Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Fox News broadcast meteorologist, Janice Dean, is back with her fourth Freddy the Frogcaster picture book. In her attempt to both entertain and educate, Dean has packed a lot of content into the forty pages of Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado. The resulting story feels rushed and overloaded with information. Even so, fans will enjoy revisiting Freddy and the Frog News Network as they face the latest weather emergency. The colorful and cartoonlike illustrations are a stable in the series and always a delight.

At this point in the series, Freddy has stopped needing to prove his worth to the Frog News Network crew and has instead become an accepted member of the crew. So, every weekend he heads to the TV station and delivers the weather on camera. One spring day, while studying his weather charts and forecasting tools, Freddy realized that his town of Lilypad could face some dangerous weather. But that wasn’t what caused the most excitement at the station. Instead all three felt psyched because the bad weather might mean a visit from the infamous storm chaser Tad Polar.

Dean’s created a good setup for a potentially adventurous, but then unfortunately hurries through the narration. She could have made Freddy face so many different obstacles: His parents might have refused to let him to ride along with Tad, but he could have snuck out anyway and faced danger because of it; On the ride along, the two might have initially gotten too close to the tornado and found their lives at risk because of their daredevil choice; While Freddy was out on the ride along, the tornado might have hit unusually close to his home, causing him to face guilt for not being there. Instead Freddy and Tad spot a tornado, report it, and a few minutes later are back safe at the news station. The story is simple, safe, and bland.

There are positives. First, as with other Freddy the Frogcaster books, detailed explanations of weather fill the back pages. Dean tells what tornadoes are, where they’re most likely to occur, how their measured with regards to strength, and tips to being safe during one. In addition, Dean offers up some cool trivia about the longest a tornado has traveled in the United States and the largest recorded hailstone in the United States. Second, the artwork by Russ Cox is captivating with its colorful palette. In addition, it changes to reflect the weather. When the skies are clear, pages shout with yellow, orange, and blue. When the skies are dark, pages rumble with purple and black.

Hurricanes. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Despite my disappointment with Dean’s fourth entry, I am a fan of her science-based stories. Dean has done much right. She featured animals. She wrote about weather. I’m already brainstorming a list of other types of weathers, in an attempt to figure out what the fifth entry will be.

A friend of mine and I like to collect cat books. What follows is a review of three picture books from her collection and one from mine. Two of the books are about homeless cats, a topic dear to my heart. The other two books are simply fun reads.

SenorCatSenior Cat’s Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America is a collection of six popular Cuban stories retold by Lucia Gonzalez. Each story is followed by an explanation of its background and a short glossary. The sole cat story is the title one and written in poetic form. It tells of a cat who sat on a throne drinking spiced milk in his stockings of silk and golden shoes. One day he receives a note from a servant that informs him he’s about to be married. Upon being wed to his love, Sir Cat reacts in such excitement that he falls off the church roof and to his supposed death. Thank goodness cats have multiple lives! My friend used to sing this song in Spanish in grade school. The tale is also the one the author says she most enjoyed illustrating, and sand over and over as she painted the cats.

NobodysCatNobody’s Cat by Barbara Josse is based on a real-life experience by the author. In a straightforward and simple style, the author tells of a feral cat that didn’t belong to anyone but had babies she needed to care for. One crisp fall day, when her milk ran out, the feral cat ventured towards a nearby home of people. A boy came out. The feral cat wanted to run, but she stayed for the sake of her kittens. The family fed her a bowl of cream and this became milk for her babies. Then each new day, the feral cat deposited a kitten on the porch of this family until all her babies had found homes. I liked this story from start to finish, even if in real life, feral cats might take more time to adjust to humans. The parental love that the feral cat shows rings true to other experiences people have shared. If you enjoy this book, you’ll probably also enjoy Nobody’s Cats by Valerie Ingram.

