The Lost Dogs and The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving: Review

Americans can’t get enough of dogs, but two new books show the extremes that we’ll go with them—from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s obsession with his dog’s love to Michael Vick’s crimes against them. Elizabeth Hess on canine literature.

Americans can’t get enough of dogs, but two new books show the extremes that we’ll go with them—from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s obsession with his dog’s love to Michael Vick’s crimes against them. Elizabeth Hess on canine literature.

These are the dogs days of publishing. A handful of bestsellers are generating a wave of animal books, beyond the usual training tomes and predictable memoirs. Movie tie-ins, television shows, feature articles, and even fashion shoots are all feeding our obsession with dogs. That fuzzy, warm feeling some of us get when we just see a dog is spilling over into consumer culture. Last year, we spent $83 billion on pets!

But is our affair with dogs over? A recent Publishers Weekly article suggests a “level of fatigue” with the genre. The honeymoon might be over, but the genre will never die. We can’t live without dogs—or dog books. The good news is that the recent spate has opened doors for a larger variety of books and authors to report on a complex, not always cute, world. Jim Gorant’s exposé of Michael Vick’s underground dog-fighting operation is a riveting investigation of a sadistic blood sport that is far more prevalent than we care to admit. Ordinarily, we avoid the gritty reality of animal cruelty, choosing instead to contemplate the lighter side of the human-animal bond. This is the subject of much new scholarship, including a new book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, our favorite lapsed psychoanalyst. Both authors share a deep affection for dogs, yet their books investigate radically different cultures where dogs and humans live together.

Jeffrey Masson just fell in love with a dog. These days, he puts animals on his analytical couch, scrutinizing social relations between us and them. A shelf of popular books by the author confirms his move to animal welfare, where the emotional lives of dogs, cats, elephants, even chickens, are revealed. How do chickens feel about their servitude? In a previous book, the Harvard Ph.D. hung out with them to figure it out. Now he’s vegan.

More recently, Masson adopted a dog, the one still velcroed to his side in Auckland, New Zealand, where he lives in a glass beach house with his wife, two young sons, three cats and the protagonist of The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. Despite the fluffy title (Oliver Sacks meets Barbara Woodhouse?), there’s more to this slim volume than the goofy, but difficult dog who runs rampant through its pages.

Benjy is an overanxious Labrador retriever who flunked out of guide-dog school and landed in a home where he would never have to do a day’s work. The big oaf is a couch potato, not a leader for the blind, or for the seeing. He’s stubborn, hard to train, and refuses to walk on a leash; Benjy lies down on his belly in protest and won’t budge until he is assured that the adult accompanying him will take him home. Happiness for Benjy is leaping up on people and licking them silly, or playing freely with other dogs. He lives to give “love” (the author’s favorite word) and that’s all the dog will give. Masson doesn’t want a visit from the Dog Whisperer to correct Benjy’s uncontrollable urges. On the contrary. He thinks of Benjy as Bill Clinton, a man obsessed with getting enough love.

After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans.

Which Pets Live the Longest? Most Dangerous Dogs Those who have lived with Labrador retrievers, the most popular and plentiful breed in the U.S., will laugh out loud at this book. Benjy is about as unique as a pine tree in New England. Labs are known for their sweet temperaments, not their intelligence, and many of them are, to put it politely, not too bright. Those are the dogs who get kicked out of all kinds of places, including school. (Why guide-dog training institutions insist on using pure-bred Labs and golden retrievers seems more a time-honored tradition than an intelligent decision.) Dogs have a tendency to bring out the best and worst in authors. Masson’s meanderings on the question of whether or not dogs are superior to us (even God-like!) are amusing, even when they verge on the ridiculous; Benjy doesn’t drool—Masson does. The good news is that he interrupts this love story with a provocative thesis about how dogs became our best friends thousands of years ago. The author is at his best pulling together popular, scientific, and historical research into one purposeful narrative, making a case that the bond between species, forged thousands (anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000) of years ago, was central to what he describes as simply being a complex human.

According to Masson, humans and wolves joined forces in a formative, emotional, rather than practical, bond. We generally assume that wolves were socialized to assist us in the hunt for food and to protect us from being hunted as food. But Masson suggests an alternative view, arguing that humans and dogs were domesticated together in a process of co-evolution, uniquely co-dependent upon each other. “Humans owe our ability to empathize, and perhaps even love selflessly, to our long association with dogs.” (Over time, the wolves who bonded with humans were selected for breeding and eventually domesticated.) There is no other species that shares this history with us. Cats, Masson argues, are not our best friends. They merely tolerate us. Horses can be close companions, but we can’t take them to bed with us, which Masson argues is a critical factor in the love-bond between humans and dogs. Unfortunately, all Masson’s insights lead to his repeated notion that our ability to love another species—dogs—is the cornerstone of civilized society.

