Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Quotable Canine (dogs, photography, famous quotes)

The Quotable Canine, Jim Dratfield and Paul Coughlin (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 81 pages, 1995, $20)

If you love sepia-toned photographs (and who doesn’t), you will love this book – the photos fit the quotes simply superbly and some quotes are quotes that you are familiar with but want to remember.

From Odgen Nash (“A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.”) to Churchill to Shakespeare to Marx (Groucho, that is), from humorous photos to serious photos, this small coffee table book of brown and paisley has it all.

I was also thinking these photos might make memorable postcards, when I decided I had better check to see if the book, published in 1995, is still available – it is – and so is a selection of notecards from the book.  How cool is that coincidence?

Both authors have gone on to produce other canine photography collections and, lo and behold, when I went to, I saw a magnet and note card I just purchased at a local store!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: To Fetch a Thief, A Chet and Bernie Mystery (dog)

To Fetch a Thief: A Chet and Bernie Mystery, by Spencer Quinn, 307 pages, 2011, Simon and Schuster (Atria), $25. Third book in the series.
The Chet and Bernie series is tri-layered: for kids, the dog talks; for adults and everyone, true cliff-hangers; and teens will be challenged by the double entendres that make them think twice before they ‘get it’ and laugh. Very cleverly written, indeed.

Ah! Finally we have a cover canine who is also the main character - and what a delightful dog he is (of unknown breed, though he is about 100 pounds – if you read the books starting with book one, Dog on It, and don’t look at the covers, you can gradually guess at the breed with more precision as the books go along).

The subtitle says it all – A Chet and Bernie Mystery – not, A Bernie and Chet Mystery (Chet being the dog of unknown breed). Thank goodness the author got the characters in the right order of importance! Bernie and his sidekick, Chet the dog. Or is it Chet and his trusty sidekick, Bernie the private eye? Chet the dog thinks, “Bernie is a very nice name, my second favorite.”

Told mostly from Chet’s point of view with Chet-The-Dog narrating and doing most of the talking but also with human conversations often interrupted by Chet’s meandering thoughts, this third title in the series (after Dog On It and Thereby Hangs a Tail) is genuinely entertaining, slightly educational, and highly reminiscent of serial adventure stories of yesteryear with one twist after another.

Of course, Chet The Dog sees and smells and understands much more than Bernie but he can’t communicate it. Instead, he trusts Bernie to do the right thing and all turns out well in the end. After all, Bernie is the smartest human in the room, according to Chet-The-Dog.

The plot of To Fetch a Thief is thick and weblike. A circus elephant named Peanut and his trainer disappear. Bernie’s son believes his father will find the elephant and informs his fellow first-graders. Bernie’s ex-wife’s fiance is having an affair with a client’s wife.  Although not always believable, with one cliff-hanger after another, To Fetch a Thief is a typical Shakespearean tragicomedy in that ‘all’s well that ends well.’

The reader learns that the entire world of a dog consists of water, food, naps, and petting (not necessarily in that order) along with dog’s best friend, long-distance smells, and doggy details like wearing the brown collar for everyday use while the black collar is essentially for dress-up and court appearances. Court appearances?

Chet is one comical canine as he mixes up human idioms, similes and metaphors, just doesn’t ‘get’ others, and easily becomes distracted even in the middle of a sentence (“The truth is, I’ve never had much interest in basketball, on account of the ball being impossible for me, but the point is. . . gone right now, but maybe it will come back. [p. 99]). Makes you smile to yourself at how human-like he is.

Bernie, on the other hand, is a typical male, sometimes at a loss for words, especially around the woman in his life and when having to face an assembly of grade-schoolers in the auditorium.

Obviously, Chet and Bernie have had scores of adventures, with all the side references to characters now in orange jumpsuits currently upstate breaking big rocks into little rocks under the blazing sun.

Chet and Bernie run the Little Detective Agency, not because Chet is little but because Little is Bernie’s last name. Each calls the other, Big Guy, but the reader fortunately never gets man and dog mixed up.

