On the bulletin board in my "pet-centric" home office is a cartoon a reader sent me a couple of years ago: a dog sitting at a computer, paws on the keyboard. "On the Internet," reads the caption, "know one knows you're a dog."
Meant to poke fun at one of the basic truths of the online world -- no one knows what anybody looks like -- the cartoon always reminds me of the pet-friendliness of the Internet. The online world is home to tens of thousands of pet-related Web sites, a quantity so overwhelming that it's hard to know where to start looking, and which sites offer the best information.
Until now, that is, with the publication of a book designed to help dog lovers cope with the information overload.
"Dogs on the Web" (MIS:Press/Henry Holt; $16.95) reviews more than 500 canine-related Web sites, from the silly and more than a little juvenile Dog Poo Page, to pages on dog sports, clubs and getaways, to the somber Rainbow Bridge memorial for people who have lost their pets.
The book is a labor of love from two of the country's best writers on pet topics: Audrey Pavia, who before becoming a full-time writer spent more than a decade as an editor on two national dog magazines, and Betsy Sikora Siino, the author of hundreds of magazine articles and four books on dogs.
Pavia says she and her co-author were delighted with the sites they found, and the dedication of the dog lovers who produced the pages.
"I was surprised at the quality of the information," she says. "I thought there'd be a lot of misinformation, but almost everything I came across was responsible, accurate and well-written. I got the impression the dog-owning community had embraced the Web as a way to educate the public about responsible dog ownership."
The authors looked at so many Web sites that Pavia says they're still bleary-eared, but she also said the research was the most enjoyable part of the project.
"It was a lot of fun," says Pavia about her Web cruising. "I learned more about dogs, which I didn't think I could do. I've been reading about dogs for so many years it was a surprise to find sites on the Web that taught me things I hadn't come across before."
Still, Pavia says it's a good idea to bring a little bit of skepticism to the Internet, and offers these suggestions to anyone looking for information on dogs:
-- Use the knowledge you already have to help you evaluate quality. "For example," she says, "everyone knows about the American Kennel Club and their reputation for putting out high-quality information on dogs. Knowing that, you know you can go to their Web site and rely on their information on dog breeds."
-- Watch for signs that a source isn't ethical. "Keep in mind that there's a pet overpopulation problem," she says, "and if you run across a site that's advocating wanton breeding, the authors probably don't have the best interests of animals at heart, which means you should take whatever information they offer with a grain of salt."
-- Don't be wowed by snazzy design and graphics. Although Pavia says a Web site with high-quality graphics will often have high-quality information to match, some very plain sites offer the very best in information.
-- Know whose work you're reading. "Look for attribution," says Pavia. "You should know who wrote any piece and be able to discern if they are qualified to write it."
-- Be sure information is current. "Check when the Web site was last updated," says Pavia. "If you see a site that has been neglected, say, with a last update in 1995, and the information is time-sensitive, such as health information, be cautious."
-- Look for links to other sites. "Often the sites with the best information will recommend other high-quality sites," Pavia says. "These are good paths to follow."
Cat lovers shouldn't feel slighted, by the way: "Dogs on the Web" is one of a series of books profiling Web sites on various topics, and series editor Andy Neusner says the publisher is considering following with "Cats on the Web" if their first pet book does well.
PETS ON THE WEB: "Dogs on the Web" has its own matching Web site (www.mispress.com/dogs), with links to each of the more than 500 sites profiled in this excellent reference. A better place to start exploring canine cyberspace you won't find anywhere.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600