BestFriendBest Friend by A.M. Monson tells of an unlikely friendship between a cat and a mouse. At the start, the two are playing checkers, and Cat is a clear champion. Mouse wants to play a different game, but Cat isn’t willing to compromise, and so the two separate. Cat is so determined to have his own way that he even puts out an advertisement in the community paper for a friend. Several residents answer Cat’s advertisement, but each has something wrong with them. One is too messy, another prefers sports, and a third is a daredevil. Whatever will Cat do? This story could’ve just as easily been about any two other animals, but my friend and I picked it due to a cat being one of the main characters. This is a sweet story about appreciating the friends you have.

ChristmasKittenPerfect for the holidays is The Christmas Kitten by Andrew Charman. The adventure starts out in an animal shelter, where cats of all sizes were enjoying themselves. They were happy to be inside and to have a regular source of food, even if the surviving the shelter meant dealing with a few fights. All the cats were content that is except Oliver. He wanted a family, and decided to escape to find his dream. If you’ve ever read Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman you’ll find the structure for the rest of the story familiar. First, Oliver encounters mice, next dogs, then bears, and finally the big zoo cats. Some of the animals are scared and others think themselves too good for Oliver. But even when he’s accepted, none of the animals feel like family. Then he meets another cat, who shows him where the real source of family is. Other than my disliking that shelter cats were portrayed as being pleased with their lot in life, which is nothing like reality, I adored this book.

This review is dedicated to Marlo, who regularly surprises with packages full of all things cat. There might be a toy, a movie, or a book. If you want to read more about her story, follow this link: Bonded Together by CKD.

In his book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, author Frans de Waal discusses animal intelligence. In the prologue, he stresses that he won’t provide a comprehensive overview of evolutionary cognition, but rather he’ll pick and choose from discoveries in the field over the recent decades. His specialty is primates and as such so his focus, but de Waal also refers to studies of birds, dogs, whales, and other mammals. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, was the February selection of the online Companion Animal Psychology Book Club, formed in the fall of 2016 by Zazie Todd. For this review, I’m taking a different approach by sharing highlights of the discussion by some of the three-hundred members.

Comparisons up and down this vast ladder have been a popular pastime to cognitive science, but I cannot think of a single profound insight it has yielded. All it has done is make us measure animals by human standards. It seems highly unfair to ask if a squirrel can count to ten if that’s not what a squirrel’s life is about…. We don’t need echolocation to orient ourselves in the dark; nor do we need to correct for the refraction of light between air and water as archerfish do when shooting droplets at insects above the surface. There are lots of wonderful cognitive adaptations out there that we don’t have or need. That’s why ranking cognition on a singular dimension is a pointless exercise.

To start the discussion of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, Todd asked, “How did you find the first couple of chapters? Which animal stories or anecdotes particularly got your attention, and why?” In general, everyone agreed that there were so many fascinating tales, it was difficult to pick just one example. A few favorites were:

  • Elephants and mirrors: Researchers conducted tests to evaluate whether an animal recognizes its own reflection. Some elephants did!
  • Chimps and distinguishing faces: At one time, scientists declared humans unique since we were better at recognizing faces than primates were. A later study proved the opposite when it used not human faces but primate faces.
  • Cats and cages: One experiment concluded that cats rubbed against a cage latch to escape and obtain a fish as a reward. A later experiment concluded instead that the cats only needed the presence of friendly people to encourage them to rub, which is a way of greeting among cats.
  • Wasps and moved pinecones: Before wasps go out to hunt for a bee they’ve buried, they make a brief orientation flight to memorize the location of their burrows. One researcher put objects around their nest to see what information they used, as well as to trick them into looking at the wrong spots.

These examples and others led to a discussion of the concept of unwelt, or looking at the world from an animal’s point of view. One reader pointed out that we “tend to compare other animals with us and then describe their abilities in terms of lack, as in ‘dogs have the cognitive abilities of human toddlers but nothing more’, which doesn’t tell us an awful lot about dogs’ unique abilities, some of which we don’t share.” Another reader noted that it’s easier to “assume an animal lacks skill rather than asking, ‘Are our methods valid?’.” Many readers felt the first couple of chapters were more of a human story than one about animal cognition.

