Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Until Tuesday (service dog, war veteran, golden retriever)

EverythingDogBlog #175: The Big Kids’ Tuesday Book!

But, is it gold?
Until Tuesday, A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him, by Luis Montalvan with Bret Witter, Hyperion Press, 2011, 252 pp, $22.99.
Buy it Locally and Help Homeless Dogs
You can get your own copy of Until Tuesday through ThankfulPaws, a Maryland food bank for pets – email or place your order by leaving a message at 410-622-4892.
It Must Be, . . .but, . . . . 
A magnetic book at first glance, about a wounded warrior (nowadays a winner in any bookstore) and the friendliest, most gorgeous breed of dog ever: the golden retriever. And since Until Tuesday is about saving a life, it must be inspiring, right?
With an unforgettable cover photo of a golden retriever holding dog tags in his mouth, how can you not read Until Tuesday?
A good book has a good story, well-written with good pacing, content, and other mechanics of writing, along with that indefinable trait: magic! Tuesday has it all.  (I must confess: I cried.) Having said that, a few considerations bear further scrutiny.
Tuesday and Dewey
Bret Witter also co-wrote the well-known Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Both the Dewey book and the Tuesday book are similarly about animals who save people. Dewey was a common cat whose personality was anything but common – he may have saved a whole town! Tuesday is a service dog (psychological bodyguard for mentally wounded warriors?), highly skilled, who is also a very sensitive people-lover, and could be said to have saved the author.
Pre-publication quotes praise Tuesday. Of course, one was from Witter’s other co-author (of Dewey fame). But some books just catch on with the public, perhaps due to great marketing or great timing – both Dewey and Tuesday fit this bill.
Both books relate incident after incident, but Tuesday travels further along the character development continuum though it covers not an entire life (like Dewey) but merely a few years.
Readers may feel that both books include too much extraneous material they want to skip over: Dewey, about the personal foibles of a head librarian and a small town in Iowa, and Tuesday, with too many pages about one US soldier (albeit an officer) in Iraq - which could have been much briefer if it were not that then the book would be shorter!
Do we really get to know either one of the animals through all this extraneous material?
I think not.
About that Trust Thing, . . . .
A secondary theme in Until Tuesday is of two wounded individuals meeting and learning to trust each other (Tuesday had an unusual puppyhood but in no way would I consider him psychologically ‘wounded,’ even though he was raised by Puppies Behind Bars). Montalvan writes, “We weren’t made for each other but we turned out to be exactly what the other needed.”
My first thought while reading was that Until Tuesday is the book Michael Vick needs to read to learn that dogs not only provide cruel entertainment and illegal gambling wins but can also save lives with their skilled assistance and unconditional love.
Hmmmm,. . . .
When I read between the lines, I saw a book written with all the right words but ones that just missed coming from the heart.
Yes, Tuesday does provide a service by retrieving items off the floor so Montalvan won’t re-injure his back. Yes, Tuesday is there to lean on for balance when Montalvan gets dizzy as a result of his traumatic brain injury (TBI) but the book doesn’t portray well enough how these dogs can be someone’s eyes or ears or even counteract the effects of PTSD.
Yes, Tuesday mitigates the effects of flashbacks, nightmares, social anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic attacks, and Tuesday will alert him to ‘danger’ but “Tuesday’s greatest contribution was his presence. . . .He was a buffer against the world, . . . .”
I ask: is this enough for a $25,000 donated investment – the cost of training a service dog?
Tuesday may be just Montalvan’s better-half with a full-body wag - a very expensive pet dog. (“For veterans, happiness is a warm puppy.”) Too expensive for the VA, for an animal to comfort and calm more than to do things the veteran cannot do.
Pets and service dogs overlap in value and accomplishments. Service dogs are not emotional support animals: they are far more than that. The comfort of a pet is invaluable but a pet need not be trained by a service dog organization to do this. Yes, a service dog gets one out of the apartment but a pet dog does the same! Ditto for cuddling.
On the other hand, Until Tuesday is a book that is more about the love between a man and his service dog than merely a recounting of what a service dog can do for someone - which may be a service itself!
A pro-Army, anti-Iraq War book is not hard for this combat veteran/book reviewer to comprehend. “You’re a changed person after combat.” Yet the former Army officer still wears his combat boots and decorates his apartment with his military awards.
I am ambivalent about Until Tuesday but I would still love a Tuesday of my own!
Read the book yourself and make up your own mind.
Are the omissions in not telling the entire story about what a service dog can do important or does Tuesday bring enough needed attention to the plight of service dogs being illegally turned away from commercial establishments as well as the deep bond that can form between handler and service dog? How can a graduate student tell us so little about his journalism classes (essentially a writing apprenticeship) and so much about publishing editorials (10 articles between May and July of one year) and speaking nationally about the war and veterans’ issues? Why does a journalist with a graduate degree need another person to help write a book?
On the other hand, no book is perfect and even an imperfect book can do good. Or can it? Is this book a service or a disservice to service dogs?
(I have seen videos of Montalvan on the Internet. I have read Internet accounts of his incident in Iraq that differs from his accounting. I attended a talk by the author and, as a dog trainer, I felt a bit uncomfortable in that Tuesday often needed to be told several times to do something and cuddled with people while ‘in uniform.’ I have spoken with social workers who train psychiatric service dogs for veterans who also feel Until Tuesday is not accurate. These, plus the minor flaws mentioned above lead me to be ambivalent about Montalvan and his book. But, see for yourself!)

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