Starcats: Astrology for Cats

by Helen Hope

Published by Ulysses Press

140 pages, 2002

Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters From Around the World

by Ian Phillips

Published by Princeton Architectural Press

208 pages, 2002


by Deborah Samuel

Published by Chronicle Books

80 pages, 2002

Winkle's World

by Lara Jo Regan

Published by Random House

40 pages, 2001




Pet Crazy

Reviewed by Sienna Powers


Household pets continue to hold endless fascination for some authors, not to mention book lovers. Whether it's lyrical visits into the pet psyche, as rounded up for January Magazine by Monica Stark last year, to more whimsical volumes, like those included here, no one can dispute the long-term love affair that the West continues to enjoy with their pets.

Nothing could illustrate this more pointedly than Starcats: Astrology for Cats (and Owners). In Starcats we learn that "Aries cats are pretty physical all around. They love to get outside and stalk things through the grass," and that the Virgo cat is "ruled by mercury, god of intelligence, deductive analysis, detail and communication." As with astrology books everywhere, every sign is examined in its own chapter that begins with a brief synopsis of cats born under that sign, then moves onto more thorough investigation. Included as well are the herb, stone, number and element, as well as celebrity cats born under that sign. (Victor Hugo's cat, Chanoine was a Libra. Zsa Zsa Gabor's cat, Miss Puss Puss, is a Leo. This section would have made for some interesting research.)

Unsurprisingly, the author of Starcats, Helen Hope, is an internationally known astrologer. You would, after all, have to be an expert before you even thought of translating all of this for felines. Hope lives in Australia where she writes the astrology columns for the magazine New Ideas and She.

Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters From Around the World manages to be incredibly funny and unbelievably sad all in one go. Author Ian Phillips sums up the source of his madness fairly succinctly in his introduction:

I collect lost pet posters. Each one is a heartbreaking story about love, loss, and friendship, illustrated with folksy artwork. Though they're cheaply made and quickly destroyed, pet owners pour their hearts into them, exposing deep emotions to an unknown telephone-pole audience.

And just in case you're wondering how Phillips figures that pilfering pet posters will help lost pets find their way home, the author advises that, "If you start your own collection, replace posters you remove with new ones: if you remove one, make copies and put ten back."

And just before you begin to file this one into the "they'll publish books about anything" category, Lost is an interesting, telling and worthwhile collection. It speaks quite clearly about the high esteem and regard with which we hold our animals and the lengths we'll go to in order to get them back.

Phillips' collection is international in nature. He has included missing pet posters from every continent: a lost rabbit from France (with a note that said rabbit may be returned "vivant ou mort"), a snake from California, a hamster from Nova Scotia, even a cow from Switzerland: not to mention the inevitable scads of dogs and cats from just about every place imaginable.

The posters themselves range from funny (a hand drawn cartoon of a tabby lost in Wisconsin asks: "Where the hell am I?"), to sad (a typed note on the poster for a six-year-old Bichon Frise from California says "To the person who has Teddy: I know he is irresistibly adorable, but he is more than that to me -- he is like a son.") and occasionally even mysterious (a poster from Florida says simply, "LOST BLACK LAB. No collar, no legs, NEEDS medicine!!!").

Potential readers note: Lost has a bonus that could be easily missed. I didn't see it myself until I watched a friend flipping through the book from back to front: Each right-hand page consists of a lost animal poster and each left-hand page contains a crisp pen and ink illustration of a pet: a dog, then a dog and cat, then a dog and a cat and a bird and so on. Individually, they're charming, rough little illustrations. However, move the pages flipbook-style, and it's an animation. A nice touch.

An appropriate follow-up to 2001's dog, noted photographer Deborah Samuel brings us Pup, a collection of 60 duotoned photographs of dogs near the beginning of their lives. Nine-week-old Makita the Labrador Retriever sleeps peacefully, his head tucked between paws too large and his ample ears spread comfortably to either side of his head: a picture of canine innocence. By contrast, Tag, Zak, Waggz and Torrie, four-month-old Border Collies, are a study in electric energy. They are a tangle of energetic puppyhood in their rambunctious play. The 11-1/2-week-old Vizsla, Parker, is a portrait of clumsy babyhood on the threshold of the elegance he will possess as an adult.

Samuel's editorial work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Spin, USA Today and Rolling Stone, among others. As well, her work is included in the collections of the Royal Museum and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

From the noted-photographer-goes-to-the-dogs department comes another entry: Winkle's World. Lara Jo Regan, who is a regular contributor to Time, Newsweek, Life and Premiere and whose work was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year in 2000 is also the guardian of Mr. Winkle, a small canine currently poised on the brink of doggie superstardom. According to Mr. Winkle's Web site, Regan found the little stray on the side of the road. From the looks of things -- based on perusal of the latest Mr. Winkle book, Winkle's World, life for the small peach-colored canine has changed a great deal since then.

Positioned as a children's book, Winkle's World contains all of the oddness and charm -- together with the faintest touch of weirdness -- necessary to make a cult classic. One part of this is Mr. Winkle himself, combined with Regan's photos of the wee beastie. On first glance, it's difficult to be sure just what Mr. Winkle is. Is he a very cleverly made stuffy, photoshopped into reality? Is he a Pomeranian, clipped and groomed to look like a Teddy bear? According to the Web site, project Winkle was "inspired by the incredibly funny reactions to Mr. Winkle every time Regan took him in public. 'It's an alien!' screamed the cable repair man. 'It's a cat in a dog suit,' surmised an out-of-work actor. 'It's the reincarnation of the divinity!' enthused a woodworking poet."

Appropriately, the first book was 2001's What Is Mr. Winkle?. That book explored the burning question of just what the heck this little creature was or might be. Book two, Winkle's World, looks at a (mostly fictional) day in the life of an international canine superstar: Mr. Winkle, from the time he wakes up, through checking his e-mail, adjusting the aura of a palm tree, dropping in on his groomer, visiting his adopted grandmother's house (with a little red hooded coat on for the trek there), visiting the elderly, visiting school kids, flying on a plane, checking out room service and so on. The full Winkle project is now slated to include four books, a calendar, a Winkle stuffed toy and a movie. Watch this one: we'll be hearing more about Mr. Winkle. | June 2002


Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.