Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Harlow & Sage (dogs, Weims, Doxeys, growing old, new puppy, dog photos)

Harlow & Sage (and Indiana): A True Story about Best Friends, created by Brittni Vega (Putnam, 2015, 137 pages, $22.95)

Start in the Middle?

Who on earth would start a story in the middle?

Harlow, for one, because first there was Sage (for eight years), then there was Sage-and-Harlow (for five years), then there was Harlow (just for a few days), and now we have Harlow-and-Indiana (Indi).

So, this book, Harlow & Sage, is the middle, as Harlow remembers Sage and relates their adventures to puppy Indi who is growing (but growing only horizontally, not vertically). Hopefully, the beginning and the end books will follow, too.

Sage is a Dachshund while Harlow is a tall Dachshund-wanna-be who only looks like a Weimeraner. Just as some big dogs don’t realize they are big, some little dogs think they are big – like little Sage.

Photos but More!

Weims (Weimeraners, sometimes called Wind-around-ers or other things) are those dogs with the eternally surprised eyes. The front cover actually shows a surprised Weim, Harlow, with a Mini-Doxey, Indi, riding on her back, and the shadow-dog on page 53 is amazingly clever and unforgettable. Then turn to page 112 for a bug and dog experience, not to be soon forgotten.

What is more endearing than a sleeping dog? Two dogs sleeping together, one on top of the other (a living pillow) or snuggled comfortably together. And Harlow has a plethora of sleeping dog pictures.

There seem to be an abundant number of little dog-books with a (cute) dog photo on one page, and, on the facing page, a one-sentence (cute) saying. These are books you can quickly read in the bookstore or library but don’t necessarily want to take home unless your dog’s photograph is a full-page photo. There are so many different dogs in these little books, many of them dressed up, that they all simply can’t be wonderful.

Harlow is like that but not like that. It is quite a bit larger, shows only two dog breeds (Weim and Doxey) and has no one-sentence (cute) sayings: instead, Harlow is well-written yet cute and down-to-earth - simply a lovely keepsake.

The Story

First there was Sage. Then the humans brought home a little puppy Weim, Harlow, and the two became fast friends, BFFs (best friends forever). When Sage ages and slows down and finally crosses over the Rainbow Bridge, Harlow is left alone. For about a week. 

Enter a tiny little ball of energy named Indiana who loves Harlow to death and runs circles around her, finally winning her over.

Harlow narrates the story and tells of Meryl Streep-loving canines: to puppy Indi, Harlow tells tales of the departed Sage, how she taught Harlow all about life, just as Harlow is now teaching Indi everything she needs to know. About grandparents, who live to spoil. About hugs (yes, dogs do it too) and snuggles. About sleeping lessons. About scary thunderstorms.

Big and little photos, big and little stories, a nice font (yes, some readers notice fonts) and gentle, compassionate words and actions from Harlow as she realizes her best friend, Sage, is slowing down. . . . “At thirteen years old, Sage’s once salt-and-pepper coat had become mostly salty.”

Happy Campers

“There really is nothing like the great outdoors. There are unlimited things to chew on.” And dogs riding in backpacks on dogs.

The End Continues On

Harlow & Sage is a book you can pick up when you have just a minute, then lay back down on the coffee table for another day, with a smile on your face.

Now I eagerly await a book like Harlow about labs and goldens. . . . and, remember, sticks are outside furniture but pine trees are not, at least during the Meryl Christmas season!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow (country vet, Michigan, TV series)

Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet*, by Dr. Jan Pol with David Fisher (Gotham/Penguin, 2014, 275 pages, $27)

“The Incredible Dr. Pol”

The photo of a distinguished looking crinkly-smiley older gentleman in navy blue short-sleeved coveralls wearing a stethoscope with one hand on the Black Angus on his side graces the front cover of Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow and, like a magnet along with the title, kept drawing me back to this book until I spent a day reading it. (Those of you who follow my nearly 300 mostly-dog-and-other-animal book reviews know that a 24-hour book equates to an excellent read.)