They carry out a lot of divorce work out of necessity – spying on philandering spouses between solving major mysteries, their specialty being missing persons.

Chet rides shotgun in the Porsche - he sits up straight: quiet, alert, professional (in his own words), always on the lookout for perps (perpetrators, not peeps – people).

Fortunately, positive training has its place in this adventure. As the elephant trainer says, “The most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that you should never be cruel to animals. And to treat an animal badly just to get it to do a trick is not worth it” (page 198).

Reward-based dog trainers will love this third book, even though it is an elephant being trained:
            Bernie is talking to the clown about an ankus, a bull hook, an elephant goad:
“How does Uri control Peanut [elephant]?’
“He talks to her.”
“Saying what?”
“Little things,” Popo said. “Like—foot up higher, there’s a good girl. Or give your good buddy a ride—that’s for when she uses her trunk to help Uri get up on her back. Plus there are hand signals for all the commands, and lots of treats.” (p.64)

All I can say about that exchange is, “Yippy, Skippy!”

As for Chet, the dog of unknown breed, all we learn about his physicality is that he weighs about 100 pounds. We see him from the back with his stand-up ears (riding shotgun on the cover of book one), about the size of a man when both are sitting. The first book, Dog on It, also shows Chet sitting with his white-tipped tail.

Book two gives us the back cover photo information that Chet has a black and white muzzle and book three, To Fetch a Thief, shows a white-tipped paw. I wonder what appearance clues book four, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, out in September 2011, will give us!

Addendum: After having read books four and five, I am still totally enchanted by Chet-The-Dog. One can learn a lot from a best friend like him. I look forward to the next book in the ‘series’ and the one after that and the one after the one after that and . . . keep ‘em coming Spence! We love ya!

Although Chet belittles the hugeness of human ears compared to how poorly they function, and decries our lack of an accomplished sense of smell compared to a canine’s nose feast, Chet was actually a K9 school washout himself – he failed the final, thanks to a cat or a squirrel (depends on who he is telling the story to). He is, however, one brilliant dog: he can count (to two)! But that is all he needs to count to, since he is part of a team that thrives on mutual love and respect. He even makes you appreciate your own dog’s sense of smell and his ‘unbrain.’

And then there is the Hawaiian shirt fiasco. . . . you gotta read the books to find out about that! I can only give so much away, after all. But man and dog are both human: not gods, but full of lovable foibles. They make mistakes, they recover to err again and you smile through it all. Can you see my grin just talking about Chet and Bernie?

The Chet and Bernie Mysteries, a series of sorts that you can read in any order, illuminates the humor, love and respect man’s best friend has for man (bordering on idolization) and how to train the canine kind – primarily with positive reinforcement and treats, especially in book two (“Practice was great – it almost always ended with a treat.”):

1. Dog on It (Jan 09) – introduces Chet in the shotgun seat. Yup, read it, loved it.
2. Thereby Hangs a Tail (Jan 2010) – desert bikers somewhere. Yup, read it, loved it.
3. To Fetch a Thief (Sep 2010)  - circus and training themes. Yup, read it, loved it.
4. The Dog Who Knew Too Much (Jun 2012) yup, I guessed the breed correctly. Yup, read it, loved it.
5. A Fistful of Collars (Sep 2012) – set in thinly veiled Phoenix, Arizona (as are they all), introduces the ‘other nation,’ first book totally told by Chet, about a modern cowboy movie in the making. Yup, read it, loved it.
6. A Cat Was Involved (Jan 2013) audio and e-short story only, not hardcopy
7. The Sound and the Furry (due out 10 Sep 2013). Can’t wait. Hope the publisher sends me this one – I’m running out of funds after the first five!

Also available:  boxed sets and a sampler of the books (2012), The Spencer Quinn Reader’s Companion on e-book

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: Fifty Acres and a Poodle (farm, humor)

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm, by Jeanne Marie Laskas, Bantam Books, 2000, $23.95.