Well, I confess that some of my best friends are dogs. But they happen to be pit bulls, like the two currently snoring in my office. Sadly, Masson disparages this breed, reinforcing the most conventional misinformation. Pit bulls, he says, are hard-wired for aggression and generally do not make safe pets. Masson waffles on condemning the breed altogether, landing briefly on the Michael Vick case, the quarterback who went to prison for running a particularly sadistic dog-fighting operation in Virginia. Masson suggests that there are always exceptions to the rule and a few of the most abused pits, such as Vick’s dogs, have been rehabilitated. But Masson can’t figure out why anyone would choose a pit bull when Labrador retrievers are readily available. He’s still got a lot to learn about dogs.

I am an accidental pit bull fan. I adopted a small brown dog with a wide grin who happened to be a pit bull—and a saint. My friends, however, were afraid to come into my house and people crossed over to the other side of the block when they saw us coming. It was as if the breed’s terrible reputation had spilled over onto me. All this made me feel protective of the dog. But what could I do about it? I decided to get a second pit bull. One is a hobby—two indicates dedication to the breed. After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans. Like Masson, I was initially frightened by the breed. But experience has turned me into an advocate. Jim Gorant, a sports writer with no particular passion for dogs, must have had a similar conversion experience. He closely followed the Vick case for Sports Illustrated in 2008 and ended up writing a book about the case. The Lost Dogs is a page-turning investigation of dog fighting and an implicit indictment of the sport. Despite wide coverage in the media, Gorant managed to get a more detailed and complete picture of activities in and behind Michael Vick’s S&M mansion. The result is a chilling portrait of a now-illegal sport and, as the title promises, the redemptive story of what happened to the Vick dogs.

The animal cops bring us to the scene of the crime on the day they seize the dogs. (It took more than one year to get a search and seizure warrant.) Vick’s operation was a small, but horrifying, backwoods dog-fighting ring in a rural, affluent neighborhood. A line of clean, cement dog runs gave the appearance of an ordinary boarding kennel in the backyard. But Vick’s dogs don’t live in the kennels. Sixty-one pit bulls, in various states of ill health, were chained to tire axles throughout the surrounding woods, barking desperately for attention. Gorant describes the dogs with sensitivity and genuine interest in their welfare. The book follows the investigation—and the dogs—as the federal government takes custody of the case and the animals. The complexities of gathering evidence on animals, especially when a powerful celebrity has influence on local authorities, is part of the drama, turning the book into a page-turning procedural. The duplicitous members of Vick’s inner circle, dog fighters and drug dealers, have cameo roles, but the dogs are center stage.

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Gorant wrote this book quickly and the biggest gap is Vick’s own story. One has to wonder, as Malcolm Gladwell did, whether playing football rattled the quarterback’s brains. There’s scant information on his background, beyond the fact that he grew up poor, and no insights into his personal story. (Maybe we’ll have to wait for Vick’s own book?) Still, the investigation and the dogs provide ample material. The reporter also takes care of readers, describing the actual abuse with some distance and few details. We feel for the animals, and condemn their master, without wallowing in the details.

And there’s a happy ending. A group of colorful rescuers, including a forensic veterinarian from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the founders of Bad Rap, a small pit bull rescue in California, stepped in to assess the dogs, one by one. Many experts would have recommended euthanasia for them all. But these folks decided the dogs were worth saving. Why should they pay for Vick’s cruelty? The rescuers removed them all, over 50 pit bulls in terrible shape, from local municipal shelters where they have been rotting from boredom and lack of care for four months. The dogs went to foster homes, shelters, places where people worked with them, fed them decent food, and offered them some (as Masson would put it) love. Gorant gives us the pleasure of watching a few of the dogs come out of their shells and lead relatively normal lives. One of the most fetching dogs, a small black and white charmer named Johnny Justice, appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show; Johnny gave Ellen a big wet kiss. Today, a number of them are in homes, while the bulk are kenneled at Best Friends Animal Society, a 30,000-acre sanctuary in Kanab, Utah—the middle of nowhere and a safe haven for them all.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Elizabeth Hess is the author of Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter. A documentary film based on her recent book, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human , will be released next year. Elizabeth is writing a social history of the American pit bull terrier.

Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at [email protected].

Americans can’t get enough of dogs, but two new books show the extremes that we’ll go with them—from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s obsession with his dog’s love to Michael Vick’s crimes against them. Elizabeth Hess on canine literature.

These are the dogs days of publishing. A handful of bestsellers are generating a wave of animal books, beyond the usual training tomes and predictable memoirs. Movie tie-ins, television shows, feature articles, and even fashion shoots are all feeding our obsession with dogs. That fuzzy, warm feeling some of us get when we just see a dog is spilling over into consumer culture. Last year, we spent $83 billion on pets!

But is our affair with dogs over? A recent Publishers Weekly article suggests a “level of fatigue” with the genre. The honeymoon might be over, but the genre will never die. We can’t live without dogs—or dog books. The good news is that the recent spate has opened doors for a larger variety of books and authors to report on a complex, not always cute, world. Jim Gorant’s exposé of Michael Vick’s underground dog-fighting operation is a riveting investigation of a sadistic blood sport that is far more prevalent than we care to admit. Ordinarily, we avoid the gritty reality of animal cruelty, choosing instead to contemplate the lighter side of the human-animal bond. This is the subject of much new scholarship, including a new book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, our favorite lapsed psychoanalyst. Both authors share a deep affection for dogs, yet their books investigate radically different cultures where dogs and humans live together.

Jeffrey Masson just fell in love with a dog. These days, he puts animals on his analytical couch, scrutinizing social relations between us and them. A shelf of popular books by the author confirms his move to animal welfare, where the emotional lives of dogs, cats, elephants, even chickens, are revealed. How do chickens feel about their servitude? In a previous book, the Harvard Ph.D. hung out with them to figure it out. Now he’s vegan.

More recently, Masson adopted a dog, the one still velcroed to his side in Auckland, New Zealand, where he lives in a glass beach house with his wife, two young sons, three cats and the protagonist of The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. Despite the fluffy title (Oliver Sacks meets Barbara Woodhouse?), there’s more to this slim volume than the goofy, but difficult dog who runs rampant through its pages.

Benjy is an overanxious Labrador retriever who flunked out of guide-dog school and landed in a home where he would never have to do a day’s work. The big oaf is a couch potato, not a leader for the blind, or for the seeing. He’s stubborn, hard to train, and refuses to walk on a leash; Benjy lies down on his belly in protest and won’t budge until he is assured that the adult accompanying him will take him home. Happiness for Benjy is leaping up on people and licking them silly, or playing freely with other dogs. He lives to give “love” (the author’s favorite word) and that’s all the dog will give. Masson doesn’t want a visit from the Dog Whisperer to correct Benjy’s uncontrollable urges. On the contrary. He thinks of Benjy as Bill Clinton, a man obsessed with getting enough love.

After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans.

Which Pets Live the Longest? Most Dangerous Dogs Those who have lived with Labrador retrievers, the most popular and plentiful breed in the U.S., will laugh out loud at this book. Benjy is about as unique as a pine tree in New England. Labs are known for their sweet temperaments, not their intelligence, and many of them are, to put it politely, not too bright. Those are the dogs who get kicked out of all kinds of places, including school. (Why guide-dog training institutions insist on using pure-bred Labs and golden retrievers seems more a time-honored tradition than an intelligent decision.) Dogs have a tendency to bring out the best and worst in authors. Masson’s meanderings on the question of whether or not dogs are superior to us (even God-like!) are amusing, even when they verge on the ridiculous; Benjy doesn’t drool—Masson does. The good news is that he interrupts this love story with a provocative thesis about how dogs became our best friends thousands of years ago. The author is at his best pulling together popular, scientific, and historical research into one purposeful narrative, making a case that the bond between species, forged thousands (anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000) of years ago, was central to what he describes as simply being a complex human.

According to Masson, humans and wolves joined forces in a formative, emotional, rather than practical, bond. We generally assume that wolves were socialized to assist us in the hunt for food and to protect us from being hunted as food. But Masson suggests an alternative view, arguing that humans and dogs were domesticated together in a process of co-evolution, uniquely co-dependent upon each other. “Humans owe our ability to empathize, and perhaps even love selflessly, to our long association with dogs.” (Over time, the wolves who bonded with humans were selected for breeding and eventually domesticated.) There is no other species that shares this history with us. Cats, Masson argues, are not our best friends. They merely tolerate us. Horses can be close companions, but we can’t take them to bed with us, which Masson argues is a critical factor in the love-bond between humans and dogs. Unfortunately, all Masson’s insights lead to his repeated notion that our ability to love another species—dogs—is the cornerstone of civilized society.

