As John Ruskin so insightfully wrote, There is in every animal's eye a dim image and a gleam of humanity. Perhaps our fascination with animals lies in our awareness of a basic kinship and our realization of each animal's unique ability to teach us something about ourselves.

For those who want to learn something more about their pets and possibly themselves this summer, we have sifted through the season's pet books and selected a few of the best. This collection offers a wide range of animal-related material; you'll find everything from practical pet care strategies to amusing cat autobiographies, but however light-hearted the approach, all these books share an underlying respect and love for the animals who look to us humans for their well-being.

An excellent reference book for serious feline fans or the newly initiated about to take on the responsibility of a kitten is The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care by Wendy Christensen and the staff of the Humane Society. The comprehensive text covers all aspects of cat care, from the smallest details, like getting your cat's collar size correct, to larger issues such as proper nutrition, grooming and choosing the right veterinarian. Not surprisingly, this text advocates getting your pet from your local animal shelter not only will an animal's life be saved, but the authors hope that people who see first-hand the abundance of unwanted, innocent life sitting on death row will be more motivated to spay or neuter their animals helping to break the sad cycle of throw-away pets. A chapter is devoted to stray (lost) and feral (never owned) cats, but for a more complete study, Living in Shadows: How to Help the Stray Cat in Your Life (without adding to the problem) by Ann K. Fisher offers an analysis of this complicated problem and a step-by-step guide for tackling it. Fisher provides an invaluable service not only to the millions of homeless cats living in shadows, on the outside looking in, but also to the people willing to reach out to them.

If you're a puppy person or you want a gift for a new puppy parent, The Good Life: Your Dog's First Year by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Uncle Matty Margolis is a wonderful month-by-month guide that follows a dog's development from birth to adulthood, ending with a chapter containing 10 lessons in training fundamentals. Siegal and Margolis are experts in the field with numerous other canine collaborations to their credit, and they write with an engaging, down-to-earth style. Like the books above, Good Life contains photographs and will help the new puppy parent become a veritable Dr. Dolittle, with advice on everything from feeding to first aid.

For a true veterinarian's perspective on animal care, Real People Don't Own Monkeys: And Other Stories of Pets, Their People and the Vets Who See It All by J. Veronika Kiklevich D.V.M. with Steven N. Austad is an eye-opening collection of warmly humorous, though often poignant, stories of the animals (iguanas, turtles, pigs and pythons along with the traditional cats and dogs) Kiklevich has doctored. More than mere entertainment, these engaging tales also serve to illuminate the personalities of the human owners these pets are either blessed with or subjected to and the result is captivating, provocative and sometimes disturbing reading.

Linda Stankard was adopted years ago by a dog named Sweetie and lately by a cat who has just given her four grand-kitties. They all live with two fish who keep a tight rein on them.

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