Mordecai Siegal, 73, is the dean of pet writers. He pioneered the genre of dog training books. His first was “”Good Dog, Bad Dog”” (co-authored by dog trainer Matthew Margolis) in 1970. He has since authored 33 pet books, including his most recent “”Dog Spelled Backwards”” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, 2007; $23.95).
And the good news is, from Siegel’s perspective, what comes around goes around. Siegal is pleased that his style of dog training is back in vogue, as led by the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. It’s the kind of dog training which Siegal and Margolis teamed up to write about in ten books. “”I’m in accord with his (Millan’s) philosophy, dealing with the rules of pack behavior,”” says Siegal. “”I believe there is an Alpha figure ” and if you’re not it, your dog could be. Everyday in Greenwich Village, I see dogs leading their people ” taking them for a walk. I’m afraid there are a lot of homes where the dog is in charge.””
Siegal adds, “”It’s great that those dogs are getting lots of love, but not so great if they receive no training, no leadership and never learn rules. Then, you know what happens? They learn bad habits, like constant barking or they can’t be controlled, and they’re relinquished to shelters as result.””
He says that compared to when he started out 37 years ago, America’s attitudes about pets have changed a thousand per cent. “”Pets really have become a part of our culture and our lives. We have a spiritual relationship that we just didn’t have all those years ago.””
It’s that spiritual relationship which sparked the idea for “”Dog Spelled Backwards”” back in 1988. The idea was to compile some of the best of inspirational literature written about dogs – authors like Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, O. Henry, Albert Schweitzer and Rudyard Kipling.
Siegal intersperses some of his own stories among those by the legendary writers. “”I didn’t originally set out to write about dog training or cat health. I wanted to be a great fiction writer.”” Or a Broadway star. Siegal actually made to it Broadway, appearing for ten weeks as Cookfinger Jake in “”The Threepenny Opera,”” in the late 1960s alongside Bea Arthur and Ed Asner.
He did write a novel which Patty Duke commissioned as a screenplay. However, the project never got off the ground. Not long after, Margolis ” then starting off as a dog trainer ” met up with Siegal. He looked around his apartment and books were piled everywhere; he inquired, “”What do you do?””
Siegal replied, “”I’m an author.”” Of course, he was more a wannabe author ” since his only published work was in his high school paper.
“”Good Dog, Bad Dog,”” which is still in print, launched both their careers. Margolis became an influential dog trainer. And Siegal arguably the most influential pet book author ever. His many titles include “”The Cornell Book of Cats,”” “”I Just Got a Puppy, What Do I Do?”” “”The Davis Book of Dogs”” and “”The Cat Fanciers’ Association Complete Cat Book.”” Siegal’s written dozens of national magazine articles for publications including Harper’s Bizarre and Reader’s Digest. While he never again appeared on Broadway, he’s done guest shots with “”Regis and Kathy Lee”” and “”Good Morning America,”” among other shows. He’s also a past president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
One story Siegal authored in “”Dog Spelled Backwards”” is a salute to his childhood dog, named Tarzan. “”I was an introverted kid, and I really mean troubled,”” he says. “”This puppy wouldn’t have it. He instantly became my best friend, and I believe he changed my life. I don’t know what would have happened without Tarzan. In a sense, he saved my life.””