Time magazine called The Bark "the New Yorker for dog lovers." Oprah calls it a "must read." Famous writers and illustrators are delighted to be asked for contributions, and a Hollywood production company wants to use the magazine's signature "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" bumper sticker on the set of an upcoming blockbuster.
"We hope the scene doesn't get cut," says The Bark's Claudia Kawczynska, eyebrows raised in "Can you believe this is happening to us?" fashion during a recent interview at the magazine's storefront office in Berkeley, Calif. Kawczynska is the magazine's co-founder and its editorial voice; her partner (and life partner) Cameron Woo has also been there from the first and is responsible for the magazine's lush, cutting-edge design.
Together, they produce an award-winning magazine that stands out in the pet category like a red-spotted Dalmatian at a dog show.
Dog lovers are still just beginning to take notice -- 75,000 loyal readers in an industry where circulations many times larger don't guarantee a magazine's survival. No matter: The Bark is thriving, with plans for expansion and a second book deal in the works.
"People were really interested in reading about dogs in a way that wasn't in print," says Kawczynska of the publication's founding in 1997. Its steady growth is in the hands of two people who are honest with their readers, are enthusiastic champions of good writing and design, and (no surprise here) are devoted lovers of all things canine.
Writing about dogs is nothing new, of course. Eugene O'Neill once wrote about the death of his dog in a heartbreakingly lovely piece that's often sent to anyone who has had to put down a beloved old dog. In the early decades of the last century, Albert Payson Terhune wrote book after book on his Sunnybank collies, so many stories that for a time he was the country's best-selling author, more so than his better-remembered friend Sinclair Lewis.
But by the time The Bark was whelped as a regional newsletter advocating areas for off-leash recreation, the market for dog lit was very small indeed. Mainstream pet publications were more interested in bland how-to, and the more literary of the general-circulation magazines that survived into the new century did little more than grudgingly toss dog lovers a bone now and then.
The homeless works that weren't getting published -- the short stories, the essays, the photographs, cartoons and illustrations -- have found their forever home in The Bark.
"A lot of people have stuff about dogs that didn't make it into print. We knew it was in their drawers, and we asked for it," says Woo, telling of the New Yorker cartoonist who when asked if he had any rejected dog cartoons sent over a stack for the couple to go through.
"We went to bookstores and looked on the jackets for pictures of writers we liked," says Kawczynska. "When we saw them pictured with a dog, we'd contact them to see if they had anything for us."
They surely did, with authors from Alice Walker to Erica Jong and more offering pieces for pages of The Bark. "Cameron and I scratched our heads and thought, 'We might have something here,'" says Kawczynska.
Advertisers were thinking so, too, especially after Woo and Kawczynska took a big leap of faith, leaving their jobs and converting the publication from newsletter to glossy magazine. Although The Bark is different from many magazines in that the content isn't designed to support -- or at least not detract from -- advertisers, some of the big names started sniffing around. The first was Saab, trying to reach dog lovers with a model equipped with dog-friendly options. Jeep was not far behind, along with anyone looking to tap into an affluent, dog-crazy demographic.
Along with some of the best writing around -- best-selling author Pam Houston has a piece in the current issue -- The Bark has expanded to include serious, cutting-edge reporting that can rarely be found elsewhere, on canine health, training, and on issues that recall those that got The Bark its start.
After all, it's still all about the dogs. "I hope my enthusiasm for the subject matter is reflected in the magazine," says Kawczynska.
"Our interest in doing the magazine certainly hasn't peaked," says Woo, in what has to be good news for anyone who loves dogs and good writing.
The regular price of a subscription to The Bark is $15 per year for five issues, but the magazine is currently running a holiday special -- $8 for additional subscriptions with the purchase of one at full price. To subscribe, call 1-877-227-5639, or go to the Web site, www.thebark.com. For $20, the magazine is also offering a year's subscription bundled with a paperback copy of The Bark's anthology, "Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World's Oldest Friendship" (Crown).
Wild wood makes for great perches
Q: I've read that the pine perches that come with a birdcage need to be replaced because they're dangerous. If that's true, what should I be using instead? -- R.Y., via e-mail
A: There's nothing inherently dangerous about the smooth pine dowels that come with most birdcages, but a more varied selection of perches is better for your bird's physical and mental health. Think variety -- rope, cement and wood perches should all find a place in your bird's cage. Natural wood perches, in particular, are wonderful because they feel good under your bird's feet and because they give him something to chew on.
Most fruit and nut trees (almond, apple, prune and all citrus) are fine to use, as are ash, elm, dogwood and magnolia. If you can get your pruners on some manzanita, go for it. It's a hard wood that can stand up to a lot of abuse. Try grapevines, too. And leave the bark on for your bird to peel off. Not all wood is good, though: Treated or painted lumber should not go in your bird's cage.
Wild wood is probably best. Cut branches to a length to fit in your bird's cage. Scrub and clean them well with soap; then rinse and dry them in the sun. Check for insect egg pods: If you find them, just break them off and discard them before putting the branch in your pet's cage. (If you don't, you may find a zillion little buglets thinking it's spring in your home.)
The best perches are those that keep your bird busy destroying them. Think of perches as replaceable cage furnishings. Tearing them up is good for your bird, providing both exercise and entertainment.