The next two chapters focused on specific aspects of animal intelligence. For chapter three, Todd asked: “What did you think of the studies of tool use? Did it affect how you think about animals, especially primates?” One reader expressed fascination with the expectation that most species would be incapable of using tools, even though the more studies scientists conduct the more it seems other species can and do use tools. De Waal wrote about crows in the Southwest Pacific that will spontaneously alter branches until they have a little wooden hook to fish grubs out of crevices. He also described real-life rooks that, akin to the crow in Aesop’s fable, successfully solved a floating worm puzzle by using pebbles to raise the water level in the tube. This chapter wasn’t without its controversy, with some readers debating the “risk to animal welfare if we assume cognitive abilities which are comparable to that of humans”.

For chapter four, Todd referred to a quote from de Waal and asked what ones thought about it: “You won’t often hear me say something like this, but I consider us the only linguistic species.” Initially, responses focused on the concept of language. Answers ranged from “If we mean the ability to communicate in symbolic language, then we are likely to be the only linguistic species” to “there are so many others forms of communication”. More than one reader recognized that animals do well at interpreting body language. There was also an acknowledgement that there are unknowns in communication, such as how elephants use rumbles to speak to one another, and so many animals may very well indeed have some sort of language. Then there were the more flippant remarks such as, “No doubt language is important to humans, which must be the reason we so doggedly try to teach other animals to “speak” and use this as a sign of intelligence” or “All we’ve shown (when we proof animals to ‘speak” is that other animals can pick up foreign languages.”

Todd followed-up with another question, ”What did you think when he said it caused an incident when he told people he doesn’t have a voice telling him right from wrong? Do you have such a voice?” This led to a brief discussion about morality, but mostly to a comparison of how that inner voice appears to individuals. For some it’s a feeling, while for others it’s words or pictures or a combination of both.

If cognition’s basic features derive from gradual descent with modification, then notions of leaps, bounds, and sparks are out of order. Instead of a gap, we face a gently sloping beach created by the steady pounding of millions of waves. Even if human intellect is higher up on the beach, it was shaped by the same forces battering the same shore.

In the remaining chapters, de Waal goes back and forth between discussing specific aspects of animal intelligence and the generalities of cognitive evolution. Todd posed three more questions, one about the social life of animals, one about whether there is a cognitive gap between animals and humans, and the last a catch-all question. By now though, the discussion had started to dwindle. Not everyone agreed with de Wall, and one reader contended, “As an archaeologist, I found his blanket statements about what other disciplines think about humans to be a bit … well, wrong? Archaeology and anthropology are social sciences, and I’m sure when I was in school there wasn’t a wall around human thinking or biology….” As this quote shows, some involved in the discussion had studied extensively studied social sciences of some form. As such, they were familiar with at least a few of the ideas presented. They also had the ability to discern some of what was truth and what wasn’t. Neither was the case for me, and I suspect several of the other readers, and this may have also led to the drop in conversation.

Do check Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? out from the library. While the content proved heavy reading for an unscientific person like myself, de Waal did give me renewed respect for animals. It also inspired several conversations between my husband and me. We debated what might happen if society were to view animals as smart as humans, but just in different ways. Would we so casually destroy the homes of wild animals? Would we so inhumanely treat farm animals? Would we so easily view domesticated animals as disposable? The implications are endless, making de Waal’s book an important read.

Would you like to know more about animal welfare, but have no time to read a book? Podcasts are the answer! You can listen to them while driving, exercising, or doing chores. Over the past year, I listened to a few episodes of six animal welfare podcasts. The first four are dedicated to cats and the final two are about animals or pets in general. Read on for my reactions!

Cat Lady / available on iTunes / 22 episodes, 2014-2015 / 40-60 minutes

catlady_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Hosted by Official Cat Ladies Liz and Rah, the Cat Lady Podcast features interviews with cat-loving public figures (and not so public figures).”

“Listen to see if we get better at it.”

Cat Lady is an excellent example of how a product can improve. I didn’t like the first episode, but began to warm up to the podcast with the second episode.

The first episode felt amateurish. The two hosts openly admitted that they had no idea how to run a podcast and spent a lot of time talking about how they should’ve learned prior to air how to seque to a new topic. The ladies also admitted that they had not done any research into their topics. Consequently, they referenced a book but couldn’t remember the title. In addition, they could only talk generalities about the Grumpy Cat movie because they hadn’t watched it.

