L.A. Unleashed

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Category: Books

Berkeley Breathed's new book was inspired by one of Michael Vick's former pit bulls


Beloved cartoonist Berkeley Breathed had an unusual inspiration for his latest children's book, "Flawed Dogs." No it wasn't one of the Santa Barbaran's many rescued pit bulls, but it was one of Michael Vick's infamous dogs who was set to be put down.

"The book happened because I came across both a picture and a quote at about the same time -- a picture of one of Michael Vick's fight dogs. It was set to be put down, but a shelter in Utah decided to take the dog and a few others at the same time and try to rehabilitate them," Breathed told CNN. "This was the first time the dog had ever received any affection in its life.... It's the most moving picture of a dog I've ever seen, having gone through an impossible transition and fallen back to where dogs naturally go, which is just loving people."

Best known for other animals, most notably the skittish penguin named Opus and utterly bizarre Bill the Cat, the Pulitzer Prize-winner sat down with Hero Complex blogger Geoff Boucher earlier this month and talked about his career so far, his regrets and his plans for the future.

Video of Breathed reading from "Flawed Dogs" after the jump.

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The most heavily contested book in America? It's 'And Tango Makes Three,' children's book about penguins

Tango Our friends at The Times' books blog, Jacket Copy, have alerted us to the fact that it's the 27th annual Banned Books Week.  

Now, in the good ol' days of book-banning, groups joined together to rid the world of filth such as Joyce's "Ulysses," Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Nowadays, though, the most heavily contested book in the U.S. is not faulted by its critics for its use of strong language, violence or perceived vulgarity. It's "And Tango Makes Three," a children's picture book about two real-life penguins that live in New York's Central Park Zoo. Roy and Silo, to be sure, aren't the most common of penguin pairs -- both are male -- but the children's book about them, which emphasizes the importance of tolerance to youngsters, hardly seems contentious.

A few years back, Roy and Silo seemed so desperate to hatch a chick that, undeterred by the fact that neither of them had the necessary anatomy to lay an egg, they placed a rock in their nest and tried to incubate it. Eventually, keepers gave them a fertile egg to care for, and they successfully hatched and raised a female chick -- the Tango of the book's title. 

Hardly the stuff of Steinbeck, but the books critics have attempted to have it banned from schools and libraries citing reasons including homosexual and "anti-family" themes. (Anti-family? It seems decidedly pro-family to us -- and pro-penguin to boot.)  Poor penguins -- if it's not a female penguin homewrecker breaking up their same-sex partnership, it's someone trying to ban their book.  

Gay penguin dads in German zoo hatch their first chick

-- Lindsay Barnett

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk comes to Pasadena

PETA bookPETA cofounder and president Ingrid Newkirk says she hopes her latest book will inspire readers to make compassionate choices to help animals rather than simply painting a bleak portrait of their suffering. 

"I don’t want people to just be depressed when you tell them how animals suffer in the various food and clothing and entertainment industries," Newkirk told Pasadena Now. "I wanted to point people in the right direction so they can feel good about being kind to animals and can actively participate in being kind."

Newkirk's organization is certainly controversial (witness its protest of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show earlier this year, which featured demonstrators dressed as KKK members passing out leaflets that read in part, "Like the Klan, dog breeders who subscribe to the AKC standards are all about the sanctity of 'pure bloodlines.' ")  But, according to one reviewer on Amazon, her book takes an approach more friendly than adversarial, offering "concise, straightforward information about how animals suffer in the entertainment, clothing, food, experimentation, and 'pet' industries; compelling stories; fascinating facts about animals; simple steps to take to stop cruelty; and frequently asked questions."  

In support of the book, "The PETA Practical Guide To Animal Rights," Newkirk will be making an appearance at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Friday at 7 p.m. to sign copies and discuss the topics covered in the book.  [Correction: Newkirk's appearance is Thursday, July 16, not Friday.] Vroman's is located at 695 E. Colorado Blvd..  (More information at Vroman's website.) 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Culinary delicacy foie gras inspires a war -- and a book

Foie gras We're hard pressed to think of a more controversial food than foie gras, the fancy (and, many animal advocates argue, inescapably cruel) dish made from the fattened livers of ducks or geese. To produce foie gras, the birds are force-fed large amounts of food through tubes pushed down their throats.

