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For more than sixty years, The Wall Street Journal has prided itself not just on its serious journalism, but also on the whimsical and arcane stories that amuse and delight its readers. In that regard, animal stories have proven to be the most beloved of all. Now, veteran Journal reporter and Page One editor Ken Wells gathers the finest, funniest, and most fascinating of these animal tales in one exceptional book.
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Here are lighthearted, witty stories of breakthroughs in goldfish surgery, the untiring efforts of British animal lovers who guide lovesick toads across dangerous motorways, and the quest to tame doggy anxieties by prescribing the human pacifier Prozac. Other pieces reflect on mankind's impact on the animal kingdom: a close-up look at the nascent fish-rights movement, the retirement of U.S. Air Force chimpanzees that once soared through space, and ongoing scientific efforts to defeat that most hardy enemy -- the cockroach.
Each of these fifty-odd stories -- from the outlandish to the poignant -- exemplifies the superb feature writing that makes The Wall Street Journal one of America's best-written newspapers. This charming and utterly captivating collection will be a joy not only to animal lovers, but to all those who appreciate artful storytelling by writers who are obviously having a wonderful time spinning the tales.
Chapter One: Pet Theories
1. Listening to Prozac: "Bow-Wow! I Love the Mailman!"
Prozac has greatly improved life for Emily Elliot. She had tried massage therapy, hormone treatments, everything; but she couldn't relieve the anxiety, the fear, the painful shyness.
Or the chronic barking. So, after three years Ms. Elliot recently put Sparky, her dog, on Prozac.
Sparky (not her real name) suffered from "profound anxiety" of strangers as well as "inter-dog aggression," says Ms. Elliot, a veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania. The pooch "has a problem thinking through solutions to what is bothering her," she adds. So, in March, along with other therapies, doctors at the animal-behavior clinic where Ms. Elliot works prescribed Prozac.
Sparky, a show dog, quickly lost that hang-dog attitude. "It's been a big relief," says Ms. Elliot, who asked that Sparky's real name not be used because her Prozac use might influence dog judges.
Among American humans, of course, Prozac has become fashionable as a treatment for depression and obsessive/compulsive disorders. "It's the designer drug of the '90s," says Bonnie Beaver, chief of medicine at Texas A&M University's department of small-animal medicine. "People think, 'Gee, if I can have Prozac, why can't my dog?' "
The field is still new, but the growing potential for using Prozac and other human psychiatric drugs to treat destructive or antisocial animal disorders will be discussed at next month's meeting of the 52,000-member American Veterinary Medical Association. Prozac proponents say the drug, particularly for dogs, may represent the last chance to keep a maladjusted canine off of death row. Unruly behavior, which leads owners to abandon pets to shelters, is "the leading cause of canine and feline deaths" in the U.S., says Karen Overall, a University of Pennsylvania veterinarian.
"These vets are dedicated to finding ways to help pets stay with their owners," says an AVMA spokeswoman. "It's important to use all the avenues they can."
The University of Pennsylvania animal-behavior clinic has put depressed puppies on Prozac, feather-picking parakeets on antidepressants and floor-wetting cats on Valium (Prozac, for reasons not completely understood, has proved toxic and ineffective for cats, some veterinarians say). The clinic has also treated emotionally troubled ferrets, skunks and rabbits.
Some dogs on Prozac will be weaned off the medication, while others may be listening to Prozac for the rest of their lives, says Dr. Overall, who heads the clinic. "It's a great drug for some animals," she adds -- though she stresses that owners and pets should never take each other's medication.
The number of animals, including some birds, on Prozac is currently small, but anecdotal evidence as to its effectiveness is encouraging. In a letter to be published in the upcoming issue of DVM Newsmagazine, a veterinary journal, Steven Melman of Potomac, Md., describes a five-year-old dog suffering from "tail-chasing mutilation disorder." Conventional treatment failed and one vet suggested amputating the tail.
After five days on Prozac, though, the pooch was a "much more mellow, less restless patient," he writes. After five weeks on the drug, the dog's disorder was cured. Dr. Melman writes: "I had literally saved my patient's tail."
Using human drugs to treat certain animal conditions is "not at all controversial in mainstream medicine," says Dr. Melman. But Prozac has long been dogged by controversy. Thus, when Dr. Melman published a paper in the April edition of DVM describing Prozac use for dogs' skin problems caused by obsessive/compulsive urges, the fur began to fly. "I mentioned Prozac and people went nuts," he says.
The Church of Scientology, for example, responded with warnings that pets on Prozac could "go psycho." Since Prozac's launch six years ago, the Scientologists, who oppose the use of mind-altering drugs, have called it a "killer drug" linked to murder and suicide -- a charge roundly derided by the medical community.
If owners put pets on Prozac, "You may be forced to defang your dachshund or put Tabby in a straitjacket," warns a recent press release from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group founded by the Church of Scientology. Yet, when reached for comment, the commission conceded it hadn't received any reports of injuries from Prozac-deranged pets.
