Book Excerpt and Giveaway – “The Lost Dogs”

Update, 9-18-10:  The winner of the book is Preston.  Thank you to everyone who entered.

You may well remember the December 2008 cover article of Sports Illustrated that featured the Vick dogs and was written by Jim Gorant.  The publisher of a new book by Mr. Gorant called The Lost Dogs – Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption is offering a free copy of the book to a reader.  If you’d like to enter your name for the drawing, simply leave a comment on this post between now and Friday, September 17 at 11:59 p.m.  I will draw one name at random and post the winner as an update to this post next weekend.  Winner will also be notified privately and will need to e-mail me a mailing address so I can send that to the publisher.

Below is Chapter 1 of the book, used with permission of the publisher:

A BROWN DOG SITS in a field. There’s a collar around her neck. It’s three inches thick and attached to a heavy chain, which clips onto a car axle that’s buried so one end sticks out of the ground. As the dog paces in the heat, the axle spins, ensuring that the rattling chain won’t become entangled.

The dog paces a lot, wearing a circle in the scrubby weeds and sandy soil around the perimeter of the axle. She paces because there’s little else to do. Sometimes a squirrel or a rabbit or a snake crosses nearby and she barks and chases it, or she lunges and leaps after the dragonflies and butterfliesthat zip and flutter past.

She flicks her tail at mosquitoes and buries her muzzle in her fur, chewing at the itchy crawly things that land on her. If she’s lucky she digs up a rock that she can bat around and chew on, but otherwise there are just the weeds and the bugs and the hot sun inching across the sky.

She is not alone. Other dogs are spread around this clearing in the trees. They can see one another, hear one another bark and whine and growl, but they can’t get to one another. They can’t run, they can’t play, they can’t anything. They can get close to their immediate neighbors, stand almost face-to-face, but they can never touch, a planned positioning meant to frustrate and enrage them. For some it does; for many it simply makes them sad.

Out in the field are mothers, fathers, off spring, littermates. The families are easy to spot. There’s a group of sand-colored dogs, some with pink noses, some with black snouts. There is a group of red dogs, some small black dogs, a few white ones, a few black-and-whites. A handful of other colors and shapes are mixed in.

All are pit bulls and many have that classic pit bull look, stocky and low to the ground, front shoulders higher than haunches and a wide muscular chest that dwarfs narrow hips, so that they look as if they’re waiting for their backsides to grow into their fronts. Their necks are thick and hold up rectangular heads. Some are bigger, as big as seventy pounds,while another group is more compact, reaching maybe twenty-five pounds. These smaller ones are actually Staff ordshire bull terriers, a close relative of the American pit bull terrier.

The brown dog has a soft face, with searching eyes and an expressive brow that furls into deep ridges and undulating rolls when she’s scared or nervous or trying to figure out whether she needs to be either. Her uncropped ears rise from the top of her head until they fold over, but one of them folds differently from the other, so that it hangs lower, making her look as if she’s eternally asking a question.

To help fight the heat, there’s water spread about in large tubs, sometimes a little dirty but drinkable. Once a day a man comes to put food in the bowls. At least it’s usually once a day. Sometimes two or three days go by before the sound of his all-terrain vehicle breaks the monotony. As he gets off the vehicle and makes his way across the clearing, all the dogs run to the end of their chains, barking and wagging their tails as if they’re excited to see him. But when the man actually gets close to them, they tuck their tails and skulk away. Only after he has moved on do they creep back over to their bowls and eat.

They can’t see anything beyond the perimeter of the clearing, but they are not alone. Another clearing lies through the trees where another fifteen or so dogs live on chains, and beyond that, at the edge of the woods, is a small compound with kennels, freestanding pens, and four sheds. The buildings are small and painted pitch black, including the windows. One is two stories tall, and the men who own these sheds, who live and work here, they call that one “the black hole.”

A breeze stirs the trees—scrub pines and sugar maples, a few pin oaks. The lilt of songbirds mixes with the whine of cicadas and the low, singular whoooo, whoooo of a mourning dove. The summer heat draws moisture off the Atlantic, thirty miles beyond, adding the weight of humidity to the air.

