The colder nights we have now are perfect for reading, and if you can find something heartwarming to read, you're always better off. Fortunately, two books are out now that should warm your insides even on the chilliest night.
"Scarlett Saves Her Family" (Simon & Schuster Editions, $20) takes the true tale of a feline heroine from a description of the East Brooklyn neighborhood where she was a stray through her sudden worldwide fame to the adoption of her and her family by a handful of generous cat-lovers. Authors Jane Martin and J.C. Suares have done a good job with this book, telling the story well without making it too cloying.
The cat became a media star in March of 1996, when animal-loving firefighter David Giannelli found three, then four, then five tiny kittens next to the curb outside of a burning garage. As he collected the babies into a cardboard box, he knew there had to be a mother cat around. He found her across the street, exhausted and badly burned from carrying her kittens out of the fire. He named her Scarlett, for the patches of red fur he saw through the soot.
Scarlett was in such bad shape -- patches of fur and much of her ears singed off, unable to open her eyes -- that a technician at the North Shore Animal League's hospital cried when she saw her.
The cat beat the odds, and so did four of her five kittens.
Thousands offered to adopt Scarlett and her babies, and thousands more donated money on their behalf. Though badly scarred, Scarlett was transformed by loving care from a malnourished street cat to a beloved house pet, with lush fur and a healthy body.
While the whole book is enjoyable, with marvelous pictures of Scarlett and her kittens, the introduction by firefighter David Giannelli is the best part of the book. Giannelli has saved many animals in his nearly 20 years on the job -- so many, he writes, that fellow firefighters have kidded him for his compassion.
"Any animal is worth helping," he writes. "You have to do what you can."
Many people agreed with him where Scarlett was concerned, making this book really the story not of one act of selflessness, but many.
Perhaps because Scarlett's story played out on TV screens and newspapers around the country, we need to be reminded that sometimes animal heroes aren't as celebrated. "Zak: The One-of-a-Kind Dog" (Abrams, $12.95) is just such a reminder.
The story of Zak, one person's cherished pet, is told in gorgeous pictures taken and hand-colored by Jane Lidz, an award-winning photographer who makes her living pointing her camera at buildings.
Lidz is generous with her talent, though, contributing her skills to the aid of animals at the San Francisco SPCA -- much the same as Mary Bloom, Scarlett's photographer, does 3,000 miles away for the North Shore Animal League. "Zak" focuses on one small terrier mix with an adorably fuzzy and amazingly expressive face, and takes him on an imaginary search for what kind of dog he really is.
"There's no one else like me," he finally decides. "It feels good to be special."
"Special" is the word for the pictures in this book, which bring Zak to life and celebrates his loving disposition.
Either book is worth keeping in mind as the gift-giving season approaches.
Pets on the Web: Pet Bird (http://www.petbird.com) is a must-visit site for bird-lovers of all varieties. While the whole site is worth exploring, the page of Frequently Asked Questions (or FAQs) is top-flight, with articles on terminology and species, as well as general information on care, nutrition, behavior and breeding. The FAQ page (http://www.petbird.com/faq/) also serves as a sign-up site for the more than 20 bird-specific e-mail lists, with topics that include many different species as well as breeding. There's even a e-mail list for bird-loving kids. In all, it's hard to imagine a better online resource for bird-lovers.
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.
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