Delightful, Not Disappointing at all!

A fascinating man from Holland who was an exchange student in high school in central Michigan ends up marrying his ‘Michigan sister’ and moving back there to practice, probably because he likes winter (?) and cows, gives us an intriguing glimpse into the life of a traveling country vet (“On the Road Again, and Again, and Again”) where,  “the only way to stay on the road in a blizzard is to follow the telephone poles.” (page 153)

But, most of all, Pol is your average man in love with his work - it shows in his knowledge and care for his patients. Pol is a happy fellow but, most importantly, down to earth.

“Open Your Mouth and Say Moo”

“Deer are pests but the good news is that they are edible. There are just so many of them running onto the roads and getting hit that in our area they’re known as “Michigan mile-markers.”

Pol has the stories and David Fisher has the quality writing for a smooth humorous way to spend your day or evening which just may turn into an all-nighter because you can’t put it down.

Veterinarian memoirs can often become merely a litany of story after story but Fisher brings out the best stories Dr. Pol has to offer and organizes them so one leads into the other rather seamlessly in order to get a larger point across by illustrating it with several animal patients (or their people who are sometimes the story instead).

TV or Not TV?

Yukon Vet, Aloha Vet (a barefoot pilot), and The Incredible Dr. Pol. . . .

Son Charles goes into the entertainment business and decides that nothing could be more entertaining than a TV series about your father. Truly adorable, insightful, educational, thrilling at times, and realistic when it comes to farm animals and pet animals alike, the show is aptly called “The Incredible Dr. Pol.” I just happened upon by luck it last night after finishing the book and love his lilting accent.

Yes, Dr, Pol’s reality TV show is incredible, just like him and he is just the kind of experienced, caring vet you would trust your animals to. Check it out and then you will want to “read all about it,” too!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Book Review: Tales from the Tail End (veterinarian, memoir, woman, England)

Tales from the Tail End: Adventures of a Vet in Practice, by Emma Milne (Summersdale, 2012, 250 pages, $13.95)

Are you one of the millions of fans of James Herriot*, that ultimate British animal storyteller? Are you someone who just can’t read enough veterinarian memoirs? Then you will race through Tales from the Tail End by Emma Milne, like I did.


To become a famous singer or to be awarded a PhD, for example, you need to be good or at least unique. You need to find a niche that nobody else is currently filling – a subsubject that nobody else is studying, a new approach to solving an old problem, something different. Plenty of wonderful veterinarian memoirists exist, from the British James Herriot to the British-born-but-now-living-in-Massachusetts Nick Trout** - but not too many of them are women.

Enter Tales from the Tail End and Emma Milne.

How To Be a Vet

In England, one becomes a veterinarian after only five years of university (in the US, after four years of college, followed by four years of vet school). In Milne’s final year at vet school she was filmed for a TV show (but didn’t make the final cut) but for the next seven years, she appeared in a reality series, “Vets in Practice.” Tales takes us from one hilarious client team to another (a vet actually has two clients for every patient: the animal is the patient and the human is the client), through births and deaths, to surgeries to rescue swallowed socks and toys, to pregnancy checks and broken bones, yet all of them mesmerize us and some even make us laugh out loud.

Yes, Entertaining

Milne is a real person, just like you and me. She is normal – doesn’t like cold English winters on the moors so staying a large animal vet didn’t appeal to her after just a few years. She is a divorcee. She lives with a menagerie of cats and dogs, including one who loves to watch dart games at the local pub and even enters the pub alone.

Milne is a teacher and her biggest lesson for her readers with dogs is to warn us not to let them play with sticks, especially not ‘Fetch with Sticks.’ To hone her lesson further, she relates the tale of a dog who became impaled on a stick he was fetching but most of the tales are terribly terribly funny. Milne actually ended up doing a lot of writing and speaking, even for the Beeb, the BBC. She is also quite active in the rescue movement and is diametrically opposed to tail docking and the current state of purebred dog breeding.

