that in writing his biography I might convey the value of loosening the leash, in all aspects of our dogs' lives, and by so doing mentoring them to become freer thinkers and equal partners.
Q: As Merle ages, you try a variety of holistic methods to alleviate his ailments, including acupuncture, massage, and dietary supplements. Are these types of treatments relatively new in the field of veterinary science? Did you encounter any raised eyebrows when you informed others that Merle was being treated with alternative medicine?
A: Sure! There were many people who said, "You're giving Merle acupuncture? Gimme a break!" But acupuncture, massage, and dietary supplements helped to make him a fit and healthy dog into his early teens. At thirteen he was still climbing big mountains and skiing off of them thousands of vertical feet. These days, vets at the cutting edge of their profession endorse such therapies, and I cite them and their work in Merle's Door.
Q: You've had numerous adventures around the globe climbing mountains and navigating rivers and your love of nature and the environment is evident in your writings, including Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age. What is it about the wilderness that appeals to you, as a New York native now living on the outskirts of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming?
A: "Native" is a curious word; it refers to the spot on Earth where you took your first breath and perhaps grew up. It doesn't necessarily describe the origins of your native sensibilities and passions. That was the case with me. My earliest childhood memories are of being unhappy in Manhattan, of not feeling comfortable in my skin until my family bought a summer place on Oyster Bay, in what was then rural Long Island. I really became a native there, on the water, fishing, and hunting; but soon that place wasn't native enough for me.
Even as a twelve-year-old boy I had photos of the Rockies and its wildlife hanging on the walls of my bedroom, and I left for the West as soon as I could. What appealed to me about the West's wild places, as well as all the wild places I've had the good fortune to visit since then, is their purity. There are no malignant intentions in the wilderness, none of the pathology that causes so much human tragedy. Being drowned in a kayak or buried in an avalanche is certainly sad, but neither the sea nor the snow intend to harm a person out of greed, hatred, or misanthropy. Consequently, traveling in such wild places has returned me to innocence, which is really everyone's first native land.
Q: You and Merle spent a lot of quality time together on hunting expeditions, and you have previously examined both sides of the hunting issue in Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt. How does hunting for food, not sport, connect you with nature?
A: Hunting for food has provided me with an ever-scarcer relationship in a world of cities, factory farms, and agribusinessparticipation in the natural cycles that run the planet as well as having direct responsibility for taking the lives that sustain me. And all of us whether we're carnivores, omnivores, or vegans take animal life to feed ourselves. Some of us, the hunters, do this directly. Some of us, the eaters of domestic meat, have someone else do the killing for us. Even vegans participate, indirectly, in the killing. As I and many other writers have pointed out, farming even organic farming takes the lives of animals. They're killed when crops are harvested; they're displaced by fencing; and they're killed on highways as our food is transported from farm to market. Hunting makes me present, mindful, and perpetually thankful for the sacrifices others make so I might live.
Q: If you wrote an obituary in celebration of Merle's life, what would it say?
A: Well, that's easy I'd write Merle's Door. But if I had to give an abridged version, it would be this one, which is what I sent out to his many friends the day after he died:
Sometime in the spring of 1990June 10, 2004
Found on the San Juan River in Utah as a pup, came of age in Jackson Hole
Consummate skier, avid peak bagger, tireless elk and antelope hunter, hiker . . . mountain biker . . . river runner . . . horsepacker . . . dancer
Watcher over of children
Mayor of Kelly
Friend to many
Confidante, Soul mirror
Patience, exuberance, optimism.
Missed from the bottom of my heart,
Which he filled to overflowing:
Merle, Merle, Merle
Copyright © 2007 Harcourt
Questions written by Roseleigh Navarre