Within the perimeter of each axle there’s a doghouse. Rough-hewn plywood structures, they provide something else for the dogs to chew on and claw at to while away the hours. They also offer a break from the sun but not much relief from the heat—just as in winter they stop the wind but don’t do much to protect against temperatures that can drop into the thirties.

Curled up in their little houses the dogs look and listen and sniff the air. They are incredibly intuitive creatures. They learn by watching—trainers sometimes let young dogs watch experienced dogs in action so they see how to behave. They can detect odors 100 million times more faint than people can. They can hear sounds at a broader range of frequencies than humans, and they can hear them from four times as far away. People who train dogs for search and rescue contend that dogs can hear a heartbeat from a distance of five feet, which gives them insight into the mood and disposition of the people and animals they come in contact with.

As pack animals, they are keenly aware of the behavior of those around them. One dog can tell what another is thinking and intending simply by observing the way he acts. When two dogs meet, there is a detailed ritual of movements and gestures. The way they hold their ears, tail, head, their posture. Everything means something. Attitudes, feelings, intentions,  dominance, and submission can be established immediately. So can achallenge.

Dogs understand what’s expected of them. When people are around, dogs see what wins them rewards and praise and what leads to scorn. Something deep inside of them, woven into the very fabric of their being, a genetic impulse, compels them to please those around them. But sometimes, the things that men want from them cut against their natural inclinations, setting off an internal chain reaction of anxiety and uncertainty, triggering hormones and nervous system fluctuations. When they are extremely scared, dogs secrete a powerful musk that other dogs can smell from great distances.

The things they see and hear and smell have an impact on them, too. Studies have shown that if two mammals are placed side by side in boxes and the first one is given electric shocks, just by listening to the suffering the second one produces identical brain waves and nervous system activity; the trauma isn’t limited only to the animal that’s experiencing the pain.

Out in the field is the little brown dog with the floppy ear— none of the dogs know what’s happening around them, but they do know something isn’t right. They’ve seen things they are not supposed to see. They’ve heard terrifying sounds and they’ve smelled fear and pain drifting in the air. The brown dog lays her chin on the ground and exhales. Her brow folds into a furry question mark. The afternoon is fading and the heat has begun to fade too, but little else is certain.

Sometimes men come and take a few of the dogs away. Sometimes those dogs come back tired and panting from running and running. Sometimes the dogs come back scarred and limping. Sometimes they come back looking the same, but acting completely different. Sometimes they don’t come back at all, as if they’ve simply disappeared. As if they’ve vanished into a black hole.

46 thoughts on “Book Excerpt and Giveaway – “The Lost Dogs”

  1. They can detect odors 100 million times more faint than people can.

    Hundred million? Rilly? Citation, plz.

    Why not eleventy-jillion? Infinity times better?

    People who train dogs for search and rescue contend that dogs can hear a heartbeat from a distance of five feet

    Which people are those? How would one arrive at such a conclusion?

    Being able to write well and powerfully, or having one’s heart in the right place, is not dispensation to be sloppy, make up “facts,” or repeat nonsense one has heard as “fact.”

    Such carelessness about things which I know makes me extremely suspicious about anything that is asserted when I do not know the topic as well.

    In other words, it undercuts credibility, right out of the box.

    1. I agree with Houlahan.

      This manner of manipulation is dishonest and I won’t hesitate to characterize it as part of the Big Lie spread by those who want to control animal ownership.

      There may never have been a time when this kind of manipulation ever represented an honest attempt to make life better for human or beast. Maybe there is no way to tell a negative story, with or without embellishments or dishonesty, and make it part of truly beneficial social change.

      We will lose more than we gain from participating in the fight against dogfighting. I hate to say that because I hate dogfighting, but doing this will feed the HSUS, it will feed the system of abuse of animal owners, and we will gain nothing. What we might have gained the manipulators will take from us before we can even get a grip on it.

      1. Oh, my.

        Tom is defending dogfighting. We can’t oppose the abuse and torture of animals, because if we do, we’ll lose all our rights!

        This is nonsense–either insane nonsense, or corrupt nonsense.

      2. Yes, if we stop dog fighting, we’re totally contributing to the abuse of animal owners. For sure. Because that’s totally logical. I feel totally abused!

