Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Rob Laidlaw

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Rob Laidlaw

Rob Laidlaw is one of Canada's most dedicated voices for animal rights and welfare. The author of three books, his most recent is No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs (Pajama Press).

Rob talks to Open Book about puppy mills, essential reading for those interested in animals at risk and how animal lovers everywhere can help to protect vulnerable dogs from harm.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs.

Rob Laidlaw:

During the past two decades I’ve had an opportunity to travel throughout the world and no matter where I’ve been I’ve observed huge numbers of dogs. Some of them have been companion dogs who live with humans, while others were free-ranging street dogs trying to make a living on their own. When I looked for books about the lives of street dogs, I couldn’t find any. In fact, I couldn’t find books about most kinds of dog issues, so I decided I’d write one to fill that gap in the literature.

I think No Shelter Here is a different kind of dog book. It’s not about a breed, or training or dog intelligence, like most other dog books. It’s about the issues and challenges that dogs face around the world. But it’s not a sad book, because I also focus a lot of attention on people I call the “dog champions” — those individuals, small groups and professional organizations around the world who dedicate their lives to helping dogs. I hope No Shelter Here inspires both children and adults to become “dog champions” as well.

OB:

How did puppy mills become so ubiquitous? And what are some ways dog owners can be sure they aren't purchasing from abusive breeders?

RL:

Puppy mills exist so their operators can make money. To maximize profits, they try to keep costs down by providing grossly inadequate housing and substandard care. If dog welfare is poor or some dogs get sick or die, the operators consider it the cost of doing business. That’s why puppy mills spring up in areas that have weak animal protection laws. Provinces like Quebec and US states like Missouri have weak laws and loads of puppy mills. But the problem isn’t restricted to just those areas, because puppy mill dogs are shipped to pet stores throughout North America.

A sure-fire way to be certain you’re not supporting a puppy mill is don’t buy a dog. Instead, adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue organization. Almost any dog breed you can think of can be found in shelters and rescues, so there’s no reason to ever buy a dog.

OB:

Was the research process for this book difficult, emotionally? What were some of the most encouraging stories or individuals you came across while writing?

RL:

I try not to dwell on the cruelty and suffering I encounter. Instead, I focus on how I can help. Doing that doesn’t entirely eliminate the emotional difficulties, but it does make them manageable. As well, I’m encouraged by the ever increasing number of people who have become active in trying to solve the problems and challenges animals face. The “dog champions” in No Shelter Here are doing amazing things to help dogs and there are lots of other people just like them helping dogs and other animals. These remarkable people show that while the challenges animals face are formidable, there’s reason for hope.

OB:

Did you grow up with dogs? What have your own experiences been like with dogs?

RL:

When I was 12 years old, my family adopted a dog from the humane society. I went to the shelter intending to acquire a small dog, but there was one Shepherd-Lab cross who kept putting his paws through the bars of his kennel. He reached into my heart and I knew we just had to adopt him, so we did. Since that time, there have been other dogs, both large and small. One of them I seized from an abusive situation when I was a humane society inspector. She was kind, caring and gentle. Another was just left in a basement when some neighbours moved. I kicked the door in and rescued him. While all of the dogs were a lot of work and responsibility, they enriched my life immeasurably and I’m so glad to have known them. I hope they’d say the same about me.

OB:

What are some books you've read that you would recommend to animal lovers?

RL:

As a voracious reader of anything to do with animals, the list of excellent books I’ve read and recommend is long. At the top of the list however is Matthew Scully’s wonderfully brilliant polemic Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy. It ranks among the best books I’ve ever read about animals and I think it should be on everyone’s “to read” list.

I’d also highly recommend David Kirby’s recent release Death At Sea World, an engaging, entertaining and enraging book that unfolds like a crime thriller, but involves a real life business that most people have heard of.
For children, I’d recommend my colleague Nicholas Read’s The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest and The Salmon Bears: Giants of the Great Bear Rainforest, two beautiful books about some very unique, and threatened, animals right here in Canada. I’d also suggest Mira Tweti’s Here, There and Everywhere: The Story of Sreeeeeeeet the Lorikeet, a stunning picture book about the lives of caged birds. And of course, I’d also recommend my own books, Wild Animals in Captivity, On Parade: The Hidden World of Animals In Entertainment and No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs.

OB:

What are you working on now?

RL:

I’m currently finishing a chapter about zoos and aquariums for an academic anthology about human-animal relationships. In the chapter I look at some of the claims captive facilities make about conservation, education and animal welfare and explore whether or not they’re really true. I hope the chapter provokes discussion and debate about wildlife in captivity. Other than that, I have a couple of children’s books I’m interested in writing, including one on cat issues and another about elephants. Right now however, I’m just waiting for the release of my new children’s book Saving Lives and Changing Hearts: Animal Sanctuaries and Rescue Centers, due out in just a few weeks time.


Rob Laidlaw is the founder of several animal protection organizations, including Zoocheck Canada, a wildlife protection group. His special interest in dogs has led him to visit dog shelters, pounds, and rescue centers in North America, India, Thailand, Japan and several other countries. He also started a project to bring humane dog control to remote First Nations communities in Canada, was Chief Inspector for the Toronto Humane Society and was a Project Manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Rob's book, Wild Animals in Captivity, is on the School Library Journal’s Best Books list and is a Silver Birch Award nominee.

For more information about No Shelter Here please visit the Pajama Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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