Picks and Pans Review: Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name

updated 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Vicki Hearne

This is not a book for the casual pet owner hoping to pick up a few tips on teaching Fido to roll over. It is a philosophical inquiry—an earnest, often intriguing look at the relationships between human beings and domestic animals. Hearne, a dog and horse trainer and an assistant professor of English at Yale, contends proper training of dogs, cats and horses is not an option but a human duty, "one way we enact our gratitude to the universe that animals exist." Far from curtailing an animal's freedom, she argues, obedience instruction allows pet and trainer to communicate and encourages "the development of the animal's character and the development of both the animal's and the handler's sense of responsibility." Though she borders on the metaphysical at times and can sound gratingly self-righteous, Hearne writes evocatively of the power of communication to draw people and animals together. She tells fascinating stories about the intelligence and what she considers the moral understanding of well-trained animals. She describes a horse that, she says, reads his handler's body language to determine answers to simple math problems and tells of a police dog who bit his master just as the officer was starting to assault an innocent pedestrian. Many animal lovers won't want to wade through Hearne's overly academic prose; those who do may end up looking at their own pets with new respect. (Knopf, $17.95)

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