Fifty Acres is like a popular TV show or an excellent beach read. A TV show because you come to quickly love the character but can put the book down and come back to it, even in the middle of a chapter. Perhaps even a quick soap opera: quick in that the plot does advance more quickly than a real soap, and a good beach read because you will take it everywhere with you, hoping for a chance to read a page or two.

Fifty Acres is a good friend.

Author Jeanne Marie Laskas is a name I recognized from the Washington Post even though I am not a regular reader, being so far away. As a matter of fact, I may not read it even once a month, so, for me to recognize the name of a columnist, you know she has to be good.

Humor and pathos and humor and a Lithuanian aunt and humor and one’s ‘inner princess’ and humor and ‘the babes’ (sorry, they are just the women Laskas made friends with in college - and kept).

The book begins with farm hunting through the want-ads and proceeds to buying a tractor. 

The seasons change, the pets accumulate – another dog, a horse, a mule, . . . Fifty Acres was such an entertaining and inspiring read that I am going to get another of Laskas’ six books.

Oh, yeah, there is a poodle in the book, and a cat and a kitten. The poodle is seemingly out of place on the farm (neighbors have never even seen a real live poodle - or pet dog) until the dead groundhogs appear. I suppose the standard (i.e., big) poodle represents the author and her (finally) husband, seemingly out of place on a farm but still accepted.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: How Many Dogs (dogs, management)

How Many Dogs?! Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household

by Debby McMullen, CDBC, 2010, Tanacacia Press, $19.95, 204 pp. 

Do you have too many dogs? Going crazy, trying to balance their different personalities and needs — and your own? Or do you want another dog, but just don’t know if it is feasible?

How many dogs is too many anyway — for you?

This book helps you answer that question, helps you decide whether or not your family should get another canine, and how to select the best fit. It also teaches how to manage (and prevent) any chaos you or your dogs may experience, now or in the future.


Nowadays, families tend to consist of a single parent raising a family or a family with both parents working outside the home. There are fewer adults home during the day now than there were in the 1950s. In addition, our pets today tend to be the larger breeds — the most popular breed today being the Labrador Retriever as opposed to the smaller Cocker Spaniel, popular when many of us (or our parents) were growing up. Many families have a second dog to keep the first one company during the day, and for other reasons.

How to keep up and adapt to these societal changes is one topic of McMullen’s book.

With multiple dogs can come multiple problems, unless you plan for that eventuality and manage it positively. How Many Dogs?! is just the book with all the answers to help you keep your sanity and enjoy all your dogs!

McMullen has a lovely conversational writing style — what a storyteller! She is a dog trainer with several dogs, albeit not as many as pictured on the cover!

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

When she presents a subject, she describes alternatives and gives the solution she prefers along with the reasons behind her choice. She then explains why other solutions might work for other households and emphasizes that if the situation is under control in your household with a different solution, don’t change it! (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!)

You don’t have to eat your words if you use these. . . .

McMullen uses brilliantly creative terms that describe her ideas succinctly. For example, the person is the “crew leader” who projects “benevolent leadership.” I firmly believe these terms will catch on across the country and will replace undefined terms that don’t work, such as “pack leader,” “dominance,” and “calm assertiveness.”

McMullen describes her new terms, defines them in a short glossary, and refers to them throughout the book.

Tails are Tucked, . . .

I love the Table of Contents, too! I never thought I would say that about a book.

Chapters include Tails are Tucked (canine body language), The Fur is Flying (what to do about tiffs), Tragedy in the Midst (losing a crew member), and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (where do they all fit?...and sleep).

The index also comes in handy, and her Resources and References section not only lists other books by topic, but gives further details about them.

Tidbits abound.

Lovely, lively photos of dogs playing and otherwise interacting, as well as text boxes with key points for emphasis, are scattered throughout so you know what’s really important. Themes of trust and routine appear again and again.

