Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Ellie's Story: A Dog's Purpose Nove. (search and rescue dog, German Shepherd Dog)

Ellie’s Story: A Dog’s Purpose Novel, by W. Bruce Cameron (Macmillan, $16.99, 205 pages, 2015, ages 8-12, grades 3-7 and also for adults!)

The Best from A New York Times’ Bestselling Author

Ellie is a little German Shepherd Dog who trains to become a search and rescue (SAR) dog who ‘does Work’ and plays “Find,” then tells her unique story in Ellie’s Story. The dog is one author, using her own words to relate her life to the other author (yes, a book can have two authors!), W. Bruce Cameron, who has such a way with words that a DreamWorks movie for young and old, based on A Dog’s Purpose,
hit the theaters last month. DogEvals couldn’t wait: we hadn’t been this excited since Best in Show came out more than 15 years ago.

The dog world was agog with excitement.

However, . . .

Controversy quickly sprang up right before the movie’s debut about the filming of the movie, the competency of the American Humane Association representative, and whether animals were harmed (emotionally) during the filming.

As a result, some dog people decided not to see the movie.

However, the book is a gem!


It has been said that the only thing constant in life is change. Ellie is a good dog who understands change and accepts it when it is inevitable, a good lesson for our children as well as for us. She must leave her family, go to school to learn her job (and learns her purpose along the way) - and even switches homes in mid-stream!

The Dog Wrote It: A Novel for Humans

Ellie’s Story is taken from part of the novel, A Dog’s Purpose. For a preview, here is one book video, and another (moms and dads may want to preview the previews first, though).

Do We Rescue Dogs, or Do They Rescue Us?

Of course, being a search and rescue dog, Ellie learns to find people and, therefore, save them, but she also has a greater purpose: that of saving people who are neither lost nor injured but only lonely. Can a dog really do that? Can Ellie?

And Even, . . . A Bonus

A pre-reading guide as well as a post-reading guide (questions) are included in the back of Ellie’s Story which can be used by the family or the classroom according to Common Core Standards but the real bonus is the list of activities like Make a 'Dogs are Awesome' Poster and Talk Like a Dog.

If you loved or even liked the Spencer Quinn series about Chet-the-dog and Bernie*, Ellie’s Story ranks right up there with those eight “dog’s view” books. Though not a murder mystery, Ellie’s is an adventure story with a hero and people who love dogs.

After Ellie’s Story, you and your children will want a dog, will want a search-and-rescue dog, or will want to be a dog!

Soon: Bailey’s Story: A Dog’s Purpose Novel

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review: Stepdog (stepkids, stepmom, stepdog, Puerto Rico, LA, New York, The Times, family)

Stepdog: A Memoir, by Mireya Navarro (Putnam, 248 pages, 2015, $26.95)

Where is Common Sense When You Need It? (Hidden in the Humor?)

Stepdog might be a difficult book for some to finish, albeit its sensitivity, humanity and humor will carry you through to the end and, yes, in the end, the dog lives! Yay! Yet difficult in that you want to shake the author, Mireya Navarro, into common sense about her relationship (or lack thereof) with Eddie the dog.

Navarro has written about her delightful life with her Puerto Rican upbringing and values and culture and food but mostly with family. She is also a gifted journalist for The New York Times, with postings in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York, and working trips all over the world to cover life in word pictures. And, finally, Navarro shows that love does indeed conquer (almost) all, even if it comes later in life.

Stepmom and Stepkids and Stepdog

Navarro marries another journalist but first they conduct a cross-country relationship, then join households for a while before making it legal for the Puerto Rican extended family and the Californian community. Of course, there are two instant kids, almost teens, and one instant disobedient stepdog who substitutes for all that is bumpy with life.

I do want to shake some sense into the author who vehemently dislikes the dog, Eddie, and schemes to rid the family of their best friend but only in her thoughts – the feeling is mutual, however, along with his growling at and ignoring that human who moved into his house and his life, competing for the attention of his person and her new husband, Jim.