The content of the first episode didn’t impress me either. The hosts inaccurately stated that milk chocolate is toxic to cats because it has milk in it, when the real culprit is the ingredient theobromine. I also found it illogical that the hosts had previously given milk to their cats with no ill effects but now, upon the advice of a guest, planned to stop because drinking milk can make some cats sick. Finally, Liz and Rah talked for half the episode with an animal communicator, even though many view psychics as cons.

The second episode was far more polished. Although the hosts still at times ended up filling dead air with “um” and “ah,” they were well-prepared with lots of amusing cat anecdotes. Besides being entertained by this episode, I learned useful information. The two ladies talked at length with regular guest, Meredith Adkins of the Cat Protection Society, about owners can provide the best care for their cats during the holidays.

Cattitude / available on iTunes / 24 episodes, 2008-2010 / 35-40 minutes

cattitude_podcastWebsite Blurb: “In this cat podcast, you’ll hear about many different breeds of cats–from the hairless Sphynx and the fluffy Persian to the silvery spotted Egyptian mau. But the most popular felines of all are non-pedigree—that includes brown tabbies, black-and-orange tortoiseshells, all-black cats with long hair, striped cats with white socks and everything in between. Learn everything there is to know about cats on Cattitude with your host Tom Dock. Each week in our cat podcast, we’ll spotlight a cool cat breed, give up-to-date advice on cat health, and check out new cat products! So curl up on the couch every week for a purrr-fectly enjoyable time on Cattitude… the cat podcast for cat lovers!”

Cattitude is the most intellectual of the six podcasts in this round-up. Connoisseur Tom Dock each week treats listeners to detailed information about everything there is to know about the featured breed. For example, the first episode covered why the Siamese are so famous, along with their origins, their varied looks, their dominant personality, and the changing standards for the breed. As an extra, he also talked about zoonotic diseases—their types, causes, and preventative measures. Anyone who regularly reads my articles at LAA Pet Talk know that I am a student and journalist at heart. As such, I appreciated that Tom Dock has done a lot of prep work for each episode. In addition, rather than taking a side about the changing standards, he presented the reasons for and against the changes. By the time I’ve finished listening to all of Cattitude, I expect to be fully-versed in all the cat breeds!

Community Cats / available on iTunes / 121 episodes, 2016 / 15-30 minutes

communitycats_podcastWebsite Blurb: “The Community Cats Podcast is the brainchild of Stacy LeBaron.  Stacy has over 20 years of experience working with Community Cats in Massachusetts.  She was the President of the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society for 14 years and since 2011 she has run the MRFRS Mentoring program assisting over 80 organizations with setting up TNR programs and getting funding to support those programs. The mission of the podcast is to provide education, information and dialogue that will create a supportive environment empowering people to help cats in their community.”

The Community Cats Podcast has a special appeal to me, because of my volunteer work with Husker Cats, a local organization that provides sterilization, food, and shelter to homeless campus cats. In addition, I’ve had the privilege of exchanging emails with podcast host, Stacy LeBaron, and will one day write an article about Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society.

Stacey LeBaron spent the first episode introducing herself to listeners. Her journey to becoming an advocate serves both as a model and an encouragement to me. As a child, Stacey had one cat. This cat lived to be twenty. She immediately got another cat, who sadly died at the age of ten. She didn’t realize cats could die so young and this got her interested in studying cats. Next her husband rescued a kitten and she eventually ended up with multiple cats. As part of wanting to help cats, she joined Merricack’s adoption team. Stacey’s advice to those who want to help cats? Start with one cat and go from there. Stacey wraps up the first episode by saying that the purpose of her podcasts is to help animal advocates of every level.

Subsequent podcasts feature other leaders in the cat welfare world. The typical format is for the guest to share a little of their roots in animal welfare and then to share information about a topic in which they have expertise. With each episode often running about twenty minutes, I can easily listen to one while driving about town. I’m often sad for the episodes to end, because each guest is a wealth of info. Given that mid-year subscribers received an email requesting sponsorship donations, I wonder if the podcast will remain financially viable in the months and years to come. For as long as it lasts, I’ll be an avid listener!

