Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Pukka’s Promise by Ted Kerasote

Book Review:  Pukka’s Promise by Ted Kerasote
by Rebecca Randolph, guest blogger (and Garth’s mom)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of Pukka’s Promise, provided me with a free copy of this book, however the opinions expressed in this review are my own.  I received no other compensation for this review.

Pukka’s Promise has been a very difficult book for me to review.  I read it back in February and have been mulling it over for months.  It left me questioning much of what I thought was true about how best to care for my dog.  It’s definitely not the kind of light summer reading you take to the beach.  It’s the kind of book you need to read and think about - but if you have dogs in your life, you definitely need to read it.  

Ted Kerasote is my idol.  He lives a life I would love to live (minus the elk-hunting and gutting) and provides his dogs with a life I would love to be able to provide my dogs.  His book Merle’s Door inspired me to give my dog Garth a better and more enriched life than I had provided my previous dog Jake.  I’ve read Merle’s Door three times, and I think it’s one of the greatest books ever written about a dog.  So when I began Pukka’s Promise, I was expecting another Merle’s Door.  But Pukka’s Promise is something else entirely.

In Pukka’s Promise, Ted Kerasote attempts to answer the question “how can our dogs live longer?”  This is one of those questions that I would have thought unanswerable, but it’s not.  I was shocked to learn that commonly-advocated practices may be detrimental to our dogs’ health and may actually be affecting their longevity.  Too-frequent vaccinations, spaying and neutering (especially at a very young age), feeding poor quality dog-food, and exposure to environmental toxins may all be factors in shortening our dogs’ lives.  Fortunately we have control over many of these factors.  Such factors include:


How could something I’m doing for my dog’s health such as yearly vaccinations be harmful?  Vaccinations save lives, right?  Well, they do, but Kerasote’s research suggests that we may be over-vaccinating dogs, vaccinating every year when it might not be necessary, vaccinating for the same diseases everywhere - even in climates where those diseases don’t exist.     

Spaying and Neutering

Have we been pursuing the goal of preventing unwanted litters at the risk of our dogs’ health?  Are intact dogs healthier because they retain their body’s ability to produce beneficial hormones?    Do the health benefits of retaining beneficial hormones outweigh the health benefits of spaying and neutering?  Are there birth control alternatives for dogs that are healthier than spaying and neutering?  Absolutely we need to prevent unwanted litters, but why aren’t less invasive, less expensive, and less time-consuming procedures (vasectomies, hysterectomies, and tubal ligations) used?  Such procedures would allow dogs to retain their testicles and ovaries so these organs would continue to produce hormones beneficial to a dog’s health.

I’ve always been an advocate of spay/neuter programs, and am extremely resistant to any suggestion that spay/neuter should not be zealously promoted.  But what if it negatively affects the health of our dogs?  What if there are better options for preventing unwanted pregnancy in dogs?  

Dog Food

Kerasote also discusses the way we feed our dogs.  He provides the history of kibble production and describes his tours of rendering plants.  He discusses feeding a raw diet and other options and ends up choosing for Pukka a combination of wild game, commercially prepared raw food, and vegetables.  After reading Pukka’s Promise, I’ve been looking at dog food ingredients much more closely and experimenting with alternatives to kibble (much to Garth’s delight).  I’ve been reading more and more about different dog diets - from raw, to dehydrated, to freeze-dried, to home-cooked meals - and have realized that dogs, like humans, can benefit by eating whole foods instead of processed kibble.    

In addition to dealing with these heavy topics, Kerasote writes about his search for Pukka, Pukka’s puppyhood, and teaching Pukka about the world and the things he needs to know as a dog in Kelly, Wyoming.  I enjoyed these sections of the book immensely.  Kerasote is extremely observant and sensitive to Pukka’s feelings.  When Pukka gets a new crate and bedding that belonged to another dog, and for the first time cries in the crate, Kerasote realizes that there’s something about that crate that Pukka doesn’t like.  After Kerasote thoroughly scrubs the crate and cleans the bedding, Pukka is very comfortable there. 

At times it seemed like I was reading two different books -- one a story of Pukka’s early years, the other a book about the factors affecting dogs’ longevity.  I’m not saying this format didn’t work, it just didn’t work as well as it did in Merle’s Door, which included wonderful stories of Merle’s life as well as interesting sections on dog history and behavior.