Q: My ferret loves raisins. I've read that raisins aren't good for dogs, though, so I wonder if they're safe for my ferret. Do you know? -- P.E., via e-mail
A: It's true that raisins and grapes are a no-no for dogs. No one really knows exactly what the problem is. But starting in the late '80s, random reports of dogs dying after eating grapes or raisins became frequent enough that the Animal Poison Control Center put the fruits on its hazard list (www.aspca.org; click on Animal Poison Control Center). While I wouldn't panic over one or two raisins, any dog who nabs a large bunch of grapes or a container of raisins needs to see a veterinarian right away.
So where does this leave ferrets when it comes to raisins? Most ferrets love raisins, and giving them one or two raisins a day is probably fine. Don't give more than that, however.
That advice goes for all treats, by the way: A little goes a long way. Safe treats for ferrets include bits of lean, cooked meat or hard-boiled eggs, low-sugar cereals or cooked veggies. Commercial treats are probably fine, but again, don't go overboard.
Some foods ferrets may like -- but should not be allowed to eat -- include anything alcoholic or caffeinated, or with added salt or sugar. Chocolate is also not recommended, and the same goes for seeds and nuts. Some ferrets should not be given dairy products, since milk products will cause diarrhea in some of these animals.
One of the best ways to use treats is for trick-training, which helps to keep your ferret from being bored.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON THE WEB
Site takes seriously reports of animal abuse
Research has long confirmed what law-enforcement has long known: There's a direct line from animal abuse to crimes against humans. That's why even people who don't care about animals should insist on heavy penalties for animal abuse by adults, and for prompt intervention when children abuse animals.
Pet-Abuse.com is an incredibly thorough Web site that's geared to get out the information on cases of animal abuse and why they're important. The nonprofit group behind the Web site tracks cases across the United States and Canada, and generates up-to-date graphics from its extensive databases showing who the most likely perpetrators are. The group also assists humane groups in making prosecutors and judges take animal abuse seriously.
The site is a no-nonsense primer on animal abuse, its origins and its outcomes. You'll find little in the way of gory pictures or overblown cases descriptions here, just a just-the-facts overview powerfully presented. -- G.S.
Toys let your cat play mean with dogs
As one might imagine, I do a lot of shopping for pet-related goods. Every now and then, I run into something so adorable it stops me in my tracks. Into this category fall hand-knitted, catnip-stuffed toys in the shape of popular dog breeds, available from the San Francisco-based pet boutique George (www.georgesf.com).
Not content to buy the same upscale pet gear everyone else has, the folks at George -- the store was named after the owners' fox terrier -- commission many of the products for sale in the two stores (the other is in Berkeley, Calif.) and on the Web. The beds, carriers, bowls and many of the toys are George-exclusive, all very nice, but the cat toys really stood out on a recent visit.
Choose a spaniel, a German shepherd, a poodle, terrier or dachshund, each $8. Just as cute and a little less expensive are the hand-knitted frogs and bugs, $6 each.
Tiny they may be, but toys they are not
With interest sparked by trend-setters like Paris Hilton, whose tiny Chihuahua is a constant companion, small dogs are on many people's must-have list these days. And that worries Darlene Arden, a certified animal behavior expert and author whose specialty is the health and behavior issues of the tiniest of dog breeds.
Arden is especially concerned about the trend toward ever-smaller dogs, whom she says are even more delicate and prone to health problems than their slightly larger relations.
"The smaller they are, the more health problems," says the author of the definitive work on small dogs, "The Irrepressible Toy Dog" ($18, Howell Book House). "Too often, these tiny dogs are bred with no consideration of health and temperament. I've known toys dogs that look cute but acted like Cujo.
"The especially small dogs shouldn't be bred. And when they turn up in litters, reputable breeders place them with people who understand the extra care and expense," she says, reeling off a list of health problems in the more popular of tiny breeds and mixes. And that doesn't even include the things that can happen to them strictly because they're so small -- everything from breaking bones by being dropped to being killed by larger dogs.
"They're so fragile," says Arden. "People have no idea. They lose body heat more quickly, and even their tiny organs can be a challenge for a veterinarian, as can be anesthesia. Everything that possibly can go wrong will with these dogs."
Their fragility makes small dogs especially inappropriate for families with young children. "People think because the dog is small the animal is "child-sized,'" she says. "They don't think that even a child is huge to a tiny dog. The dog can so easily be hurt, or may think he has to bite in self-defense."
Arden says far from being suitable for everyone, toy breeds are best in the homes of empty-nesters, especially those who understand the special needs of these small dogs.
"This trend of dog as fashion accessory is frightening to me," she says. "These are living, breathing, sentient beings -- not purses, rings or bracelets."
Toys can help keep perch potatoes active
Birds need exercise, too! From the smallest budgie to the largest macaw, parrots are highly intelligent, active birds who need to keep mentally and physically active to stay healthy. Birds do get fat: Amazons, especially, seem prone to becoming overweight perch potatoes. (Especially when allowed to eat an unhealthy diet of seeds.)
Anything a parrot can dig into, from a toy to a challenging healthy food that requires effort to eat, is good. One toy in particular is good for burning the calories consumed by a sedentary bird: the coiled-rope perch. This springy invention requires effort to stay on, and some birds become so enamored of it that they'll spend hours bouncing up and down.
An annual healthy-bird checkup is a must for your bird. That's a great time to discuss your bird's diet and make any necessary changes to eating or exercise routines.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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