        You’re right though, we won’t gain anything from fighting against dog fighting. Probably because we’re not the ones being abused by it. I could be wrong, but I *think* the hope is that the dogs will gain.

    2. “People who train dogs for search and rescue contend that dogs can hear a heartbeat from a distance of five feet.”

      That’s not an assertion of fact, but an anecdote from people who train S&R dogs. Powerful rhetoric, but if you took it for a fact, maybe you need to brush up on your reading skills.

      I also could not find a citation for the first, but will hope to find one in the book since the citations are not printed here.

      I agree that the story could be told without including those two since they hold no bearing on whether or not it was appropriate to use and keep these dogs in this manner. It wasn’t wrong because they have a good sense of smell or hearing, but because it caused them pain and suffering, no? It’s too bad we can’t all just accept that.

      1. So.

        I’m a SAR handler for 19 years. It’s a small community, as it happens.

        Married to a science writer / SAR handler who also happens to hold a doctorate in receptor biochemistry, and to be a rather acknowledged expert on the current science of canine olfaction.

        “100 million times.” Sorry. No.

        “People who train dogs for search and rescue say…”

        Which “people?” Do they have names? If they do have names, do they really train SAR dogs? If they do have names, and do really train SAR dogs, on what basis could anyone make such a specific statement about another creature’s auditory powers? Can a blind anosmic dog hear a heartbeat in the absence of the breathing of the owner of said heart, for example? How does such a statement make sense?

        The sensory talents of a variety of animals are sufficiently impressive that there is no need to resort to hyperbole to make that point.

        Very specific and totally unverifiable numbers are a field mark of bullshit.

        For example, I have no way of putting a number on how powerful a grizzly bear’s olfactory sense is. I have heard, but not verified, that grizzly bears can accurately identify, presumably by smell, the contents of a sealed steel can, popping open only those cans that contain things that grizzly bears like. If I was going to write a polemic about the wonderfulness of grizzly bears, I’d probably check out that story and perhaps share that if it holds up to scrutiny. No need to invent some meaningless number that goes with it.

        Now, where I see intellectual laziness — the carelessness that comes from believing that facts should never get in the way of a good story, and that stories about animals are by definition “soft” and so can be treated in a loosey-goosey manner when it comes to the facts — Tom sees a well-oiled PeTA conspiracy. Tom is, of course, quite insane.

        In case it was not obvious, please do enter me in the raffle. I will also post a review. I was very kindly-disposed to the idea of this book, and could still be won over, but am at this time provisionally disappointed.

  2. I share Heather’s concerns about overblown and unfounded claims about the wonderfulness of dogs’ abilities (or anything else), but I’d still love to read the book. Please enter me in the drawing.

  3. Sure, I’d read it, and share it with others too; to help spread the word about the plight (and maligning) of pit bulls and other dogs who are kept solely “outside” on a tether. Please enter my name in the drawing.

  4. Maybe overestimating a dog’s abilities will make some who are apathetic towards dogs just that much more empathetic. And perhaps more humans will have compassion instead of callous hate towards the welfare of those dogs in the future.
    Just a thought.

    I’d love to have a copy of this book!

    1. What they’re doing is preparing the reader to be hypersensitive and easier to manipulate. They’re pulling imaginary senses out and directing those sentences to focus on dark horrors, persuading the reader to amplify on those horrors.

      If those horrors really were so bad maybe we wouldn’t need a magnifying glass. I see an abusive relationship here, treating the reader as if he or she can’t see the emperor’s new clothes without allowing the writer to improve his or her vision.

      1. man, you ARE an A**h****.
        The conditions these dogs lived in WERE horrific. They really really were that bad: aside from the dogfighting, dogs were beaten, drowned electrocuted.

        Gorant is wrong about some of the physical details of dog structure. He’s NOT wrong that these dogs deserve our utmost sympathy.

        YOU have some kind of ax to grind which makes you indifferent to real suffering, in the name of some anti-humanity ideology.

        And if there is exaggeration, what have we gained? I don’t know what WE have gained.. but the dogs gained their lives (where previously they would automatically been killed)

        But maybe you don’t care about that because there’s some manipulation going on.

