|Birth: ||Feb. 13, 1946|
|Death: ||Aug. 21, 2001|
Vicki Hearne, a writer who trained animals and used her poetry and prose to express her belief that pets possess courage, wisdom and intellect, passed away on August 21, 2001 at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Conn. She was 55 and lived in Westbrook, Conn.
The cause was lung cancer, family members said.
Ms. Hearne, who trained animals and their owners at Silver Trails: The Animal Inn, turned her childhood love of dogs and horses into a life's work and the foundation of a philosophy of human and animal relations and communication that was articulated in her best-known book, ''Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name'' (Knopf, 1986). In her writing she used real animals she had encountered to show that pets have not only an intellect, but also a desire to achieve and be challenged and a capacity for moral understanding.
Michiko Kakutani, in a review in The New York Times, wrote that ''Adam's Task'' ''emerges, at once, as an informed defense of animals' capacity for understanding and commitment and a philosophical meditation on the nature of learning, responsibility and language.''
Yi-Fu Tuan, in a review of ''Adam's Task'' in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that Ms. Hearne went ''out of her way to test her reader's credulity.'' He cited the book's example of a pit bull named Belle, who, he wrote, was ''capable of sizing people up 'not as bite prospects, but as problems in moral philosophy and metaphysics.' ''
''After many excesses of this kind,'' he continued, ''I, a person who seldom can size up another metaphysically, begin to feel so inferior that I find myself retaliating by refusing to grant even the management of a 'happy grin' (as distinct from a happy smile?) to a puppy.''
And Ms. Hearne, addressing the topic from a different slant, wrote in 1984: ''These days, there is a rule among scientists against attributing human traits to animals. There used to be a rule against attributing human traits to God. So, though the definition of anthropomorphism has changed, its role as a buttress supporting the intellectual establishment's fondest superstitions has remained the same.''
Ms. Hearne may be best remembered for her defense of the much-maligned pit bull in the 1980's, when the breed's presumed ability to fight to the death was the stuff of news and urban legend. In an opinion article for The Times, she noted that an untrained eye could not always make the distinction between a pit bull and related breeds and, further, that, despite myths about lethal double jaws, pit bulls bit people less often and less seriously than many other common pets like Labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels.
In her poem ''The Bull Terrier,'' she wrote:
Their legs and backs
Should seem to be
Merely the motive
Power for the low
Jaw. They will never
Hurt a child and never
Leave justice undone,
They are justice.
She became the human hero in the story of Bandit, a dog in Stamford, Conn., who took a bite out of an intruder and ended up sentenced to death, becoming a symbol in the battle of pet owners against ordinances that banned particular breeds of dogs or put the lives of dogs deemed vicious into the hands of officials who, Ms. Hearne posited, might have a broad definition of the word.
Bandit, not a pit bull at all, but an American bulldog, endeared himself to Ms. Hearne immediately. ''Even in the most bulldoggy'' of pit bulls, she wrote, recalling the dog, ''there is something -- a sprightliness in the stance, some suggestion of the possibilities of tap dancing and vaudeville, some impish gleam of the eye to suggest the terrier.''
Bandit escaped death after Ms. Hearne challenged the authorities and won custody of the dog for three months of training. Instead of a savage beast, she found a genteel nature she described as ''terribly black tie.''
Ultimately, Bandit came to live with Ms. Hearne. Her account, ''Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog,'' was published by HarperCollins in 1991, and her experiences with Bandit were the subject of a documentary film, ''A Little Vicious.''
Victoria Elizabeth Hearne was born Feb. 13, 1946, in Austin, Tex. She worked as a self-employed animal trainer beginning in 1967. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in English at the University of California, Riverside, in 1969 and was a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University during a year of study there.
She worked as a lecturer in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, from 1980 to 1984 and as an assistant professor of English at Yale from 1984 to 1986. From 1989 to 1995 she was a visiting fellow at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale.
In addition to ''Adam's Task,'' she was the author of ''Animal Happiness'' (HarperCollins, 1994) and a novel, ''The White German Shepherd'' (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988); three volumes of poetry: ''Nervous Horses'' (University of Texas Press, 1980), ''In the Absence of Horses'' (Princeton University Press, 1984) and ''The Parts of Light'' (Johns Hopkins, 1994); and many essays and articles.
She is survived by her father, Willie Hearne; her husband, Robert Tragesser; a daughter from a previous marriage, Colleen Mendelsohn; and a brother, James Hearne.
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Record added: Feb 06, 2011
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