New book connects the environment with a love of dogs

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Cover of “Half Wild: People, Dogs and Environmental Policy.”
Cover of “Half Wild: People, Dogs and Environmental Policy.”

Capital News Service

LANSING – Dogs and environment are front and center in a new book by Michigan environmental policy advocate Dave Dempsey

Dempsey spent 40 years in environmental policy and has been writing books for 21 years. The most recent one, “Half Wild: People, Dogs and Environmental Policy” (Michigan State University Press, $27.95), is a summary of his career, wins and mistakes interspersed with stories about dogs he’s owned.

“I love dogs,” he said.

Here is a quote from the book about 7-pound Pudd’n: “As soon as one of us opened the door she would growl menacingly and attack the newspaper. If we were not quick enough to intercede on behalf of the (Lansing) State Journal, she would sink her teeth into it and throttle in the way the Yorkie would presumably shake a mouse to death.”

Dempsey has had nine dogs, most of them rescue animals. Now after the loss of the last one, he’s thinking about adopting an old dog that needs a home.

The idea for the book came to Dempsey, who lives in Traverse City, when he was walking his dog in the woods.

“I had this thought about him resisting my efforts to get this dead animal out of his mouth. And I just reflected on, “Oh, dogs, like people, have some instincts that take over their behavior.”

Dempsey says humans are a mixture of wild and domesticated, so that’s why people should change the way they look at themselves as masters of the environment.

“We’ve allowed all these invasive species in the Great Lakes because we didn’t make the connections,” he said.

Dempsey is a senior advisor at the nonprofit FLOW, which stands for “For Love of Water” in Traverse City. He has worked for the Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action, the governor’s office and the International Joint Commission

Dempsey provides a metaphor that likens the Great Lakes to a computer system with thousands of inputs but without understanding how they interact.

Answering the question of how environmental policymaking has changed over the years, Dempsey said, “It is probably getting worse. Back in the days when I began my career, there was at least some respect for science as a tool for policymakers. It’s really become more or less a war of power, who has the most power.”

Dempsey added, “We have this kind of binary approach to the environment where we say, humans are here, nature’s there. What I found over my career is that these two intermingle. There’s not a wall between them or a river between them. It’s self – one.”

“It was fun to write it because it was more personal than some of the books I’ve read.”

In the book, Dempsey described his father’s death and feelings of loss and anger that held him for a year after that. 

Dempsey wrote that his father “literally worked (and smoked) himself to death.”

“A vivid memory of his final weeks in the hospital was watching him dream. He slipped away from a conversion with me into a restless sleep,” he wrote.

“He began murmuring, his eyebrows lifting and falling, his hands jerking a little. I leaned over to make out what he was saying. I realized he was running a meeting.”

Dempsey said that abstract data doesn’t draw people’s attention to environmental issues.

“They’re drawn to it because of some personal connection to whether it be the neighborhood they grew up in, the forest they’ve walked in, the lakes [where] they’ve smoked salmon. So it’s a natural thing to tie environmental matters to personal experiences.”

Dempsey is planning on writing another book on environmental issues. 

This time it will be more educational – a series of questions to which readers should guess: Is it true or false? “For example, the Great Lakes have tides, and you’re supposed to guess, and then read the explanation about the answer.”

“So it’s much more light. it’s not going to be that many words. It’s the sort of book you might pick up and take to the beach, or you can read it in two days if you want to.”

Dempsey has written 12 books. 

Asked why he started to write, he answered, “It’s always been a dream of mine. When I was a kid, I sort of grew up (wanting) to be a famous writer. I love writing. I love the work of writing. I love the fun of sitting down and writing a book. It’s not work at all, it’s natural.”

Vladislava Sukhanovskaya reports for Great Lakes Echo.

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