Real Life is not TV

A few chapters include real-life examples from several owners of multiple dogs, explaining how they solve different situations. Their dogs star in many of the photos and we follow the dogs and their people throughout the book for an authentic view of how to implement McMullen’s suggestions, such as mealtime management and different sleeping arrangements.

New Training. . . .

A special bonus is the lengthy chapter on training. It includes how to train skills like attention, wait, go to a mat (safe place for chilling out), recalls, and loose-leash walking — all skills that are mandatory for making life with dogs easier. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with positive reinforcement training, think of it as reward-based rather than force-based.

If you want to be a clicker trainer, McMullen presents a quick intro. Want to learn the difference between a bribe, a lure, and a reward? How electronic fencing systems can create behavior problems rather than solve confinement problems? It’s all here!

McMullen’s How Many Dogs?! offers a wealth of step-by-step information for the multiple dog-owner as well as the single dog person. This is an excellent adjunct to training classes and a delight to read.

(This review appears on, GRREAT NEWS July-August 2010 and in the former Yankee Dog.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: Uggie (dog, memoir)

Uggie: My Story by Uggie and Wendy Holden (Gallery Books, 231 pages, 2012, $14.99)   

Another “You can’t tell a book by its cover” book is Uggie. A strikingly adorably-classy cover shot of a Jack Russell Terrier (JRT or Jack or even Russell) - sporting a $60,000 18-carat gold bone charm with his name inscribed and a black bow-tie collar - will have you looking at this book twice at your favorite neighborhood independent bookstore. I looked twice and finally bought it but found the book took too long to read.

Written from the point of view of a dog, which I normally simply eat up, Uggie simply took too long to read.

“Who is Uggie?” you may be asking yourself, as did I. He lived with Colombian-born Omar, a balanced trainer, and an entourage of dogs. Uggie is the dog in the YouTube Christmas short of a JRT in his backyard setting out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa before looking into the sky for the man, beseeching him for a gift-bone, before turning around and going into his dog house for a good night’s sleep. And, lo and behold, Santa does come and deliver a huge bone wrapped with a red ribbon. Heartwarming, this short is so cute I have watched it time and time again, even sending it to friends (which I hardly do since I assume their inbox is filled to the brim like mine).

Uggie starred as the dog in the black-and-white silent The Artist, winner of 5 Oscars and numerous other awards worldwide including Cannes, where Uggie won the coveted ‘Palm Dog’ award. Uggie is also the recipient of the American Humane Association’s (AHA’s) Pawscar and Dog News Daily’s Golden Collar. Uggie’s pawprints are even immortalized in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

“Why did Uggie take too long to read?” is another question you may be asking yourself - the answer is that it is too contrived. I was exhausted reading all the repartees that just weren’t all that funny. Too many slightly humorous incidents were written with too much craft and cleverness – so much so that it showed, and took away from any smidgeons of style left. This reviewer certainly didn’t feel like she lived the book. Long sentences and big words do not an enticing book make.

However, if you love the now-classic Christmas short or saw The Artist or have a JRT or remember all the old movie greats (like Pickford, Rinty or Lassie), I might recommend Uggie, if only for the photos here and there throughout. Another saving grace is the short chapter starting on page 191 about Uggie raising money for shelters (and PETA). However the best part may (or may not) be Uggie’s pining for a certain blonde movie star he worked with in Water for Elephants: the pining lasted throughout the book as did my unfulfilled hope that it would get better.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Dogs of Courage (dogs, talents/jobs)

Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World by Lisa Rogak (Thomas Dunne Books, 273 pages, 2012, $14.99) 

Lisa Rogak has the most thoroughly researched books I have ever come across. Each is like a textbook. I would even like to see her write a textbook – I, for one, would read it, no matter the subject!

Dogs of Courage tells us about the work and training of police dogs; fire dogs; search and rescue (SAR) dogs; guide, service and assistance dogs; therapy dogs; prison dogs (trained in prisons); disease detection dogs; and civilian and celebrity dogs (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Broadway dogs). Some of the chapters I was well-acquainted with but others were eye-opening and provided much detail.

