Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: A Dog's Gift (service dogs, children, veterans)

A Dog’s Gift: The Inspirational Story of Veterans and Children Healed by Man’s Best Friend, by Bob Drury (Rodale, 2015, 226 pages, $24)

A uniquely well-constructed story, A Dog’s Gift opens as a golden retriever is giving birth to a large litter of pups. The book then sidetracks a dozen or so times back and forth to tell the complete story of Paws4People, a service dog training organization – from its origins to a special dog-child team in Maryland, to training the pups in prisons and on military bases, to fundraising, and finally to joyous reunions, and then to the most intriguing aspect of all: the process of matching a dog to a veteran or a child. Every so often (actually at the beginning of each chapter), A Dog’s Gift returns to the golden retriever and another newly born pup (a unique, exciting and comforting approach to a book about dogs).

Paws4People, like Topsy, just grew!  It was gradually founded by a young girl, Kyria, who had a natural-born affinity for dogs and for helping others. Beginning in high-school, Kyria took the family dogs to special education classes to help bring out the best in those students. Today, she teaches college courses and heads a large, non-profit organization, Paws4People, that selects, trains and matches service dogs with deserving veterans (Paws4Veterans) and children (Paws4People) who need them. Or rather, the dogs do the self-selecting of which veteran or child they want to be trained to assist.

The Bump

The Bump is the most intriguing and unique aspect of Paws4People and Paws4Veterans. Bumping takes place in a large room in a correctional facility where the dogs are trained. Veterans and children accepted into the program meet each potential, partially-trained dog partner, one at a time, and it is the dogs that decide who they want to live with and work with for the rest of their lives. They seem to know which person will love them the most and the dogs give that love right back for all to see. Then the dogs receive up to a year’s worth of specialized training for the tasks the dog’s chosen person needs help with.

I am totally sold on the idea of The Bump, however, I am less sure of some of the out-dated terminology (alpha, command) and some of the husbandry methods, like feeding 8-week old puppies only twice a day. However, it all seems to work wonderfully!

A truly inspiring book, A Dog’s Gift, at the least will drive you to your computer to look up the Paws4People website and hopefully, donate and help spread the word. On the other hand, you just might be driven to become a volunteer for this or another worthy service dog organization!

(Caveat: Your local public library probably has a copy of A Dog’s Gift but it might have a waiting list!)

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