Nov 24, 2013

Adam's Task

Calling Animals by Name
by Vicki Hearne

I haven't read a book this difficult nor so excellent, in quite some time. Vicki Hearne is an animal trainer who works with dogs and horses, also writes poetry and studies philosophy. So the book touches on all those things, but mostly is (to my understanding) about how we communicate with animals, how that relates to understanding and training them. I can't quite explain how that all intertwines with philosophy, because I admit I didn't understand all those parts. I like how the author thinks, but often the details of her explanations would loose me (thus it was a good book to take to bed. About one chapter and my brain was tired!) I think it shows its time, because a lot of her stance appears to be reactionary to the aftermath of Hitler's era- she encounters a lot of dog owners and trainers who believe that strict obedience is abhorrent because look what it lead to in Germany. Also she butts heads with lots of people- pet owners, trainers she disapproves of, behavioral scientists and university professors all- who claim that animals react to things merely in a mechanical fashion and have no sense of reason or emotion. Hearne adamantly believes otherwise, and strives to prove it. She shares some compelling stories about training dogs in obedience and tracking work, and of working with problematic horses. I found her description of how horses think and communicate particularly fascinating- I didn't know they were so tactile. There's also a very interesting section about pit bull dogs. She had one, and the media hysteria about these dogs as dangerous animals was just starting to boil up. She remembers when these dogs were beloved as a bold, friendly and all-american breed. Runs into trouble when brings one on campus, even though the dog is obviously well-mannered. I was most curious to read one of the final chapters, which is her opinions on how cats think and deal with people, but admit I had trouble comprehending that one. It's definitely a book I'm keeping on my shelf to read again, because I want to understand better the things Hearne is getting at.

Oh, and I loved the fact that she was constantly referring to literature, especially how stories about animals reflected or influenced our ideas and perceptions of them. She mentions myriad famous animal stories, also quotes from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis and Rudyard Kipling. And the introduction was writting by Donald McCaig. I always enjoy it when the books I have talk to other books I also have on my shelves. It makes me feel like they are having a conversation and I am in the middle and in good company.

Rating: 4/5     274 pages, 1982

more opinions:
From the Armchair


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I'm glad she defended pit bulls! I like them, and I feel sad that they get such a bad rap. I'd get one myself if I weren't allergic to them.

Jeane said...

They can be very sweet dogs. I knew one in a kennel who just end loved people.