Each chapter profiles up to three dogs whose ‘jobs’ fall within the topic of that chapter. 

However, the profiles are printed in smaller font and on gray pages (not white), making them a bit harder to read, especially if one reads in bed at night. 

As a matter of fact, it might be more fascinating to have most of the book composed of profiles (but not too many) with just a few pages of explanation rather than the other way around.

Complete citations for text footnotes appear at the end of the book, as well as canine organizations with their websites, and a reference section of related books (but a few people mentioned in the body of the book for some reason did not merit an entry in the resources section).

Dogs of Courage would almost be a godsend to anyone writing a term paper. Maybe a one-stop shopping trip – at least a grand beginning.

Rogak provides incredible detail – so much that it is almost mind-boggling. Perhaps the information would make a more lasting impression if she had given more space to real stories of dogs rather than the almost too numerous quotes by numerous people and only a few real stories. It was almost as if she had so much material, she was bound and determined to include all of it – quotes and all. Sometimes we writers need an excellent editor: it is so hard to edit down our own material because we think it is all great (but is it all necessary?). Sometimes briefer is better.

My take-away lessons are the brilliance of the canine nose, enabling dogs to detect odors days old in just minutes; the incredible adaptability of our dogs; and how few service dog candidates actually make it to graduation.

Dogs of Courage includes a chapter on wildlife detection dogs. Did you know that black Lab Tucker, the orca-whale-poop-detection dog, is successful in part because he is afraid of the water (so he stays in the boat)?

This book could absolutely excite you about more than one type of ‘job’ for dogs and help you decide what ‘job’ to train your dog for. Now all we need is a similar book on dog sports!

Truly an encyclopedia of dogs in one volume. Thank you, Lisa.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Dogs of War (dogs, military)

Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs by Lisa Rogak (Thomas Dunne Books, 258 pages, 2011, $14.99) 

How better to get buy-in into a book than to begin with Cairo, the dog on the Osama bin Laden mission who helicoptered in, in dead of night? In the first chapter, Cairo ‘tells’ his own story.

Did you know that all military working dogs (MWDs) are first trained as patrol dogs and then either explosives-detection (for IEDs) or narcotics-detection? This is just one of the fascinating facts about MWDs that you will learn in Dogs of War.

How Lisa Rogak obtained such quick and thorough access to military dog trainers and handlers, being from outside the military, is rather incredible (I tried as a soldier and dog trainer myself).

The book opens with the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, written from the point of view of Cairo (the MWD). Though fabricated (dogs don’t talk, and, MWDs, especially, don’t talk about their missions!), the scenario is probably close to or ‘right on’ as far as what really happened and shows us what an MWD is capable of doing.

Rogak covers dogs of war and their use historically, their training, veterinary care, bonding with handlers, deployments and, finally, retirement. Although I saw MWDs from different nations when I was deployed, I was amazed at what Dogs of War showed MWDs do. Their sense of smell is many times better than ours, and they can maneuver into places we can’t, due to their smaller size.

Bound and determined to attribute facts correctly to their speakers, Rogak goes overboard at times. She spells out each rank completely and each time, rather than defining its abbreviation the first time and then using the abbreviation.

In addition, she identifies a soldier by his unit which becomes a bit cumbersome and irrelevant because even those of us in the military don’t know the locations of all units. I often would have preferred the geographic location (the state) to the unit name, particularly when it interrupts the flow of the quote.

The author often mentions or quotes directly from the Field Manual as if there is only one. There are actually numerous field manuals, each with their unique title and number, referred to by their number (e.g., according to FM 3-19). If Rogak had referred to them this way, we would have felt that she really understood the military (even as her ‘Notes’ and ‘Resources’ sections are quite thorough though her major sources are the media.)

In addition, she overuses quotes, as if to give credit to everyone who talked with her, even if they didn’t have much to contribute. In one chapter, she quotes four different people in the space of four paragraphs, leading to choppiness and lack of depth.

