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What is it about dogs that ignites such passion in people? In some respects dogs are our children, but children grow up and have their own life. Dogs never get to that level. You don’t have to put them through university, they never ask to borrow the car, they don’t do drugs. They’re like good kids. I have a wonderful photo of Gerald Ford in the Oval Office. His hand is resting on his golden retriever. That’s what dogs do—provide a presence, a comfort.
Were you prepared for the response you got to your 1995 book The Intelligence of Dogs? We’d already had a couple of scientific breakthroughs that got public notice—most notably, we found that left-handers tend to have more accidents, more allergies, weaker immune systems, and die younger. So I’d been to the circus once. I knew that rating dogs’ intelligence was going to be controversial, but I didn’t expect it to make the New York Times or get me on Larry King Live and Oprah.
How has your popularity affected your career? Everybody in Canada told me that if you’re a scientist and write a pop book, you’re never going to get another penny out of the funding agencies. Ultimately they were right, you’re considered not serious. It’s the Canadian way—if somebody gets famous, you cut them back to size.
What are your feelings about the Whistler sled-dog cull? That whole tragedy was the SPCA’s fault. The guy contacted them twice to ask what he could do with the dogs, and the gal supposed to be responsible for the case said they couldn’t take them, that sled dogs are not adoptable. She never assessed them. She didn’t even give him information about the Siberian Husky rescue group. And now they’re spending $250,000 digging up the dogs to determine how they were killed. It’s stupid.
Your new book is your first on a non-scientific subject. Born to Bark is really about the 13-year war that my wife, Joannie, had with Flint, my Cairn terrier. I loved Flint dearly, but he died and life goes on. If you’re lucky you’re going to outlive a whole bunch of dogs.
You’ve just added a puppy to go with your beagle and your Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever? A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. I told my wife she could name it. I said, “It can’t be a human first name, it has to be two syllables, and it has to start with ‘R.’ ” She chose Ripley, as in Believe It or Not. As in, “I can’t believe I let my husband get another dog!”