      2. Emily, I ask people not to allow themselves to be manipulated and to refrain from giving anything, including garbage, to career criminals and thieves. You then draw the conclusion that I support dogfighting and you express your disapproval of that in a less than edifying manner.

        If you wish to live as a push-button toy for the animal rights activists and the worst people our generation will encounter in our own country, please feel free, but I am going to tell you off when you talk to me like that.

        If we cannot allow ourselves to take back our rights by denying the HSUS participation in actions against dogfighters, and if we cannot allow ourselves to allow due process of the law for dogfighters, and if we cannot allow ourselves intelligent discussion of the subject, then we will not have our rights as animal owners. It’s that plain and simple.

      3. If we are being swindled “for a good cause” we are still being swindled and used, and we still cannot trust the swindlers and users.

        That statement that I am “indifferent to suffering” is just a rock for you to throw at me. Have it back with interest. You are indifferent to people being robbed at gunpoint and all of us being manipulated.

        If they are telling the truth and if they have the best interests of the animals at heart they do not need to manipulate and otherwise mistreat people. And you are manipulating me and the rest of the readers when you accuse me of being “indifferent to real suffering.”

  5. H makes some excellent points. And considering the horrific conditions under which these poor dogs led their horrific lives, it’s really not even necessary to gin up impressive “facts” to generate more sympathy

  6. Please enter me in the drawing, I have followed the plight of these dogs, the pit bull breed in itself is a very interesting and very misunderstood breed. To see where they were to where some of them are now is amazing.

  7. I would love to win this book in the drawing. I’m obsessed with reading, and I’m starting a new website that will be filled with positive pit bull press and media. I have a pit bull and the frustrations with having to find a place to live have been excruciating. I would like to help transform societies perceptions of pits as “bad” and “dangerous” dogs.

  8. I am so happy that a book was made from that beautiful and heart breaking SI article. I cannot wait to read this as I feel for these dogs on such a deep level. I think it is so great that the world is becoming more aware of the problems faced in the world of animal cruelty. Thank you.

  9. So Houlihan thinks I’m insane? Emily thinks that if she calls me names she will negate my reasoned approach to all of this. Several people seem to think that the HSUS and PETA are other than criminal organizations.

    The emotional manipulation in that excerpt in the book is dishonest. Dishonesty does not “just” cause well-deserved loss of credibility. It also causes people, many of whom are quite innocent of any form of animal abuse, to be robbed at gunpoint and abused and their lives broken.

    Those who use dishonesty do not deserve to win their fight, even if it is against animal abuse. There will be no victory, just a perpetual pogrom against any “suspect” animal owners and yes it will screw us all over.

    I’ve had it with you people. I don’t care what you do.

  10. Tom, please do share with us a single word of sympathy you have expressed for the dogs.
    Your outrage at some writer’s exaggeration in an insignificant statement is intense. Your outrage at Vick and his kind? crickets ………. crickets. I’m thinking you’re one of those who would actually prefer the dogs to die, to keep them out of the hands of people like me.

    I don’t know you, but I know YOUR kind. I’ve been reading your kind of crap for over 15 years. Faux disavowal of support for dogfighters. Praise for the noble “dogmen”. A PETA/HSUS conspiracy under every bush… blah blah blah.

    Thankfully the tide has turned. No-one has the nerve to publicly uphold “dogmen.” Now we focus on the dogs. And yes we CAN discriminate between the unfair treatment of Bob Stevens or Floyd Boudreaux and the properly harsh treatment of Michael Vick. And guess what: you and your kind did NOTHING to help save Boudreaux’s or Faron’s dogs. Thanks to the dogmen apologists like you who enabled HSUS hate for fighting dogs, those dogs were doomed. It was the girly sentimentalist/”manipulators” who did the work of humiliating HSUS into changing their public position and saving Vick’s, the Missouri dogs and the latest batch and all the future ones. This isn’t about some theoretical/rhetorical danger in emotional manipulation leading to people being robbed at gunpoint. This is about saving dogs from REAL suffering.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    1. Emily, I feel the dog’s happiness when he plays in the sunshine, or sleeps in the arms of someone who loves him. That’s sympathy.