Purrfect World / available on iTunes / 21 episodes, 2013-2015 / 25-30 minutes

purrfectworld_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Figure out what your cat is thinking from author and blogger Pamela Merritt, from the Way of Cats. Learn how to build their Perfect World, because understanding their nature is the key to both affection and training. Discover that ‘a happy cat is an obedient cat’ and learn how to make the right gestures, like Cat Kisses, the Fist of Friendship, the Drape, and the Shift. Each show discusses a cat challenge, shares pertinent Human Tricks for better communication, and explores ways we can advance the cat/human relationship. After thirty years of cat rescue experience, there’s plenty of stories to tell.”

The instant I heard Pamela Merritt speak, I was hooked on her Purrfect World podcast. Her voice is so soothing and calm. Through the first two episodes, I’ve also learned a little about her. For example, Pam grew up without cats but has learned to love them and respect them. She likes dogs and other animals too but focuses on promoting cats. Pam isn’t afraid to learn by trial-and-error nor to share what she’s learned from her mistakes.

I also like the content of Purrfect World. Her knowledge and confidence shows in every episode. In the first episode, Pam began by pondering the stereotypes about cats and their owners. Then she moved on to her belief that there no bad cats, just owners who treat cats like dogs. Finally, she there concludes by talking about how kittens start out playful but grow up into cats who want to build a relationship before they trust their owners. In the second episode, Pam discusses how to teach one’s cat not to scratch. She refers to the obvious solution of using a scratching post so that cats won’t claw the furniture, but also details how to foster a relationship with one’s cat that will encourage it not to scratch people either. Cats are complex and Pam shows respect for this fact!

Ontario SPCA / available on iTunes / 101 episodes, 2010-2016 / 10-30 minutes

ontariospca_podcastWebsite Blurb: “For over a century, the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has provided province-wide leadership on matters relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals and the promotion of Animal Welfare. Need something a little more interesting to listen to than the same old songs on the radio? Why not check out one of our most recent pawdcasts?”

Despite being regional, The Ontario SPCA podcast interests me because it helps me understand the great depth of animal welfare programs. For the first year, each episode is hosted by Alison Cross, who interviews people from across the province who are involved with animal welfare. Each episode is snappy and engaging. Alison’s style is friendly and brisk. Her questions come quickly, showing how prepared she is. Her guests are calm, talkative, and passionate about their work. They’re also comfortable giving short or long answers as appropriate. What I like about the Ontario SPCA podcast is that it lets me eavesdrop on casual conversations between animal welfare experts.

The episode I listened to features Kevin MacKenzie, Development Manager of the Ontario SPCA. Kevin MacKenzie shares his experience traveling on the road with an Animal Cruelty Agent, volunteering at the Ontario SPCA Orangeville & District Branch, and spending a day at the Provincial Education & Animal Centre in Newmarket. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the building of community support. Starting with the second year, he became the host for Ontario SPCA podcast.

Speaking of Pets / available on iTunes / 300 episodes, 2006-2016 / 2 minutes

speakingpets_podcastWebsite Blurb: “Speaking of Pets with Mindy Norton is for people who care about pets and about humane treatment for animals in general, and who want to celebrate that special relationship between us and our animal companions. On Alabama Public Radio Saturdays at 8:59 a.m.”

Not only is Speaking of Pets the longest running podcast of the six featured in this article, but it’s also the shortest at only two minutes per episode. Yes, you read that right! In just one drive, I listened to half a dozen episodes and learned about diverse topics such as pets after hurricanes, legislation that allows owners to bring their pets with them to restaurants that have an outdoor seating area, cat shows, puppy mills, obese pets, and the efforts to help pets in Haiti after an earthquake. Wow!

Given their brevity, the episodes are surprisingly very informative. In the one about Haiti, I learned that organizations moved in to rescue people, control the spread of diseases, AND save animals. The latter is important. Many are livestock and are essential to the agricultural economy. Others are pets integral to family life. Finally, there was a story about a couple who rescued a dog only to lose it during a natural disaster but then were blessed to be reunited again.


