Pukka’s Promise

Pukkas Promise “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs,” by Ted Kerasote. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28.

I admit it dear readers: I blew it on not getting this book review to you earlier. Published several months ago, this seminal work is must reading for every dog owner.

Kerasote leaves no stone unturned in his seemingly never-ending odyssey to eventually find a successor to Merle, the subject of his earlier best seller, “Merle’s Door.” In the process, he turns investigative reporter with the intent of finding the right dog, but equally important probing factors that impact a dog’s lifespan. That tableau includes genetics, inbreeding, lifestyle, diet, diseases, vaccinations, environmental health and sterilization.

Next time you’re doing homework for a car or appliance to purchase, based on reliability and track record, this is a guy you want nearby.

“Pukka’s Promise” interweaves two parallel threads – the author’s attempt to find a breeder with a history of sound dogs that are virtual Merle clones and his never-ending commitment to uncovering the complexity of the dog’s short lifespan.

In addition to finally finding Mr. Right Breeder in Minnesota, Kerasote traverses a landscape across veterinary medicine, dog breeding and animal welfare to better grasp the longevity issue.

“One thing has changed in my thinking,” he says. “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.”

Kerasote takes a few jabs at the veterinary profession for its long-standing position on sterilization and tight relationship with the pet-food industry. Also in his line of fire are national breed clubs for their emphasis on beauty and appearance rather than physical soundness. In the process, he applauds Wayne Cavanaugh, United Kennel Club president, for announcing that organization was revising all breed standards to prioritize health over appearance, calling the endeavor “our moral duty to the canine world.”

Conversely, finding Pukka, which means “first class” or “genuine” in Hindi, was the culmination of cutting-edge detective work based on the same principles that served him well when interviewing key figures in the scientific, animal-welfare and dog-breeding communities.

After being held at “arm’s length” by Purina and Hill’s relative to nutritional questions and interviewing a veterinary researcher feeling the same frustration, Kerasote includes correspondence from the respected scientist: “You are now finding out what I have learned over the past 30 years. That is, pet food nutrition is approximately 10 per cent science, 50 per cent spin and 40 per cent influence.”

Some of the subject matter is dry material, yet the author manages to connect the dots in the big picture with colorful meaning and context.

Noting the comparatively low euthanasia figures of unwanted dogs in Western Europe compared to this country, Kerasote writes, “What may be a far more important factor in determining how many healthy dogs a nation puts to death is not its people’s responsibility, or lack of it, but their poverty, and the United States is a poor nation indeed when it comes to measuring the well-being of its citizens.”

Highly passionate and deeply probing, Kerasote serves up a smorgasbord of appetizing doses of sentiment scattered about a table featuring bluntness and candor within easy reach.