  11. You reveal yourself when you do the “PETA/HSUS conspiracy under every bush” thing. Not even close, Emily.

    You are trying far too hard to paint me as a bad guy here because my words will wreck your game.

  12. I hope one day people realize dogs are not just toys.. What if one of those dogs were your child? You just wouldn’t put your own kid through that, so it shouldn’t happen to a dog.

    It looks like a great book, sign me up! :)

    1. Alysa, honey, dogs are not toys. They are also not human children.

      I would not put a collar and leash on a human child, feed him raw meat, ask him to bite a goat on the nose, apply Frontline to his back, or vaccinate him for parvovirus.

      Similarly, I would not subject a dog to watching Barney, the public school system, summer sleepover camp, rubella vaccine, froot rollups, or writing thank-you notes to Grandma for the $10 in his birthday card.

      See? Different.

      What happened to Vick’s dogs was an atrocity because it happened to dogs. Not because it would have been an atrocity if it happened to human children.

  13. Most humans are brought up to think of their fellow living beings as “Pets”, and on a sub-concious level, the mere word “pets”, suggests that Companion Animals exist for US, so that we have someone to “pet” and keep us company……someone to “obey” us, just like egomaniacal white humans thought that they actually had superiority over black humans, and had a right to make their slaves “obey” them, and just like sexist men thought that women were created to “obey” their every order.
    Whites were wrong thinking that they were “superior” to Blacks, Men were wrong thinking that they were “superior” to Women and Humans are wrong thinking that they are “superior” to our fellow Animals.

    Such “superior” delusions of grandeur are based in ignorance, insecurity, and the arrogance and egotism that comes with trying to counteract our insecurities. How do you counteract feelings of insecurity? By putting yourself (or your religion, or your sex, or your race, or your SPECIES) on a pedestal. We human animals are good at that. Yet we remain equal with cats, dogs and other animals, despite our nonsensical delusions of grandeur.

    When adopting a Companion Animal, the majority of humans ask “What will this cat or dog do for ME”? rather than asking the correct question, “What can I do for this cat or dog, to make THEIR life better”?

    Animals, like the human animal, are living, breathing, feeling, loving, soul-filled children of God.
    We are all in this together.

    We all get tired, we all get wet in the rain.
    We all experience loneliness, we all experience pain.
    We all thirst for water, and we all thirst for love.
    We are all Children of God, Who’s Angels watch over us from high up above.
    We all breathe, we all play, we all feel.
    We all get hungry and we all appreciate a satisfying meal.
    We are all born, and we all deserve to live life.
    Nobody should be left behind, or be subjected to a dissecter’s deadly knife.
    We all die, and we are all born into everlasting love and life in Heaven…. in paradise.
    Where, as one spiritual family, we all share love, and we all get treated nice.
    In Heaven, we all gather together, one species, one race, one religion, and all of us have lots of fun.
    In Heaven, we all realize, that we all are really ONE.

    We are all equal.

    We are all one.
    One life.
    One Soul.
    One Spiritual Family.

    That’s the Ultimate Truth

    1. In fact, in Real Live Human Language, the words for things that are important to us are short. In English, the words for important things are, moreover, English words, going back in their origins to Anglo-Saxon. Love. Hate. War. Peace. Husband. Wife.


      Companion animal is long and Latinate, a construction that comes from the animal “rights” faction, the people who think we should have no contact with animals and that it’s a moral outrage to include any animals in our families. “Companion animal,” a two-word phrase with both words polysyllabic, is distancing, something that devalues emotional ties.

      Pet, OTOH, is a good old English word, and a short one, like all the words that describe our most valued individuals, ideas, and relationships. “Pet” is not the word used to describe the animals whose main function is food, transportation, clothing, or farm traction. It’s not the word we use to describe animals we hunt, although that’s also a short word, “game.”

      Pet is, in fact, the word we use, and have used for more than a thousand years, to describe the animals we have a different relationship, not one based on what they’re good for in “practical” terms, but a relationship grounded in mutual affection. Companionship. Love.

      Never trust people who verbally beat up on you for calling your pet a pet, and want you to use a bloodless, distancing phrase like “companion animal.”

      1. “Pet is, in fact, the word we use, and have used for more than a thousand years”

        And in all of those years, humans have been murdering mere ‘pets’ in so called ‘shelters’.
        Perhaps if we called them FAMILY MEMBERS, things would be different.