If I had to pick just one podcast, I’m not sure that I could. Most of those I’ve reviewed are unique in their presentation and in their focus. Cat Lady and Purrfect World are the only two that kind of resemble each other. While I’d lean towards Purrfect World and its host Pamela Merritt because of its more professional quality, I suspect that Cat Lady with its banter between two hosts will continue to grow on me. It could also be fun to see them grow in their podcasting skills. The bottom line is that all six podcasts are worth checking out.

Now it’s your turn! I’m eager to hear more animal welfare podcasts. If you know of any good ones, please tell me about them in comments

This past summer, I shared reviews of ten pet magazines. Now I’m back with a new round-up of magazines. Two cover both dogs and cats, four cover just dogs, and three cover just cats. Unlike my previous round-up, these are only available through subscription. Read on for my views of the magazines!


Best Friends | $4.95 per issue, $25.00 for a 1-year/6-issue subscription (digital issues available for free on website) | 72 pages

bestfriendsBest Friends magazine is the official publication of Best Friends Animal Society—the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary—which has the motto Together, we can save them all.” Dogs and cats receive equal coverage in the features, which fill about one-third of the publication. A variety of other animals, such as birds, horses, and exotics receive attention elsewhere in the magazine. The latter consists of editorials, adoptables, tributes, and four departments: news, sanctuary, health and behavior, and bookshelf.

In the November/December 2016 issue, there are three features averaging about five pages each, all detailed in content and lavish in photos. One story is about a luxury hotel that opened its doors to homeless senior canines. Another story is about 52 dogs who were on death row and were given a second chance thanks to foster care. A third story is about acts of kindness in the animal welfare world. The pieces within each department vary in length. News might run one paragraph or one page. Each of the sanctuary animals—except for the special-needs or guardian angel animal, which receives a two-page spread—is covered in about a third of a page including a photo.

While the magazine will appeal most to people involved in animal rescue, some features and departments will be of interest to the average pet owner too. For example, within the health department, one column addresses instinctual behaviors of dogs and cats and another how to keep senior pets comfortable. A different issue featured information on how to integrate FIV-positive cats into one’s home. I originally subscribed to Best Friends simply to support the cause of the Best Friends Animal Society, but I grew to appreciate the magazine for its well-researched and practical content after setting aside several issues with tips that I wanted to try on our pets. Finally, the design is equal to the best I’ve seen in animal magazines, with fancy fonts, bold lines, ample white space, and generous color.

Healthy Pet | sample content available online for FREE | 32 pages

healthypetHealthy Pet is a publication of Vet Street website. It may also be a publication that you’re already receiving for free from your local veterinarian. Each issue contains five to ten short articles. In addition to articles being only an average of two-pages in length, content is made even more readable through subsections, lists, and sidebars. The Summer 2016 issue contains information about traveling with pets, indoor vs. outdoor cats, dog-friendly destinations, insect-borne contagious diseases, hotel room pet etiquette, pet weight management. Healthy Pet also regularly features an interview with a celebrity pet owner. I appreciated the call for reader input through photo submissions and tips. Healthy Pet is a quick read with lots of useful content.


The Bark | $16 for a 1-year/4-issue subscription ($12.99 digital) | 100 pages

The Bark

If The Bark sounds familiar, you’d be right. I subscribed to it in the wake of my previous pet magazine round-up, and I love it so much that I decided to promote it again. The great thing about it is that it’s less about articles and more about celebrating all things dog. Does this mean there’s nothing to learn from The Bark? No! There are in-depth and research-based articles on basic care, behavior, enrichment, and research. In fact, there’s such a great wealth of information that I might take up to a week to digest everything. In the Fall 2016 issue, I was especially interested in an article about resource hoarding (resource guarding/hoarding involves aggressive possessive behavior regarding high value items such as food, toys, or even people), which one of my dogs liked to do. There are also pieces about art, books, films, and the dog-centered lifestyle. In the Fall 2016 issue, I enjoyed the articles about home designs inspired by dogs. Every issue has an article about homeless dogs, and this one discussed how a shelter’s dog fate can rest on its label. The Bark remains one of my favorite pet magazines. When reading The Bark, I feel as if I’m at my local dog club listening to members trading the newest technique they’ve tried and personal stories about their dogs.