I felt the book would be more academic if it held more prose and fewer interruptions, if it focused less on quotes and quotees than on the facts and human-interest stories.

Did you know that dogs are the only living item in the military inventory and that they receive a rank one rank higher than their handler? So, if the Army handler is Sergeant Snuffy, his (or her) dog would be Staff Sergeant Canine.

A dog-handler team is just as valuable to a patrol as the medic is and canine equipment illustrates their importance – from goggles to cameras to cooling vests and armored vests to booties and even Kongs. It is said that it takes 10 soldiers to do the work of 1 MWD and the fact that the military invests more money in training a MWD than in training a soldier attests to their value.

Each chapter in Dogs of War also profiles one to three actual dogs: however, their stories are written in smaller font on gray pages not white, so they can be a bit difficult to read.

Did you know that not all handler-dog teams are ‘for life’? Did you know that dogs are assigned to handlers based on personality? If you read Dogs of War, you will!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Comparing Books on the Same Topic

At least three books came out at nearly the same time on the popular topic of military dogs – which one to buy if you only buy one?

And then there’s the Rin Tin Tin book, almost a military dog book.

I like to review several books on the same topic so you can make an educated purchase: here are two on working dogs. (When I finish the other two books on military working dogs [MWDs], I will repost Dogs of War with them.)

Tomorrow, Dogs of War and the following day, Dogs of Courage, both by Lisa Rogak.

Now, on with the war!?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Blue House Dog (dog, children's)

The Blue House Dog, by Deborah Blumenthal, Peachtree Publishing, 2010, $15.95, children 4-8. 

Bones, a German Shepherd Dog mix with one brown eye and one sapphire blue eye, used to live with an old man in an ocean blue house. When the old man dies, Bones becomes the neighborhood stray.

“When you lose someone who’s as close as your own skin, the only place you can find him again is hidden inside your memories,” Bones seems to whimper so softly.

This is the heart-warming story of how a boy slowly adopts the neighborhood stray after his own canine best friend dies and how Bones adopts the boy who feeds him.

This is the story that shows how only ‘slow and gentle’ works with dogs. Blue House Dog can open a conversation about how dogs show their feelings through their actions and body language.

Season follows season and finally, “Bones comes around every day now.”

“Each day he stays a little longer.”

Bones becomes Blue, complete with a blue bandana, but he is no longer blue because now he has a boy to call his own.

“Dogs find their way inside you and you want to keep them there.”

Young readers will try to find Bones depicted on nearly every page and will smile wisely when they do. The illustrations are reminiscent of books from 50 or more years ago full of primary colors – red, yellow, and, of course, blue!

(This review appeared in Yankee Dog, Fall 2010, and GRREAT News Jul-Aug 2010.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: Mostly Bob (dog, memoir)

Mostly Bob, Tom Corwin (New World Library, 144 pages, 2006, $12.95, ages 8 and up)

Mostly Bob is a huge canine love story in a little red book.

What do Morley Safer, Bonnie Raitt, Richard Pryor, Joanne Woodward, Ian Dunbar, and Marc Bekoff have in common with me? We all love Mostly Bob!

Mostly Bob is a most unusual book! Have you ever read a book with one sentence per page, with flip-art so that when you rapidly flip through the pages of the book, the silhouette dog in the bottom right-hand corner wags his tail when you get to the good part of his life as he walks across the page? Just those experiences are worth the price of this little tome!

How does one person (Corwin) manage to live next door to a man who ignores his outside dog, Red – for nine years? A dish of dog food once a day, no human kindness, no contact, not even a bath. . . . .

Then Red, the golden retriever, perhaps realized that Corwin’s own dog had recently died, for Red comes over to Corwin’s yard for the first time ever. Over time, he eventually lies on Corwin’s deck, eventually gets fed, eventually gets a bath, eventually moves into Corwin’s house and home and heart.  Neither of them would ever be the same again. Neither will anyone who reads this little book.

Red becomes Bob.

How a dog can change his world and that of those around him, including those who read this little book is a love story of the canine kind.