"In a matter of weeks, [the birds'] livers swell up to ten times their normal size," according to the website NoFoieGras.org, which is maintained by the animal protection organization Farm Sanctuary.  "Breathing and walking become difficult as the liver pushes against other organs, causing respiratory stress due to decreased air sac space in their lungs, and forcing the legs to move outward at an unnatural angle."

Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro's new book, "The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Largest Food Fight," offers an in-depth look at the practices that produce foie gras. 

Caro's book "is so well-written and so balanced in its treatment that it is, improbably, a real page turner. It has everything: fascinating characters, devious deeds, wit, suspense, science," Times food critic S. Irene Virbila writes on the Daily Dish blog.  "Guaranteed, you’ll think and think hard before you take that next bite of foie."  (Coming from a food critic, that's saying quite a lot.)

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The story behind 'Greyhounds'


Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey has chronicled the adoption of her greyhound, Riley, for L.A. Unleashed. Today she has a different sort of  greyhound tale to share:

Barbara Karant is shameless when it comes to greyhounds, and that’s a very good thing for the rest of us. A professional photographer who usually has architecture, interior design or art in sharp focus, her world changed in 1997 when she got her first dog and her first greyhound, Easton. Although maybe it’s not so surprising that she was drawn to the breed since the architecture of these dogs is the essence of beauty and function, power and grace.

Greyhounds_coverI’d put in a call to Karant to talk about “Greyhounds,” a beautiful new coffee table book that landed on my desk after she read about my attempts to teach Riley, my recently adopted 4-year-old rescued racer, to sit. (She promises that with the help of a little string cheese, we can get there. Progress reports on that to come.)

“Greyhounds” is a collection of her photos of these exquisite creatures -- both her own dogs and many others who have come through rescue organization Greyhounds Only’s doors--along with essays by author Alice Sebold ("The Lovely Bones") and singer-songwriter Neko Case, among others. Most of the proceeds go to help fund greyhound rescue; think of it as a “buy a book, save a dog” project.

Karant didn’t expect to fall in love with greyhounds when she adopted Easton in 1997. But she did, and soon she had three greys, “the perfect number,” she says, with Slim (the book’s coverboy) and Turtledove rounding out the family.

Easton has since passed on and Fancy, who came off the track with a badly broken leg, stepped in to help fill that empty space, though talking about Easton can still bring Karant to tears. “There’s something special about the bond with your first greyhound, I can’t quite explain it....” she says, her voice trailing off. “I started taking photos in 1999 when I wanted to help give Greyhounds Only a continuing revenue stream -- they were totally broke,” she says of the nonprofit she now heads. It is based in Chicago, where Karant lives with her greys in a renovated/expanded 1890s-era grocery store in Bucktown. (For a peek at her house and just how fabulous a space can be even when you’re sharing it with three greyhounds, check out this Chicago Magazine article.)

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Lots of love for disabled pets

AlmostperfectcoverA couple of months ago, a few animal bloggers made mention of a book titled "Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them." It's a slim volume, edited by Mary A. Shafer, a freelance writer who explains in an introduction that she was inspired by a "sweet kitten" named Idgie. "She had come to us under the most unusual of circumstances, " Shafer writes. "At first, I had even tried to give her away because I feared we wouldn't be able to give her the quality of life she deserved...

"The thing is, Idgie was born with no eyes." But ..."since you don't miss what you've never had, Idgie doesn't think she's missing anything ... and she's not." Shafer adds that her cat is "one of the happiest, most joy-filled creatures I have ever known."

And so it goes in "Almost Perfect." Several writers share their experiences with animals with physical limitations. Tux the cat's back legs are paralyzed. Simon is a three-legged cat. Ruby the dog roller-commutes "on wheels that stand in for rear legs."

You may think you've read these types of stories before, but they are hard to put down once you've started reading. And they're a testament to the astonishing bonds we form with the animals who live with us, perfect or not.

(Petswithdisabilities.org lists a handful of other books by authors who have been similarly inspired by their disabled companions.)