Very British

When you go to the movies, does it take a while to understand what the English or Australians or Scots are saying? Many popular dog training and behavior books are penned by British authors as are many vet memoirs. You can usually skip over an English word you are not sure of or guess at the meaning but Tales has much more of the British vernacular than I have ever come across. For example, I erred in understanding a few phrases until the next paragraph, such as “As is so often the case, . . . the dog decided that his owners being away was the perfect time to pop his clogs and land someone else well and truly up the creek without a paddle.” (In our vernacular, the dog kicked the bucket and I guessed wrong!)

In a Word – Funny!

Have you ever wondered why there are more veterinarian-memoirs than writer-memoirs or dentist-memoirs? Are vets funnier people or do their clients find themselves in more interesting situations? Read Tales to find out!

*All Things Wise and Wonderful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, The Lord God Made Them All, etc.
**Tell Me Where It Hurts, Love is the Best Medicine, etc.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Haatchi and Little B (dog, child)

Haatchi* & Little B: The inspiring true story of one boy and his dog, by Wendy Holden (St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 216 pages, $22.99)

Big Dog, Little Boy, Big Hearts

Little B, a little boy with an eternal smile due to crinkly eyes and a pouty mouth due to a rare genetic syndrome**, will steal your heart away. Haatchi, the Anatolian Shepherd pup who lost a leg plus his tail to a train but never lost his spirit of forgiveness and love, will also steal your heart. The dog is as big as the boy (see the cover photo)! But their hearts are even bigger.

Each one, boy and dog, has his own physical challenges: the bravery of the dog helps the boy face his own condition and, like Cowboy (read the review of Cowboy and Wills), brings out the boy’s personality. Both Cowboy and Haatchi are a magnet for people coming up and befriending the boy – being able to talk about your dog gives one courage to face the world if one is shy or otherwise challenged.

Of course, the book opens with the near demise of a puppy to whet your appetite but it keeps your attention throughout this amazing story that even today is unfolding. Author Wendy Holden also includes the Internet romance and RAF deployments to Afghanistan to add to the universality of the story.

Which one is Little B?

When five-year-old Owen’s future stepmother first met him, being from New Zealand she exclaimed, “Hello, mate. Happy Birthday, little buddy. Can I sit next to you?” And so, Owen became Little Buddy and Little Buddy became Little B.


This simply amazing little family, even in the midst of their own time-consuming medical and financial challenges, also helps raise funds for other child-related and canine rescue causes – what an inspiration for all of us! They have so little to give but give it all: such generosity surely begets more.

I’d like to see a version of Haatchi for children, perhaps without the details of Haatchi’s train accident, though it could be told in a gentle way to educate on responsible dog ownership.

Photos and Lists

Two sections of photos in the book will simply draw you back again and again. And Little B’s stepmom is a clever, entertaining writer as she populates Facebook pages with Haatchi’s humorous canine thoughts. My favorite photo is of  the family wedding, complete with dog (every wedding photo should include a dog, don’t you think?)

A gem not to be overlooked is the glossary of Haatchi-isms with their definitions, some of which may become part of your family’s vocabulary. I especially like BOL (Bark Out Loud, similar to LOL, laugh out loud) and Huggles (Haatchi Hugs).

Holden also gives us a contact list of UK and US animal advocacy and children’s organizations we may want to support, such as Dogs and Kisses, Make a Wish, and the well-known RSPCA and ASPCA.

Holden’s Writing Style

Yes, sometimes it is the story that counts. Yes, you may cry a little at the unforgettable stories in Haatchi - at learning how Haatchi came into Little B’s family and at the many incidents that bring joy and well-deserved honors.

Holden is also the author of Uggie – My Story (read review here) and Haatchi gradually morphs into the dry, reporting style of the former: however, the first half of Haatchi is definitely worth a trip to your local independent bookstore or public library.

Readers in the US may not yet have heard of Haatchi and Little B – dog and boy live in England, as does the author, and, like nearly all British books, the mention of media personalities and certain vocabulary words fall flat on this side of the pond. Fortunately, the reader may be familiar with the Duchess of York and Rupert Grint (a friend of Harry Potter’s), as well as Dogs Today magazine and Crufts (like our Westminster Dog Show – read more about it here).