I like to read children’s books about dogs to my dog Sam. Mostly Bob is one I read out loud. My golden retriever loves it, too!

I wish it were also a children’s picture book and a short story so that more people could have access to reading it, loving it and learning from Bob, one line at a time, one page at a time.

Children will especially like the dog silhouette on each page. Flipping through the book quickly makes the dog’s tail wag after he comes to live with and love Corwin. The little boy next door to me flips through the book over and over again as he tells me the story of Bob. 

Now he calls our Sam, Bob!

You, too, can be one of the many celebs and ordinary people who read the extraordinary Mostly Bob and love Bob’s inspirational life of patience and love - and fall in love with his memory and this loving tribute. I did.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: Dogtown (dogs, rescue/shelter)

Dogtown, A Sanctuary for Rescued Dogs, by Bob Somerville, $16.95, 2008, 80 pages, Sellers Publishing.

Who hasn’t heard of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – that premier animal safehaven in a red-rock canyon in the high dry desert outside Kanab, Utah? Who hasn’t seen the National Geographic television series, Dogtown? Who isn’t at least familiar with the nation’s best known and perhaps largest animal sanctuary? Or read their inspiring glossy bi-monthly magazine?

Whether you have or haven’t, this book is a coffee table book to keep and show. It recounts the history of Dogtown, displays a beautiful gallery of full-page canine portraits, explains why the dog homes are octagonal. A chapter on Rescue, Recovery, and Renewal (From Crisis to Comfort) even opens with meatballs for breakfast!

The Best Friends Animal Society has sheltered Katrina animals, cared for and rehabilitated 22 Michael Vick “Victory” dogs, and rescued thousands of other animals, some famously, including numerous deserving puppy mill dogs. With a daily census of about 2000 animals, including 400 dogs currently, dogs of all ages are spotlighted: many, available for adoption.

Where else do they give four tours daily and let the tour-goers stay to play with the dogs? Where else can an adult spend a four-week internship learning about animals (and one species in particular, doing a special project) or a vacation helping deserving dogs live a life of digging, running, swimming, or just chilling out with favorite buddies or people?

If this book doesn’t move you to donate more of your time to helping man’s best friend, I’ll eat my leash!
See also DogTown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption by Stefan Bechtel, (340 pp, 2009) and Best Friends: The True Story of the World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen (284 pp, 2001).

(This review appeared in Yankee Dog, Fall 2010, and GRREAT News, Sep-Oct 2010.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review: Healing Companions (dogs, service dogs)

Healing Companions – Ordinary Dogs and their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives, by Jane Miller, 2010, 256 pp, New Page Books and Career Press, $16.99 
A cover photo cute enough to die for and a stunning title and subtitle that made me pick this book up to see what it was about: ‘Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives.’ Wow!

Reading about a new kind of service dog, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs), appealed to me because I had met one at Walter Reed Army Medical Center shortly after I returned from Afghanistan.

Miller writes as if she were three different people writing three different types of books – she instructs, she informs, she inspires: she writes almost a manual or cookbook about how to select and train a PSD; she has compiled a wealth of information in the seven-plus appendices with resources, websites, and a bibliography on PSDs; and she writes in narrative form about real people and their psychiatric service dogs and actually elicits strong emotional feelings in the reader in the chapter on retiring a PSD (in other words, I became teary-eyed).

Miller is a therapist and a dog trainer – both these skills come through on every page. Her caring about the dog and the person, as well as other significant people in their life, comes through on every page.

And through it all she emphasizes two points – the trusting, loving bond between dog and person (both directions), and the positive reinforcement ‘method’ of training dogs which is so necessary in order to cultivate and maintain that bond.

A PSD is trained to assist someone with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), bipolar disorder, panic disorder, or depression, among others. The definition is a service dog trained individually to mitigate the effects of their disabled partner’s psychiatric disabilities by performing specific tasks.