Well, I confess that some of my best friends are dogs. But they happen to be pit bulls, like the two currently snoring in my office. Sadly, Masson disparages this breed, reinforcing the most conventional misinformation. Pit bulls, he says, are hard-wired for aggression and generally do not make safe pets. Masson waffles on condemning the breed altogether, landing briefly on the Michael Vick case, the quarterback who went to prison for running a particularly sadistic dog-fighting operation in Virginia. Masson suggests that there are always exceptions to the rule and a few of the most abused pits, such as Vick’s dogs, have been rehabilitated. But Masson can’t figure out why anyone would choose a pit bull when Labrador retrievers are readily available. He’s still got a lot to learn about dogs.

I am an accidental pit bull fan. I adopted a small brown dog with a wide grin who happened to be a pit bull—and a saint. My friends, however, were afraid to come into my house and people crossed over to the other side of the block when they saw us coming. It was as if the breed’s terrible reputation had spilled over onto me. All this made me feel protective of the dog. But what could I do about it? I decided to get a second pit bull. One is a hobby—two indicates dedication to the breed. After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans. Like Masson, I was initially frightened by the breed. But experience has turned me into an advocate. Jim Gorant, a sports writer with no particular passion for dogs, must have had a similar conversion experience. He closely followed the Vick case for Sports Illustrated in 2008 and ended up writing a book about the case. The Lost Dogs is a page-turning investigation of dog fighting and an implicit indictment of the sport. Despite wide coverage in the media, Gorant managed to get a more detailed and complete picture of activities in and behind Michael Vick’s S&M mansion. The result is a chilling portrait of a now-illegal sport and, as the title promises, the redemptive story of what happened to the Vick dogs.

The animal cops bring us to the scene of the crime on the day they seize the dogs. (It took more than one year to get a search and seizure warrant.) Vick’s operation was a small, but horrifying, backwoods dog-fighting ring in a rural, affluent neighborhood. A line of clean, cement dog runs gave the appearance of an ordinary boarding kennel in the backyard. But Vick’s dogs don’t live in the kennels. Sixty-one pit bulls, in various states of ill health, were chained to tire axles throughout the surrounding woods, barking desperately for attention. Gorant describes the dogs with sensitivity and genuine interest in their welfare. The book follows the investigation—and the dogs—as the federal government takes custody of the case and the animals. The complexities of gathering evidence on animals, especially when a powerful celebrity has influence on local authorities, is part of the drama, turning the book into a page-turning procedural. The duplicitous members of Vick’s inner circle, dog fighters and drug dealers, have cameo roles, but the dogs are center stage.

Gorant wrote this book quickly and the biggest gap is Vick’s own story. One has to wonder, as Malcolm Gladwell did, whether playing football rattled the quarterback’s brains. There’s scant information on his background, beyond the fact that he grew up poor, and no insights into his personal story. (Maybe we’ll have to wait for Vick’s own book?) Still, the investigation and the dogs provide ample material. The reporter also takes care of readers, describing the actual abuse with some distance and few details. We feel for the animals, and condemn their master, without wallowing in the details.

And there’s a happy ending. A group of colorful rescuers, including a forensic veterinarian from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the founders of Bad Rap, a small pit bull rescue in California, stepped in to assess the dogs, one by one. Many experts would have recommended euthanasia for them all. But these folks decided the dogs were worth saving. Why should they pay for Vick’s cruelty? The rescuers removed them all, over 50 pit bulls in terrible shape, from local municipal shelters where they have been rotting from boredom and lack of care for four months. The dogs went to foster homes, shelters, places where people worked with them, fed them decent food, and offered them some (as Masson would put it) love. Gorant gives us the pleasure of watching a few of the dogs come out of their shells and lead relatively normal lives. One of the most fetching dogs, a small black and white charmer named Johnny Justice, appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show; Johnny gave Ellen a big wet kiss. Today, a number of them are in homes, while the bulk are kenneled at Best Friends Animal Society, a 30,000-acre sanctuary in Kanab, Utah—the middle of nowhere and a safe haven for them all.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Elizabeth Hess is the author of Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter. A documentary film based on her recent book, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human , will be released next year. Elizabeth is writing a social history of the American pit bull terrier.

Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at [email protected].

Americans can’t get enough of dogs, but two new books show the extremes that we’ll go with them—from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s obsession with his dog’s love to Michael Vick’s crimes against them. Elizabeth Hess on canine literature.

These are the dogs days of publishing. A handful of bestsellers are generating a wave of animal books, beyond the usual training tomes and predictable memoirs. Movie tie-ins, television shows, feature articles, and even fashion shoots are all feeding our obsession with dogs. That fuzzy, warm feeling some of us get when we just see a dog is spilling over into consumer culture. Last year, we spent $83 billion on pets!

But is our affair with dogs over? A recent Publishers Weekly article suggests a “level of fatigue” with the genre. The honeymoon might be over, but the genre will never die. We can’t live without dogs—or dog books. The good news is that the recent spate has opened doors for a larger variety of books and authors to report on a complex, not always cute, world. Jim Gorant’s exposé of Michael Vick’s underground dog-fighting operation is a riveting investigation of a sadistic blood sport that is far more prevalent than we care to admit. Ordinarily, we avoid the gritty reality of animal cruelty, choosing instead to contemplate the lighter side of the human-animal bond. This is the subject of much new scholarship, including a new book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, our favorite lapsed psychoanalyst. Both authors share a deep affection for dogs, yet their books investigate radically different cultures where dogs and humans live together.

Jeffrey Masson just fell in love with a dog. These days, he puts animals on his analytical couch, scrutinizing social relations between us and them. A shelf of popular books by the author confirms his move to animal welfare, where the emotional lives of dogs, cats, elephants, even chickens, are revealed. How do chickens feel about their servitude? In a previous book, the Harvard Ph.D. hung out with them to figure it out. Now he’s vegan.

More recently, Masson adopted a dog, the one still velcroed to his side in Auckland, New Zealand, where he lives in a glass beach house with his wife, two young sons, three cats and the protagonist of The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. Despite the fluffy title (Oliver Sacks meets Barbara Woodhouse?), there’s more to this slim volume than the goofy, but difficult dog who runs rampant through its pages.

Benjy is an overanxious Labrador retriever who flunked out of guide-dog school and landed in a home where he would never have to do a day’s work. The big oaf is a couch potato, not a leader for the blind, or for the seeing. He’s stubborn, hard to train, and refuses to walk on a leash; Benjy lies down on his belly in protest and won’t budge until he is assured that the adult accompanying him will take him home. Happiness for Benjy is leaping up on people and licking them silly, or playing freely with other dogs. He lives to give “love” (the author’s favorite word) and that’s all the dog will give. Masson doesn’t want a visit from the Dog Whisperer to correct Benjy’s uncontrollable urges. On the contrary. He thinks of Benjy as Bill Clinton, a man obsessed with getting enough love.

After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans.

Which Pets Live the Longest? Most Dangerous Dogs Those who have lived with Labrador retrievers, the most popular and plentiful breed in the U.S., will laugh out loud at this book. Benjy is about as unique as a pine tree in New England. Labs are known for their sweet temperaments, not their intelligence, and many of them are, to put it politely, not too bright. Those are the dogs who get kicked out of all kinds of places, including school. (Why guide-dog training institutions insist on using pure-bred Labs and golden retrievers seems more a time-honored tradition than an intelligent decision.) Dogs have a tendency to bring out the best and worst in authors. Masson’s meanderings on the question of whether or not dogs are superior to us (even God-like!) are amusing, even when they verge on the ridiculous; Benjy doesn’t drool—Masson does. The good news is that he interrupts this love story with a provocative thesis about how dogs became our best friends thousands of years ago. The author is at his best pulling together popular, scientific, and historical research into one purposeful narrative, making a case that the bond between species, forged thousands (anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000) of years ago, was central to what he describes as simply being a complex human.

According to Masson, humans and wolves joined forces in a formative, emotional, rather than practical, bond. We generally assume that wolves were socialized to assist us in the hunt for food and to protect us from being hunted as food. But Masson suggests an alternative view, arguing that humans and dogs were domesticated together in a process of co-evolution, uniquely co-dependent upon each other. “Humans owe our ability to empathize, and perhaps even love selflessly, to our long association with dogs.” (Over time, the wolves who bonded with humans were selected for breeding and eventually domesticated.) There is no other species that shares this history with us. Cats, Masson argues, are not our best friends. They merely tolerate us. Horses can be close companions, but we can’t take them to bed with us, which Masson argues is a critical factor in the love-bond between humans and dogs. Unfortunately, all Masson’s insights lead to his repeated notion that our ability to love another species—dogs—is the cornerstone of civilized society.