Family Dog | $9.95 for a 1-year/6-issue subscription (digital issues available for free on website) | 48 pages

familydogPublished by the American Kennel Club, Family Dog is one of the most affordable publications.  The first half of each issue is dedicated to columns and departments. There’s news, photos, advice, and single-page pieces on animal care. The second half of the magazine is dedicated to an average of five features that run two to four pages in length, with large photos enhancing the lengthier features. Most issues seem to have a creative contest. My main criticism is the dense print.

The September/October 2015 issue contains a mix of entertainment, rescue, and enrichment news. For example, there’s articles about a pet doctor reality series, dogs from shelters who help disabled farmers, and a camp for canines. The advice section is equally diverse. One piece offers advice on how to teach kids to understand dogs, another tells how to protect dogs from diseases, a third explains how to groom the ears of dogs, and there’s also a piece about interpreting the facial expressions of dogs. The middle pages feature the results of a photo contest and are followed by an informational article about how to care for senior dogs, a profile of a wonder dog, and a tribute to an organization that is reshaping public opinion of large dogs. Family Dog provides fun reading!

FETCH | Single Issue FREE or $18.95 year/4-issue subscription | FREE to Wisconsin residents | 46 pages

fetch_wiscFETCH is divided into four sections, each with its unique appeal. Cover Features is the meatiest section, with articles related to the magazine’s theme. I was hard-pressed to decide whether Canine Columns and 4-Legged Extras which offers the most entertainment. Both contain a mix of entertainment such as celebrity news, puzzles, recipes, and opinion pieces. Thrown in for good measure, however, are also some informational pieces. The most local section is In Every Issue. It contains classifieds, events, and directories for Wisconsin. My main criticism of FETCH is the design, which tries too hard to be whimsical. Articles have as many as four different colors of text, as if the mere presence of color makes a magazine more attractive.

Puppies and seniors are the theme of the Winter 2016 issue. Within the pages dedicated to Cover Features are photos, buying suggestions, and several one-page informational articles on puppies and seniors. You’ll learn how to pick and train a puppy. You’ll also learn and how to provide physical comfort to a senior and to recognize canine dysfunction syndrome. Rounding out the rest of the content is a profile of the Samoyed breed, a tribute to K9 Dogs, and a winter guide to camping with your dog. FETCH is one of the better regional pet publications I’ve seen.

Your Dog | $3.99 per issue or £47.88 for a one-year/12-issue subscription (£19.99 digital)| 98 pages


Your Dog hails from Great Britain and is part of a family of magazines. There are no departments, and each article is on a different topic. One moment you’ll be reading about how to train your dog indoors, the next you’ll be reading a profile of a popular breed, and after that you might be reading about diagnosing different health conditions. With its oversized format and smaller print, you’re getting a lot of information packed into every article. At the same time the visually-attractive format makes articles easily readable. There are ample subheads and frames, including ones that are slanted or colored, and pages pop with large photos and fun typefaces.

In the February 2016 issue, there are six pages of news, most just a paragraph in length but a few run half a page and are illustrated. There are plenty of informational articles. Besides those mentioned in the first paragraph, there’s an article about lead-training a dog, one on tapping into your dog’s natural instincts, and one on caring for senior dogs. Then there’s twelve pages of experts’ answers to questions as varied as what collar should be used for a Labrador puppy to why dogs like to roll on animal carcasses. The rest of the content is assorted, such as a report on the Crufts Dog Show, true stories about how dogs helped their owners, and a pet-friendly tour of Britain. Your Dog is considered Britain’s favorite dog magazine.