Of course, having indifferent stepkids on weekends is tough, especially when one’s dear husband wants to do all the parenting and manages to forget to include his new wife time and time again, for years.

A Gem in the Humor Aisle

On the other hand, the humorous writing style makes Stepdog a gem!  And though the entire book is NOT about Navarro vs. Eddie and Eddie vs. Navarro – as a matter of fact, most pages go by with nary a mention of the dog – everything Navarro writes is spellbinding and includes you as part of her up-and-down life. 

And everyone else thinks the dog is cute: probably a cattle dog mix of about 40 pounds, complete with spots.

Who’s Top Dog?

The relationship between Navarro and Jim never falters, even through counseling, but Navarro constantly plots to get rid of the dog. Husband says, “I’m not into all this training stuff. I just kind of let him be a dog. That’s good enough for me. . . . a happy guy and a good companion.” (p. 115) (a good thing for dog trainers to keep in mind, too)

Commanding the dog to no avail, harsh words, trying out that ‘calm, assertive’ gobbledegook – nothing helped the relationship until Navarro happened upon a few good books and a veterinary behaviorist who suggested Navarro be the one to feed Eddie. And what do you know, it worked, as any positive-reinforcement trainer could tell you at first sight.

What Didn’t We Like?

The transformation in the relationship occurs near the end of the book and rather too quickly, and the photos at each chapter’s beginning could easily be larger. The cover photo of Eddie, however, grows on you.

What Did We Like?

Everything else! And that’s a lot! Even the non-dog incidents, which most of the book contains, were funny and sensitive and humanizing and, just like life! I even wanted to be Mireya Navarro – or least be her best friend along with all the drama and tears and great parties.

Could It Be. . . ?

Could it be that Stepmom is three books in one? A book about dogs, a book about stepfamilies and lasting love, a book about growing up as we are growing older with the help of dog training where the people are more the learners than the dog?

Caveat: This is an indepedent, objective review. DogEvals received no compensation, not even the book!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Calling all Virginia Dog People!

Calling all Virginia Dog Lovers!

Come to the World of Pets this weekend in Hampton, Virginia, and have a blast. Think “state fair in winter” for food (funnel cakes, lemonade, ice-cream, chocolate), dog treats, leashes to buy, dog bling, animals to pet. 

Laugh at the Muttville Comix dogs and their act, and cheer on the dock diving dogs – yes, an indoor swimming pool for dogs in winter with competitions for highest jump, longest jump and also for speed (have you ever seen a dog in a swim suit?).

Parrot training. Parrot training? Yes! Even a parrot behavior 3-hour workshop (see website for details) with the Bird Whisperer

Backyard chicken raising, a talk by the Peninsula Chicken Keepers (PeCK)

Pet fashion show (register at noon on Saturday – event starts at 1 pm)
Pet talent show (register at noon on Saturday – event starts at 1 pm)

Cat grooming demo – shedding, sharp claws, dirty behinds – and Agility Cats (steps and weave poles)

Fancy Mouse Breeders Association

Search and Rescue Dogs
Dog is Good, the Dogvernugen people
Helping Hands (affordable outpatient advanced surgery and dental care)

Origami Owl – yes, some non-dog businesses

Petting zoo and pony rides (additional fee)

Rescues like the Turtle Island Animal Sanctuary and dog rescue groups like DARE, the Doberman Assistance, Rescue and Education group
And, reptiles!

Your Dog Deserves a New Leash, Collar, Dog Treats, and Toys!

You can all these at the World of Pets, plus much more. Make it an annual February tradition. And come to the January World of Pets next year in Baltimore, too.

Who: You and the whole family (I go, for the food!)
What: 5th annual World of Pets
Where: Hampton Roads Convention Center, 1610 Coliseum Dr. , Hampton, VA 23666
When: Friday, 2-8 pm; Saturday, 10 am-7 pm; Sunday, 10 am - 5 pm

Cost: 9$ adults (free parking), 5$ for ages 5-12, and free for under 5