In Summary – a quick, inspiring read.

*I took the liberty of capitalizing words here. The title actually has no capital letters in it.

**Schwarz-Jampel syndrome (SJS) is a rare recessive genetic disorder named only as recently as 1962 and affecting perhaps 100 persons worldwide. Little B is the only SJS person in the UK.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sad News: Oogy Passes Away

Oogy, the dog who changed the world, passed away last week

The Three Twins (Dan and Noah in the background) (photo credit: Sue Brown)

Oogy, the dog that nobody wanted, became the dog only a family could love, and through his story, became a dog the whole world loved!

I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Oogy, his human Larry, and the other members of the Three Twins – human brothers Dan and Noah – after I reviewed Oogy’s book: Oogy, The Dog Only a Family Could Love.

In a nutshell, Oogy started life as a bait puppy outside Philly, was adopted by the Levin family and became a ‘third twin.’ He also met Oprah and had a long, successful career as a canine ambassador.

In memory of Oogy, below is my review of his book.

Read More About It: Everywhere on Facebook, including this page.

Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love, by Larry Levin, $19.99, 2010, 226 pages, Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group

The good, the bad, the ugly - and Oogy, the inspirational.

Oogy’s story is a love story between a man and a dog, between a family and an ecstatically happy pup that nobody wanted but the world grew to love, the pup who chose the lucky Levins to be his family. You will keep his tale in your heart and it may just change you forever: I simply can’t get this book out of my mind.

Love wrapped up in one unforgettable dog named Oogy. Oogy was a bait puppy by the age of eight weeks with half his face and one ear gone when he was found and brought to the veterinary hospital – their efforts were, in the truest sense, simply the right thing to do. “He seemed to understand somehow that the people around him now were different from those who had controlled his life before: that they were kind even though he had probably never before experienced human kindness.” 

“Oogy is tangible living proof that there can be happiness, love and hope on the flip side of unspeakable and unimaginable horror.” 

“When people first encounter Oogy, they invariably ask if he is safe. My stock response is, 'Well, he has licked two people nearly to death. . . .'”

The title hooked me, and the cover, a visual oxymoron, reeled me in – I just had to read Oogy and I am not disappointed. I started it one night and finished it the next day - the sign of not merely a good book but of a great book and a supergood read. And what makes this book great? Magic. The magic of a great tale well told.

I usually read with a highlighter in hand and use it every few pages but with Oogy, I highlighted every few sentences. And to a first-time author and long-time lawyer, that is the most heartfelt compliment I can muster.

The indomitable spirit of this pup will have you smiling through tears. An ambassador for his breed (a pit bull type – actually a Dogo Argentino but also the mushiest dog I have come across in a book).

Like To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee, 1960, Pulitzer Prize), Oogy was written by a first-time author (a lawyer). I can’t imagine a sequel topping this book but I CAN picture a movie and a poster and a stuffed puppy.

Levin has given his readers two gifts - the extraordinary, amazing you-are-there reading experience and the real-life survival story of a lop-sided Oogy-doggy with a permanent smile. I await your  next book, Mr. Levin, but I don't believe you can surpass the magic of Oogy

A book of warm hope fulfilled. Candid family photographs with the twin boys and Oogy, the third twin – the one who taught himself how to open the refrigerator!

Levin made a personal promise to the pup that he would never be hungry or scared again. And Levin felt privileged to live up to that. The family felt honored to have been chosen by Oogy and I feel honored to be able to share his story with you. I love you, Oogy, ‘like there’s no tomorrow.’

This is a book I wanted to be part of, a family I wanted to be a member of, a dog I wanted to meet (so I did).  How many ways can I say that this is simply the best book I have read all year, perhaps ever?! Oprah loves Oogy – so do I, and so will you!
PS – did you notice the second “o” in Oogy’s name on the cover – slanted, lopsided - just like Oogy’s face!