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‘Fur’ the pet-loving reader

McHenry County Magazine

Brownie, a beagle-boxer mutt, came into my life after my parents adopted him from Save-A-Pet last year. His hobbies are sticking his head out the car window, guarding us against bunnies and deer, gobbling up green beans, and sleeping. Brownie (or Brownie Bite as we call him sometimes) isn’t just a pet; he’s part of our family. 

A lot of pet-owners say the same thing about their own adopted creatures – and not just dogs! Here are some non-fiction reads about some quirky pets and the relationships they have with their families. 

‘The Lion in the Living Room: How Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World’
By Abigail Tucker

Abigail Tucker’s “The Lion in the Living Room” is less a manual on how to understand your feline and more a study on how cats around the world have shaped humanity. 

In the book, Tucker describes the controversial “cat parasite,” toxoplasmosis, and how it effects the millions of humans who have it – including 60 million in the U.S. alone. In the chapter “Nine Likes,” the author meets Internet sensation Lil Bub, and discusses the rise of cats on the Internet, while also showing that even dog people are affected by the ubiquitous global presence of cats.  

While the book explains many of the evolutionary advantages cats have, such as their tiny faces and human-like mews that stir us to treat them like our own children, she occasionally breaks from the science of kitties and talks about her own living-room lion – a big tabby named Cheetoh. 

While Tucker’s investigation into cat culture is thorough (and thoroughly enjoyable), I do have one complaint about her book: where are the pictures of cats?  

‘H is for Hawk’
By Helen MacDonald  

People deal with the loss of a family member in different ways, and Helen MacDonald, author of “H is for Hawk,” is no exception. 

After her father suddenly passes away, MacDonald decides to train a goshawk, as both she and her father shared a love of falconry. Goshawks are a particularly fussy bird to train, so it was a welcome challenge for the grieving daughter. 

Much of “H is for Hawk” is about MacDonald’s experience with training the challenging little bird, named “Mabel,” into a fierce (but trained) hunter. But it also is about T.H. White, writer of “The Once and Future King,” who used falconry as a way to cope with his own heavy emotions. 

MacDonald reserves the strongest and most emotional writing for the end of the book, but, by that point, we’ve already learned the importance of falconry to her family and how Mabel helped her get through one of the most difficult times in her life. 

‘Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time’
By Steven Jenkins and Derek Walter with Caprice Crane

Many people probably already know about Esther the “wonder pig” that inspired her owners, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, to start the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, which has more than a million followers on Facebook. But this Internet celebrity almost didn’t become famous at all, as Jenkins writes in “Esther the Wonder Pig,” because this little piggy, weighing more than 650 pounds, isn’t so little at all. 

“Esther” tells the story of how Jenkins and Walter adopted what they thought would be a tiny teacup pig, and how they struggled to adapt their lives so that they could keep her once she grew beyond “teacup” status. 

After dealing with confused and troubled friends and family, local laws regarding farm animals as pets, and some messy instances of piggy potty training, Jenkins and Walter wrote a funny and inspirational account to tell the world that Esther was worth all of the trouble (and that the book about her is worth reading). 

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