Well, I confess that some of my best friends are dogs. But they happen to be pit bulls, like the two currently snoring in my office. Sadly, Masson disparages this breed, reinforcing the most conventional misinformation. Pit bulls, he says, are hard-wired for aggression and generally do not make safe pets. Masson waffles on condemning the breed altogether, landing briefly on the Michael Vick case, the quarterback who went to prison for running a particularly sadistic dog-fighting operation in Virginia. Masson suggests that there are always exceptions to the rule and a few of the most abused pits, such as Vick’s dogs, have been rehabilitated. But Masson can’t figure out why anyone would choose a pit bull when Labrador retrievers are readily available. He’s still got a lot to learn about dogs.

I am an accidental pit bull fan. I adopted a small brown dog with a wide grin who happened to be a pit bull—and a saint. My friends, however, were afraid to come into my house and people crossed over to the other side of the block when they saw us coming. It was as if the breed’s terrible reputation had spilled over onto me. All this made me feel protective of the dog. But what could I do about it? I decided to get a second pit bull. One is a hobby—two indicates dedication to the breed. After five years of living dangerously with pits, I remain stunned on a daily basis by their intelligence and comprehension of humans. Like Masson, I was initially frightened by the breed. But experience has turned me into an advocate. Jim Gorant, a sports writer with no particular passion for dogs, must have had a similar conversion experience. He closely followed the Vick case for Sports Illustrated in 2008 and ended up writing a book about the case. The Lost Dogs is a page-turning investigation of dog fighting and an implicit indictment of the sport. Despite wide coverage in the media, Gorant managed to get a more detailed and complete picture of activities in and behind Michael Vick’s S&M mansion. The result is a chilling portrait of a now-illegal sport and, as the title promises, the redemptive story of what happened to the Vick dogs.

The animal cops bring us to the scene of the crime on the day they seize the dogs. (It took more than one year to get a search and seizure warrant.) Vick’s operation was a small, but horrifying, backwoods dog-fighting ring in a rural, affluent neighborhood. A line of clean, cement dog runs gave the appearance of an ordinary boarding kennel in the backyard. But Vick’s dogs don’t live in the kennels. Sixty-one pit bulls, in various states of ill health, were chained to tire axles throughout the surrounding woods, barking desperately for attention. Gorant describes the dogs with sensitivity and genuine interest in their welfare. The book follows the investigation—and the dogs—as the federal government takes custody of the case and the animals. The complexities of gathering evidence on animals, especially when a powerful celebrity has influence on local authorities, is part of the drama, turning the book into a page-turning procedural. The duplicitous members of Vick’s inner circle, dog fighters and drug dealers, have cameo roles, but the dogs are center stage.

Gorant wrote this book quickly and the biggest gap is Vick’s own story. One has to wonder, as Malcolm Gladwell did, whether playing football rattled the quarterback’s brains. There’s scant information on his background, beyond the fact that he grew up poor, and no insights into his personal story. (Maybe we’ll have to wait for Vick’s own book?) Still, the investigation and the dogs provide ample material. The reporter also takes care of readers, describing the actual abuse with some distance and few details. We feel for the animals, and condemn their master, without wallowing in the details.

And there’s a happy ending. A group of colorful rescuers, including a forensic veterinarian from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the founders of Bad Rap, a small pit bull rescue in California, stepped in to assess the dogs, one by one. Many experts would have recommended euthanasia for them all. But these folks decided the dogs were worth saving. Why should they pay for Vick’s cruelty? The rescuers removed them all, over 50 pit bulls in terrible shape, from local municipal shelters where they have been rotting from boredom and lack of care for four months. The dogs went to foster homes, shelters, places where people worked with them, fed them decent food, and offered them some (as Masson would put it) love. Gorant gives us the pleasure of watching a few of the dogs come out of their shells and lead relatively normal lives. One of the most fetching dogs, a small black and white charmer named Johnny Justice, appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show; Johnny gave Ellen a big wet kiss. Today, a number of them are in homes, while the bulk are kenneled at Best Friends Animal Society, a 30,000-acre sanctuary in Kanab, Utah—the middle of nowhere and a safe haven for them all.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Elizabeth Hess is the author of Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter. A documentary film based on her recent book, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human , will be released next year. Elizabeth is writing a social history of the American pit bull terrier.

Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at [email protected].