“Animal lovers are a special breed of humans, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky.”John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog
Every story becomes better with an animal in it. In books and movies about violent deaths, the animal’s death is the most painful (for me, at least).
Since I’ve started reading biographies, I’ve come across some amazing stories about animals and how they’ve impacted the lives of people around them. Each one is a tear-jerker – happy and sad.
Here are my top recommendations for biographies with animals.
Marley and Me by John Grogan
I fell in love with Marley’s pure and goofy heart from the start. His joy refused any limits on his behaviour. His love and loyalty were boundless, too. It is also a story about Marley’s parents, who adopt him as a young couple. Marley shares their heartbreak over a miscarriage and joy at their first pregnancy. He grows old with them as their house fills with kids, and they grow up too. It’s a beautiful story about a family and their wonderful dog.
“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.”John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen
As any pet owner knows, pets have the power to transform our lives. It may not be drastically or immediately realised, but they have a way of doing so. This is a wonderful story of one such transformation – how a drug addict reformed himself all because of a ball of purring fur. It is such a feel-good read, and God knows we need more stories like this. I read it in 1 sitting, then cuddled my cat for a good while.
“Having Bob gave me a chance to interact with people…Cats are notoriously picky about who they like. Seeing me with my cat softened me in [others] eyes. It humanised me. Especially after I’d been so dehumanised. In some ways, it was giving me back my identity. I had been a non-person; I was becoming a person again.”James Bowen, A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets
Dewey by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter
Anyone who’s had a cat knows that they just pretend to be standoffish – they secretly love the attention. Dewey might be just another cat, but only those who met him can say otherwise. Not many cats would show their affections so readily. It is also a story of his courageous rescuer, her struggles with her health and life, and the history of a small town.
“When cats don’t know something exists, it’s easy to keep them away. If they can’t get to something and it’s something they’ve made up their minds they want, it’s almost impossible. Cats aren’t lazy; they’ll put in the work to thwart even the best-laid plans.”Vicki Myron, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalván and Bret Witter
Just the fact that the book is about a service dog should be enough reason to read it. But the book is about so much more. It explores the bond between a service dog and his partner that even pet owners will never fully understand. It talks about the horrors of war and, most importantly, the trauma of getting back to everyday life after being in the war zone. PTSD has just recently been accepted as a disability, and even then, not many people understand it for what it is. Discrimination, misunderstanding, a faulty system, everything just combines to add to the stressors. A well-written book that will make you share the frustrations, depressions, and joys of the author’s life. A few tears are bound to be shed.
“When he lay beside me with his dog-breath sighs, it was as if he was saying, Give me your sadness. I will take it, as much as you need. If it kills us both, so be it. I am here.”Luis Carlos Montalván, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him
The Dog Who Could Fly by Damien Lewis
This is the true account of a German shepherd named Ant, who the Royal Air Force adopted during World War II. He was found by accident and adopted by a soldier named Robert. Ant joined in flight missions and survived everything from crash-landings to parachute bailouts, ultimately saving the life of his owner and dearest friend. Ant was justly awarded the Dickin Medal, the Animal Victoria Cross by the end of the war.
“It won’t work, Robert,” Rybar repeated, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to try.”Damien Lewis, The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side
The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
A beautiful story, beautifully told. Just imagine someone asking you if you’d like to take in a herd of elephants, as they were household pets! Some of the moments are very powerful, like the matriarch introducing her newborn to a human she didn’t trust just a few months ago…the ultimate symbol of trust.
We are taken into the working of a herd of elephants and their thought process as much as we can understand it. The side stories of the people and other animals in the Reserve are just as remarkable and often entertaining. Life in the wild is fraught with danger and hardships, but it also has its magical moments.
“Elephants operate on a steadfast principle that all other lifeforms must give way to them, and as far as they were concerned, foreign tourists at a sit-down dinner around a swimming pool were no different than a troop of baboons at a swimming hole.”Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer
Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote
It is a delightful story of a beautiful, independent dog and his relationship with his human. You can feel the bond between the two through the pages. It would be ideal if all dogs got the opportunity to live their lives roaming around, socialising, then returning to a loving home for the night. You often feel that the author might be projecting his feelings onto the animal, but everyone who’s owned one and paid attention to it will identify – they tell us things in their own way.
“Nobody needs to control or be controlled by cues and signals all the time; living creatures are not a bunch of machines.”Ted Kerasote, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
An awesome and inspiring story of rescuing a zoo by people whose only qualifications were that they loved animals. The book gives you enough to know the effort that went in, the problems, the wins, and the stories, and it manages to keep it interesting and humorous.
I came across this book because of the movie made on it…the movie is not even 10% of the reality. Read the book before you watch the movie.
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
Soul of a Lion by Barbara Bennett
The experiences with some fantastic animals mentioned in this will leave you in puddles and make you wish more than ever you lived surrounded by wild animals. Marieta was raised in the harshest way possible but still loved her life, and her determination and love for all kinds of animals is inspiring. Even through personal tragedies, she has kept her focus and rescued every animal she could. It is inspiring and wondrous even to imagine living amongst so many creatures day in and day out that you recognise each one and their personalities.
“During my two-week sojourn at Harnas, I worked harder than I had ever worked in my life, and I got dirtier and more scratched and bruised than I had thought possible. And I adored every second of it. I was mystified and awestruck by Marieta van der Merwe, the woman who had started the sanctuary, who could identify almost a hundred baboons by face and name, and who seemed to fear nothing. My visit went by like fire through the savannah, and when it was time to go home, I cried all the way to the airport. I kept apologizing to the driver until he said, “Everybody cries when they leave.”Barbara Bennet, Soul of a Lion: One Woman’s Quest to Rescue Africa’s Wildlife Refugees
From Baghdad, With Love by Jay Kopelman and Maelinda Roth
Stories of war are full of thorns, but there’s always a rose somewhere if you look hard enough. Jay talks about the intensive training soldiers get, making it extremely difficult for them to operate in civilian society. Dogs who get trained for the military are primarily un-adoptable when they return home and have to be put down because they cannot understand that they’re not in a war situation anymore and that people around are not threats. The book also talks about a recurring theme – the abysmal gap between what’s happening in the field and what is being comprehended and planned in boardrooms a safe distance away. Of course, people will ask why not save a child or other humans – and he explains it quite well towards the end of the book. It is heartening to see that even in the worst of situations, there are (some) people that make you believe in humanity and will go to great lengths to save someone else’s dog.
“When you spent your entire career on the fringes of violence, the dogs helped remind you that you were still human”Jay Kopelman, From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava
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