-- Alice Short

Book collects photos of hundreds of celebrities with their dogs

Britney_with_two_dogs_in_2004Is there an overlap between dog lovers and tabloid magazine junkies?

The authors of newly released "Hollywoof!" ($9.95, DK Publishing) sure hope so.

Subtitled "Celebrity Dogs Bite Back," the 156-page toHollywoofy-poodle-sized book features paparazzi shots of pooches with their star owners, including Rachel Bilson, Elton John, Blake Lively and Simon Cowell. Humorous captions in the dog's voice dot each photo, in comic bubbles.

The cover girl? Paris Hilton's Chihuahua Tinkerbell, natch.

"It seems like a kind of phenomenon that so many of these celebrities are clutching furry friends. They are like security blankets," said co-author Nasim Mawji.

(We at the L.A. Times indulge as well. Here's our own photo gallery of celebs with dogs, as well as one about controversies with pets and their famous people too.)

-- Harriet Ryan

Photos: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; DK Publishing

Finding the right guide to the birds


Picking a birding field guide is a little like picking a spouse, writes Sue Horton, a Times' editor of the California section and internally-known bird enthusiast.

In her review of two birding field guides in Sunday's Book Review section, Horton plucks the good and bad she spots in the "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America" and "Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America":

My field guide and I have been very happy in the eight years we've been together. David Allen Sibley's "The Sibley Guide to Birds" came out right about the time I got serious about birding, and we've been together ever since. But that doesn't mean I've lost my eye for other books.

Long before Sibley, there was Roger Tory Peterson, the great man of 20th century birding. For decades, his field guides ("Western Birds" and "Birds of Eastern and Central North America") were a required purchase for anyone serious about birds.

For my money, however, they had two major flaws: First, there was no single guide to all U.S. birds, and since birds sometimes show up where they're not expected, it's nice to have all the North American species in a single volume.

"Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America," published 12 years after his death, combines the two previous guides into one, and has gone some way toward solving the map problem, putting tiny maps on the pages where the birds appear.

Even more appealing is the "Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America." The guide uses photos rather than paintings, which has not always worked well in other guides. The book comes with a DVD of songs and calls for 138 species. Being able to call up songs in the field on your iPod is great.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Brian E. Small

At 74, primate expert Jane Goodall still doing good works


Although she has more than a half-century under her belt, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. The 74-year-old is still traveling the world doing acts of environmental good and is working on a new book.

Over the last 22 years, Goodall has traveled tirelessly, staying no more than three weeks in one place as she tries to educate Earth's top primates about environmentalism, inspire hope and get them to save their planet, The Times' Tami Abdollah writes in a Q&A in today's Calendar section:

Abdollah: Is your work still centered around or focused on chimpanzees?

Goodall: Not really. It's very, very important to me that we continue to study, that we do it in the right way, that there's enough money for it, that we try to protect those chimpanzees into the future by working with all the people living in poverty around the park and then hoping more and more of them will enable part of the land to regenerate so the chimps are no longer trapped as they are now; they're surrounded by cultivated fields. In five years, you get a 30-foot tree. So they're coming back, but you know, the villagers if they wanted could cut them down, there's nothing to stop them, except goodwill.

In the photo above, Goodall helps students plant a tree at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times

Chronicling the caribou-vs.-oil controversy


A wildlife biologist spent part of 2003 observing a migrating of a herd of caribou in the Alaskan wilderness. The biologist, Karsten Heuer, has now turned her experiences into a  book, "Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot With an Arctic Herd."

In "Being Caribou" (Milkweed Editions: 240 pp., $15 paper), Heuer makes a case against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with a gripping, cinematic tale of following the refuge's herd of 120,000 bulls, cows and just-born calves on a 900-mile migration across the tundra.

Kristina Lindgren, an assistant editor in Book Review, writes of "Being Caribou" in Sunday's Times:

     "You can smell the scat, feel the icy slush in minus-35-degree weather and hear the thundering hoofs, the bleats of newborn calves sucked into frigid whirlpools and washed downstream to waiting grizzlies, wolves, hawks and other predators."

The full review here.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times


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