When I read the following sentence explaining the first thing Miller did after she finally bought a house, I knew I had met a kindred soul: “My first priority was to get a dog; furniture could wait (p 19).“

Miller then proceeds to tell us how she stumbled upon this specialty (PSDs) and made it her life’s purpose.

If you read this book just for the glossary, or just for the list of service tasks for psychiatric disabilities that PSDs can perform, or even just for the incredibly complete resource section, it will be time well spent: the chapters on selecting a canine candidate and training your PSD will then be an added bonus to slowly savor over and over.

You will also learn more about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) definition of disability, including invisible disabilities. You will learn invaluable hints to deal with a leash breaking or how to tactfully diffuse a situation when someone challenges whether or not your dog is necessary and, thus, allowed in a restaurant (“The only questions you are required to answer are whether or not you are disabled [though you do not need to provide the particulars about your disability], if your dog is a pet or a service dog, and what your PSD is task trained to do. . . .” [p 97]).

What didn’t I like? Not much. I did mix up the dogs and their people – Miller related several case histories in two chapters and then referred back to them in another but by then I had forgotten who was the person and who was the dog as well as the particulars about each team. Secondly, this book is softcover – I want a spiral-bound copy so I can highlight more easily and write notes in the margins.

What did I like? Great chapter titles!  And Miller tells it like it is. Having a dog does cost money and time – attention, walks, feeding, grooming and love.  The person must monitor stress in a working dog and be able to alleviate it (“Dogs Have Issues Too: Helping Your Dog Cope with Stress”). It can be difficult to retire a service dog and bid farewell (for both dog and person) – after all, you are breaking up a team (“The Golden Years: When to Hang up the Leash”). An ongoing partnership must exist not only between person and dog but also among the trainer, therapist and veterinarian.  Since a PSD is not a pet, the family and other animals must be able to adjust to and accept this new relationship (“Member of the Family: Helping Everyone Get Along”). I especially like “Sit, Stay, Soothe: Training Your New Companion.”

Healing Companions will open up a new world for many people!

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, May-Jun 2011.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Give The Dog a Bone (dog, mystery)

Give the Dog a Bone, An Allie Babcock Mystery, by Leslie O'Kane, 2002, paperback, Fawcett/Ballantine/Random House 

Lately, I've been reading 'outside the box.' Instead of dog training and behavior books (non-fiction), I've tried to sample canine mysteries and children's dog stories. I even waded through a romance novel that purportedly had dogs and spies somewhere in its pages.

I spied Give the Dog a Bone as I was leaving the library so I grabbed it. Surprisingly, it was good. I read it overnight.

Many dog novels barely mention the dog. Give the Dog had dogs in every chapter. The main character is a dog trainer who specializes in behavior problems and calls herself a dog therapist (though the back cover refers to Allie as a canine shrink) with three dogs herself (Sage, Doppler and Pavlov - and T-Rex is a changeling black lab).

And best of all, most of the dog references in the book concern positive reinforcement (reward-based training rather than force-based training). And, for 2002, that was more rare than today.

I held my breath at Allida's first session with Ken and his golden retriever Maggie when the trainer pulled two devices out of her bag (page 29). I was dreading the choke chain and shock collar. So, imagine my delight when she pulled out a clicker and Gentle Leader head collar! Yippy Skippy!

I would recommend this book for trainers to give their mystery-fan clients who can't finish a boring dog training manual. It's a quick read. Trainer and client can then discuss why Allida's gentle, dog-friendly training really works so well compared to popular TV shows.

This book has it all in Boulder, Colorado: a female sleuthhound, a dead millionaire, trailer park bodies and bones, stolen drugs (acepromazine and Chlomicalm), psychics in purple, a dead ex-wife who suddenly re-appears, separation anxiety, a neglected Akita, rambunctious JRTs, thunderphobia, desensitization, phosphorous pellets, HypnoReiki, stolen answering machines, an adversarial veterinarian - I can't wait for the movie!

As for me, I'm going to buy Ruff Way to Go and Play Dead for my next weekend at the beach!

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, May-Jun 2011.)