Like Kerasote’s other books, Pukka’s Promise is extremely well-written and easy to read.  It’s extensively researched, with 49 pages of notes at the end.  If I want to research more on any of the topics discussed in the book, the notes will be very helpful. 

I highly recommend Pukka’s Promise - but be aware that you (like me) may be resistant to some of Kerasote’s findings and conclusions.  I think it would be a rare person who didn’t learn something (or quite a bit) from this book about helping dogs to live healthier and longer lives.  

You can purchase Pukka's Promise from a number of different retailers.  See Ted Kerasote's website for links to retailers who carry it.  You may also enjoy the Pukka's Promise Facebook page for posts about Pukka and Ted's adventures.


  1. I bought that book and haven't yet read it. Ted is a favorite author of ours. We love how he asks the tough questions.


  2. Merle's Door is also one of my favorite books...oh to be able to give that kind of a life to my dogs...wouldn't they love it and in turn enrich my life! I had the same impressions about Pukka's Promise - jam packed with information and much of it flys in the face of conventional wisdom. I think it was great and has certainly made me think more deeply about these issue. Thanks for the review - well done.

  3. Wow Rebecca, those is some interesting and important thingys to think about. I totally agrees about diet - my mama fed me and the catses just whatever kind of kibble or canned food from the grocery store, but now she is seeing how bad that stuff is and feeding me and Hatfield some better stuffs, like grain-free organic noms. I was quite adverse to losing my manhoods at the senior age I was when I camed to live in my forever home, and Mama wondered if it was totally necessary. Everyone said it was though, so off they came. Anyways, thanks for the great review!


  4. What a great review! We have not heard of this book or the author but are going to check it all out right now.

    Thank's Garth and Mom!

    Lily Belle & Muffin

    1. If you've never heard of Ted Kerasote, tell your mom to read Merle's Door. It's the first book by Ted Kerasote that mom read, and it's one of the best books ever about a dog she says.

  5. Great review ...we must check it out. Have a serene Sunday Garth.
    Best wishes Molly

  6. You are a great reviewer!
    Daisy and Cress

  7. Well, it looks like my comment was eaten by my iPad. No worries. I did want to say that I have long advocated keeping dogs intact for as long as possible, but at least until they reach physical maturity. There is plenty of literature available demonstrating the health benefits, but you have to really look for it as google searches of spay / neuter almost always turn up pages of hits about how wonderful it is.

    Responsible dog owners have no reason to spay and neuter other than for their own convenience. It isn't like their dogs are roaming free to have a go at any doggie who passes by. Breeders keep intact animals together all the time with no issue (just separate the girls when they are in heat).

    My Dexter is neutered and I am the first to admit I did it for my convenience (so he could go to daycare) but I waited until he was a year old.

    Food? Dex gets 75% kibble (for my convenience) and 25% raw food of meat and vegetables.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

    Mango Momma

  8. Like Ted Kerasote, we came to those conclusions after much research. Having 3 dogs in a row with cancer, and 2 were the same type, but having a LONG history in both families of no dogs with cancers, we went on a quest to find a reason. We found more than one reason, and we changed everything with Vlad & Barkly. They're on minimal vaccines per the recommendations of Dr. Jean Dodds. They're fed a raw, grain-free diet. They're both intact--we're both responsible about it, and they've never been loose.

    The vaccines and loss of hormones were the 2 things we can point at for sure that were different from former dogs and those dogs of our parents. We're not positive the diet played a part, but we changed it anyway. We're doing everything we can to keep these dogs with us longer--and healthier.

  9. thanks for this superb review! I have reviewed tons of books on both of my blogs and somehow never read this one. Thanks so much for sharing and I LOVE your photo!

  10. Thanks for the great review of this book. I own it and have not read it yet. I feel inclined now to dive in!

  11. Based on this review, I am getting this book. TY, Garth!

  12. as you know from Twitter we are reading Pukka's Promise now. Thanks for such an honest, comprehensive review of this book. I am questioning a lot now also for my dog Liam. Ted leads a genuine life and asks uncomfortable questions. Very brave and helpful book.