Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: Free Days with George (Newfie, rescue, surfing, Canada)

Free Days with George: Learning Life’s Little Lessons from One Very Big Dog by Colin Campbell (Penguin Random House Anchor Canada, $16.95, 224 pages, 2015)

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Remember Ricochet, the California golden girl-dog golden retriever career-changed service dog who surfs with challenged children? (Read DogEval’s review of Ricochet here.)

Remember Jimmy Choo, that delightfully photogenic white bull terrier, whose human mom left his human dad and moved out, leaving only the dog – no furniture? (Read DogEval’s review of A Dog Named Jimmy here.)

Cross Ricochet with A Dog Named Jimmy and what do you get but Free Days with George: Learning Life’s Little Lessons with One Very Big Dog - one book you simply can’t put down.

Top Book

I truly loved reading George: I couldn’t read it fast enough. It will definitely be on DogEval’s list of “Top Books Read in 2016.”

Much of the book tells about how much and how long Colin Campbell loved Jane until and even after Jane left Colin (shades of Jimmy Choo). Fortunately, Colin has a job he is great at and which he loves, but still something is missing from his life since Jane left.

Enter a dog, a big dog, in need of a home* and what do you get but a loveable couple – dog and man - eventually. It takes a while for Colin to learn about dogs and George-the-dog in particular.

Who is George besides a Gentle Giant?

One big (140 pounds) Landseer (black and white) Newfoundland, a Newfie, who enters Colin’s life and teaches him about love after not doing so well in obedience classes.

George is one small frightened pup in a big dog body but a rare dog indeed, in that he responds so so very well to human hugs (Warning: most dogs don’t). George learns to play, he learns to trust – but slowly, even as his tail learns to wag. He ends up looking Colin in the eye with utter trust – when he isn’t busy licking Colin’s face whenever people are watching.

A Newfie** is a dog from Canada who was originally bred to save fishermen from the sea and to pull carts and, more recently, to jump from helicopters to rescue swimmers in trouble.

And The Writing Style is Warmly Funny

What makes a good book? A good story, well told. Campbell is a good story-teller with a good story to tell.
(Hardcover version)

“The tail, in particular, had many magical powers. . . with George blissfully oblivious of [sic] all of them. It could sweep, knock, smash, break and swipe almost anything placed on the coffee table. . . .George’s enchanted tail. . . discreetly swept my keys off the table. I only found them unexpectedly, under the sofa, an hour after I needed them and had given up the search.” (p. 109)

And the Fab Photos

George has two sections of color photos but the covers and two-page spreads will make you fall in love with these big gentle dogs.

Surfer Dude, Surfer Dog

Like father, like son – except here we have a dog bred to jump into the cold ocean and pull people (fishermen) to safety.

Would you believe a big ol’ Canadian dog moves to California and picks up surfing, only to win the hearts and minds of all the humans at Dog Beach, Huntington, California?

Just like when I met my first Great Dane and I asked what on earth that was (a small horse perhaps?), sunworshippers just couldn’t stay away from George who was even bigger than a Dane - and George ate it up - he was beyond happy.

So much so, that it was a toss-up whether his favorite pastime was meeting people and convincing them to rub his tummy – or swimming out to sea and grabbing a surfboard on the way in, competitive-style (“Getting him balanced on the board was like trying to set a table inside a working washing machine.” p. 193).

Picture big ol’ George in a dog life-vest that is too small, way too small. That in itself brought the crowds to meet him, a catalyst for smiles and giggles, for a photo op. George became the biggest, happiest dude on the beach.

A Responsible* Book

Not only does George always wear a life-vest when he goes surfing, and a leash when he goes walking, but his book gently educates one on big dogs, rescue dogs, and dog safety.

What is a Free Day?

By now, you are probably asking yourself, what is a free day? That, dear readers, I leave you to find out and to pass on to your children and grands. George will tell you.

*George came from a rescue dog organization in Canada. Campbell includes information on several dog rescues in Canada and the US (and elsewhere), in addition to information interspersed throughout the book about the Newfie breed being not for everyone. And passing the rescue organization interview is something Campbell obsessed over, but passed. He and George have since become ‘spokesmen’ for rescue and Newf rescues in particular.

**another famous Newfie is Nana from Peter Pan

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