        “Never trust people who verbally beat up on you for calling your pet a pet, and want you to use a bloodless, distancing phrase like “companion animal.”

        Nobody is verbally beating up anybody. I am making a point that makes alot of sense. If your husband called you his “pet” instead of his wife, you might think twice about your marriage: “Lis, this is my friend, Joe, Joe, here is my pet, Lis”.

        Of course, it’s all in the intention….some consider the term “Pet” an endearing term, in which case, awesome.

        However, many people, think that ‘pets’, like a pair of shoes, can be thrown away.After all, they are mere ‘pets’. The term DOES have some disrespectful elements to it, you have to admit.

        I am very familiar with Psychology, trust me…some humans use the term ‘pet’ as a way of diminishing a fellow living soul’s importance.

        The word PET comes from what WE do to animals…we PET them. This implies that, that is what their purpose is…for us to be there when we want someone to pet.

        Their purpose is our purpose…to live, love and be loved, not to be there when someone needs someone to “pet”.

        No reason to be insecure folks…..I never said that everyone who used the term “pet” was a serial killer, who should be hung.I use it myself sometimes. I’m talking generally, about a large portion of society,the ones who find ‘pets’ dispensable, and how the word ‘pet’ often allows many in society to diminish cats and dogs equal importance to us.

        I.E. “We are (almighty) humans….they are our pets” (as in “We own them, and they exist for us”, not “we exist for each other.”)

        Cats and dogs arent property. Nobody truly owns them. They are their own individuals, like the rest of us.

        Take the terms “Whore” and “Escort”. If a man were to call a woman in that business an “escort”, it would be an indicator of atleast a small amount of respect for the woman. The man who calls them mere “whores”, on the other hand, is, on a subconscious level, thinking very disrespectfully of them, and will probably treat them in a disrespectful manner. Not that I’m comparing cats and dogs to women of the night, who sell themselves. Cats and dogs have more dignity than that, unlike us humans.

        Whatever…call your cats and dogs what you want, just as long as you dont murder them, or abandon them, I have no problem with what you call them.

        My cats and dogs are my BROTHERS, SISTERS, BABIES, BEST FRIENDS, etc., etc..

        To each, his or her own, I guess.

    2. I like the word “pet”. In fact, I do want to pet and give occasional kisses to my pets. Mostly though, I just like to hang with them. Not that I’d want to call them “hangs” or anything.

      I’m already pretty clear on what I can do for a pet – I offer love in a structured home environment with rules and routines, delicious homemade food and treats, affection, vet care, etc. So when I am considering a pet, yeah I am thinking “What can this pet do for me”. Maybe that sounds selfish but I’m thinking in terms of making a good match that will last for the life of the pet and one that fits into our household.

  14. The above post is just a reminder for any speciesists out there.

    As far as dogfighting goes, what I want to know is why has the scumbag Michael Vick been given his own reality show? This is how we reward animal abusers/murderers? By giving them their own TV show?

    As far as you folks who say: “well, everybody deserves a second chance, you know. He’s done his time, leave him alone”……. if someone hooked your genitals up to a jumper cable and turned on the power, if someone hung you from a tree, if someone stuck your head underwater until you drowned, would you THEN support your killer’s ‘right’ to his own TV show?

    Didnt think so.

      1. They came from the officials who were at the scene of his crimes.

        They are respectable, unlike Vick.

  15. I have a dog that I got from a shelter and he had been abused. He would crawl on his belly and pee as he went. He was terrified with men. He has a great little friend and the men and boys in our family took time to know him and he loves them all.
    My daughter had a dog walking business for 15 years and has two dogs of her own, that I am watching for her while she has a vacation. They came from the pond as well. They have been a great addition to our family as a whole. My other daughter has a cute, goofy lab from the pond. You can put your whole had in his mouth and he wouldn’t and he wouldn’t bite you. Her four children have a great time with him.
    I am so glad that you have been saved. If I win the book I would like to give it to my daugher that had the dog care business. I am sure she would really enjoy it. When she finished reading it, I am sure she would share. Thanks, Bonnie Jean

Leave a Reply