Other groups are concerned as well. "There's a lot of room for fear and worries," says Bob Hillman, vice president of the Animal Protection Institute, a Sacramento, Calif., animal-rights organization. "Giving a Rottweiler or a Doberman Prozac could be dangerous for the neighbors" should the drug have an unintended effect.
The Food and Drug Administration and Eli Lilly & Co., Prozac's maker, have denied any link between Prozac and acts of violence or suicide. But "our clinical data support use of Prozac in treating only humans," says a spokeswoman for Eli Lilly. "We're not actively pursuing the study of Prozac for veterinary use."
Some animal advocates argue that, instead of turning to wonder drugs, people need to look for "gentle, noninvasive ways" of getting along with their pets, says Ken White, vice president for companion animals at the Humane Society of the U.S. in Washington. Ellen Corrigan, director of education for In Defense of Animals, another animal-rights group, suggests "a more holistic approach" that might include alternative treatments like acupressure and herbal remedies.
Indeed, doctors to humans often counsel patients to first try conventional therapy or behavior modification before they turn to Prozac. Pro-Prozac vets agree. With the appropriate diagnosis and dosage, drugs like Prozac can help pets, says Texas A&M's Dr. Beaver, but owners and doctors must find the real root of a pet's distress. "If you don't remove the stress, you don't fix the problem," she says.
Pennsylvania's Dr. Overall, who has plumbed the minds of pooches, notes: "If you pet them while they're moping, it just reinforces sad behavior." Instead, she recommends trying to get them to "take an interest in something they enjoy: Play with a ball, go for a car ride, sit on the sofa and watch TV. When they look happy, relaxed or outgoing, then give them a treat."
But determining a pet's neurosis takes time, and even Sigmund Freud wouldn't have gotten far with Fido on his couch. "We can't go up and say, 'Tell me about your traumatic puppyhood,' " says Dr. Overall. Still, she points out that depressed dogs exhibit many of the same signs that down-in-the-dumps people do: They don't eat, they don't sleep and they don't make eye contact. Many problems occur when the animal reaches social maturity, notes Dr. Overall. "The teen years are when we see a lot of social disorders in humans; gang involvements, schizophrenia. It's the same thing with cats and dogs."
Dr. Overall knows there are some people opposed to pet drug use of any sort. But she has put one of her three dogs on human antianxiety medication (though not Prozac) and is high on the idea. "I go home to normal dogs," she says.
-- Carrie Dolan, June 1994
2. Surgery on an Odd Scale
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Three veterinarians stood over a $4.95 goldfish named Hot Lips, prepping her for surgery. The senior vet, Craig Harms, slipped a syringe into the nine-inch-long fish's swollen belly. He drew out clear fluid -- a bad sign.
Dr. Harms retreated to the hallway, pulled out his cellphone and called the owners in New York's Catskill Mountains. It was Wednesday morning, August 14.
"Hot Lips is doing OK," he said, before delivering the bad news about the liquid. "It puts the possibility of liver disease or kidney disease back in the picture....We'll keep you posted as we move along."
Dr. Harms and his colleagues are among about 20 vets in the nation who perform surgery on pet fish. Not one of them makes it his sole practice. But the need for such services is growing. Americans are building more backyard fishponds, stocking up on pets that they swear have personalities of their own.
Large "pond-kept fish" rank as the fastest-growing fish-pets in the nation, while the broader category of fish ownership grows faster than dogs, cats, lizards or any other pet type, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in Greenwich, Conn., and pet fish tend to grow bigger when they have more room to swim. Koi, the goldfish's fancy and often-expensive cousin, are particularly popular. They can live well past 30. So when these much-loved pets grow lumps or quit swimming, some owners give surgery a shot.
More are reaching out to Dr. Harms and his colleagues at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. One reason: Surgeons there have developed an advanced way to keep their patients alive on the operating table -- a portable device that pumps fluids, including anesthesia, into their mouths and out their gills.
The North Carolina surgeons will take cases that other vets consider hopeless. In March, they fused two crushed vertebrae along the spine of a 21-inch, $900 koi named Ladyfish. The three-hour procedure followed X-rays and a CAT scan. Ladyfish's owner, a North Carolina Roto-Rooter manager named David Smothers, recently brought in a smaller koi named Wendy for similar work. "To see this little girl swimming again, it's just incredible," Mr. Smothers says.
That expertise caught the attention of Deb and Greg Ireland, who live in Liberty, N.Y., about 90 miles northwest of New York City. The couple, in their mid-50s, bought Hot Lips three years ago when she was a three-inch baby. They picked her out of a pet-store tank because of the fish's striking snow-white body, reddish-orange back and small spot of color above her mouth.
The Irelands acclimatized Hot Lips to their pond, in a backyard oasis of gentle waterfalls, a barbecue grill and lounge chairs. Hot Lips grew...
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