Catnip | $20.00 for a 1-year/10-issue subscription (includes access to all Tufts University articles) | 16 pages

catnipProduced by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Catnip is technically a newsletter, but I wanted to include it in this roundup because I subscribe to it. Each issue contains an average of five articles, along with three regular sections: Editor’s Note, Dear Doctor, and Short Takes. The latter is generally a research-based back-page piece. The main articles run about two to three pages, with content divided by subheads and perhaps enhanced with a sidebar. Color is used sparingly, with photos being black and white.

The December 2016 issue contains information about feeding a cat with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), Trap-Neuter-Release programs, understanding anemia in cats, the discomfort of joint disorders, and safeguarding against winter hazards. Dear Doctor offers brief advice on how to help toothless cats, the ideal time to wean kittens, and preservatives in cat food. Short Takes tells about an upcoming study that hopes to find benefits in placing shelter cats in the homes of children with autism. As you can see, most coverage is health-based, but there’s a scattering of other topics too. Any cat owner serious about understanding their cat’s possible medical needs should check out Catnip.

Cat World | $10.99 an issue or $120.00 for a 1-year/12-issue subscription ($45.99 on iMag) | 80 pages

catworldThe content of Cat World isn’t divided into categories, meaning you’ll be surprised each time you turn the page. There’s certainly ample variety! You’ll find feline news, profiles of breeders and rescue groups and pet owners—some more famous than others, crafts, photos, and fiction, along with lots of articles and opinion pieces.

Like American pet magazines, Cat World is printed on glossy paper and colorful in design. To its credit, Cat World also boasts a bigger size, being produced not on letter-sized paper but legal. To its discredit, the print is smaller than in the average magazine and harder to read.

In the January 2016 issue, news ranges from research on how boxes benefit cats to a caution about poison in a common baking product, to a rivalry between Christmas cat ads to a French ban on animal trophies. One of the more high-profile entities to receive coverage is a Moroccan rescue organization. A few of the informative articles include ideas for keeping cats comfortable in winter, ensuring cats are entertained when owners are away, and becoming an “antibiotic guardian”. There’s also a continuation of a series on how cats use their senses. Finally, there are several reader-submitted true stories about lessons learned from cats. Cat World is considered Britain’s favorite cat magazine.

Your Cat | $8.95 per issue (Barnes and Noble), £66.80 for a 1-year/12-issue subscription (£19.99 digital), 90 pages

Your CAtIf Your Cat sounds familiar, you’d be right. Although the hefty price still deters me from subscribing, Your Cat remains the closest cat counterpart to The Bark that I’ve read, and for that reason I wanted to give it kudos again. How is it like The Bark, which is a dog culture magazine? Perhaps it’s the mix of serious and light content. Or perhaps it’s the willingness to recognize that cats can live amazing lives, even to the point of training and traveling. Maybe it’s the international flavor. At any rate, there’s plenty I like about the February 2016 issue. A few of the outstanding features focus on the options for cat care when owners go away on vacation, tips for finding a missing cat, and insight into the way cats communicate. Some of the more engaging pieces under Caring for Cats include a profile of an international rescue, a diary from a local rescue, and a peek at a Pet Fit Club. My favorite story under Curl Up & Read is a fiction submission that tells of a cat who lived at a laundromat and changed the lives of one of the patrons. The back pages are dedicated to kittens, and this issue contains a highly relevant cautionary piece about the dangers of buying a cat online, while also featuring photos and personal stories of cat owners.


Because of my reviewing pet magazines, I now subscribe to three pet publications. Best Friends meets my rescue needs; Its writing and the design are top-notch. The Bark satisfies my dog needs; Its quirky content not only educates me but also gives me hours of reading pleasure. Finally, Catnip serves my cat needs because of its research-based articles, but I wish there were an equivalent to Your Cat here in the United States. If your budget allows for only one magazine, and like our family you have dogs and cats, turn to Healthy Pets or Animal Wellness. I reviewed the latter in my first roundup and felt that with increased cat coverage it’d be a worthy contender as a hybrid.

To date, I’ve reviewed seventeen magazines, but there are still more to be discovered. I’ve already set my sights on one called Animal Sheltering and occasionally I’ll read sample content from it online. What have been your experiences with the magazines I reviewed? Are there magazines you’ve enjoyed that I missed? Share your thoughts!

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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