Book Reviews

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.

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.)

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.)

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.)

Reviews: Three Loyal Dogs (Hachi, Shep, and Greyfriar's Bobby) (dogs, memoirs)

Who doesn’t love a good canine loyalty love story? Here are three!

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (movie: 2009) and Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner (2004), 32 pp., ages 4-8, $6.99, Houghton Mifflin. 

Hachi, starring Richard Gere, retells the remarkable story of a loyal, loving dog (a Shiba Inu).  Each day, the dog walks his owner, a professor, to the commuter train station and each afternoon, he meets the train, until one day, due to a heart attack at work, the man does not return. Hachi, however, waits for his owner’s return for more than 10 years even though the family tries to entice him home before eventually moving away.

The book Hachiko tells the original story set in 1930s Japan by a 6-year-old boy who actually met Hachiko the Akita. Simple color drawings, most of them with Hachiko somewhere on the page for young readers to find (!), make this a lovely book to keep and to kindle conversations of canine love, loyalty, waiting, and the subsequent love and attention of a nation.

Also for children, Hachiko Waits, by Newman (2006), 96 pp, ages 9-12, $6.99, Square Fish Publishing, and Hachiko: The True Story of The Royal Dogs of Japan and One Faithful Akita, by Chrystyn (2009), 53 pp, ages 9-12, $7.95, Phoenix Books. 

Shep: Our Most Loyal Dog, by Sneed Collard (2006), 32 pp, ages 4-8, $16.95, Sleeping Bear Press.

An American story of similar canine devotion began in Fort Benton, Montana, during the Depression. Shep, a sheepherding dog, lives a great shepherd dog’s life on the plains with his shepherd until the man suddenly becomes ill, dies, and his body is taken away by train. 

“And so began the great wait.” 

Shep stood vigil at the train station, greeting each arriving passenger train for many years until he died. The lonesome dog’s legend grew until the Great Northern Railway had to hire someone just to read Shep’s mail. Like Hachi/Hachiko, a statue now stands at the Fort Benton train station to honor one dog’s devotion and the love of a nation.

Also for adults, Shep: Forever Faithful, by Stewart Beveridge (2005), 319 pp, $14.95, Grove Creek Publications. 

And finally, in Scotland, the story of Greyfriars Bobby who guarded his master’s grave until his end. In 1961, Walt Disney introduced us to this Skye (no relation to the reviewer!<G>) Terrier who also is honored by a statue (in Edinburgh, Scotland)Check out Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson for a classical tale of this loyal pup. 

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

Book Reviews: You Had Me at Woof, and, Love at First Bark - Excellent and Not (dogs, memoirs)

Some authors have only one book in them – but what a book! A good, best-selling author writes magically, has a unique story to tell and knows to go home when the party is over.

Some authors write more than one book but have only one good book in them. Julie Klam is one such author. I simply adored You Had Me at Woof so I eagerly picked up Love at First Bark and found out she has written other books as well. Unfortunately, Klam has only one good book in her – Woof. At least it saved me from the others.

Below you will find both books reviewed, Woof, first.

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happinessby Julie Klam (228 pp, 2010, $24.95, Riverhead Books [Penguin])

Whoever said that you can’t tell a book by its cover was right! I passed right by Woof many times in my local bookstore and, frankly, just wasn’t interested after seeing the cover – wrong breed and a little dog at that. I am not a BostonTerrier person (like the cover dog): I’m a Golden Retriever and Lab person, a big dog person.

Fortunately for me, my local library has Woof so I could read it but now I am going to buy it so I can reread it – and keep it!

A 30-something woman working part-time in New York City living in a small apartment, without a boyfriend, gets a dog and, by Chapter 2, is married with a little girl on the way.  She eventually becomes involved with a Boston Terrier rescue organization as well as the ensuing hilarious characters and situations that will have you laughing out loud.

Woof is funny, heartfelt, well-written and just about perfect – in other words, charming.  And if you want a tear-jerker, Woof is that, too. From the senior dog the vet believes has Cushing’s disease but turns out to be pregnant, to the author’s daughter Violet naming the new puppies Wisteria and Fiorello, you will laugh until you cry.

But you will also learn about the trials and tribulations of having a dog and that being involved in dog rescue teaches us how dogs make our lives just a little livelier and lovelier and more worth living.
Somehow, Klam weaves just the right word-pictures to describe her family and their dogs’ antics and her new-found volunteer work rescuing Bostons.

Even when one of her own dogs dies and she waxes eloquently about the human-animal bond, her words fit brilliantly well together to explain what others can only attempt.

Woof is another 24-hour book. You will read it non-stop and wish there were a sequel!
- - - - - -
Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, by Julie Klam (2011, Riverhead Books, 170pp, $22.95)

Since Love at First Bark was written by the same woman who wrote You Had Me at Woof — almost the funniest and most heart-warming book of 2011 — I had high expectations for Love. My expectations were dashed.

At her best, Klam is hilarious when writing about mundane everyday things: she makes us feel nice and warm and fuzzy inside with her magic prose. She makes doing the laundry suspenseful.

And Klam has a daughter you will love - Violet names her dogs after flowers!

Klam also has the relaxing knack of opening a book or chapter with pages of lovely word-pictures that have you guessing at what the chapter will actually turn out to be about!

Love is a small book with three chapters, each about a different dog “rescue” situation in New York City (author Klam fosters Boston Terriers and has three “interesting” Bostons). I read the shortest story first, which was the third one. I don’t remember what it was about. The second, “My Darling Clementine,” was quite good, but the opening vignette, “Morris, The Pit Bull – Couples Therapist!” quite literally took the cake. It was that good — Klam at her best like she was in Woof.

An interesting cover photo of a (probably) Chocolate/Yellow (depends on which cover you buy)

Lab is especially interesting since neither the dog in story one, a Pit Bull, nor the dog in story two, a Boston Terrier, resemble the cover dog. There is no one dog in story three — just a trip to New Orleans and visits to dog shelters there.

I have often thought that everything has a cover photo of a Golden Retriever or a Lab because those breeds are so photogenic and popular and, yes, it works. I buy just about anything with one of those two breeds on the cover! I guess I’m just the average American sucker of a dog-person for good advertising strategy.

However, besides a great first chapter and a good second one, the immediate inside front and back pages sport a colorful collage of dogs, including a Pit Bull, a Boston Terrier, and, yes, the requisite Lab and Golden!

It seems nowadays that almost all books cost the same, no matter how many pages or how well written. This is a short book in more ways than one.

(This latter review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jan-Feb 2012.)

Book Reviews: Lost and Found, and Picture This (dog, chick-books)

Lost and Found by Jacqueline Sheehan (Avon Books, 2007, 307 pp, $13.95 PB)

Picture This by Jacqueline Sheehan (Avon Books, 2012, 400 pp, $14.99 PB)

Definitely chick-books but archery does play a major part, especially in the first book, Lost and Found. A 39-year-old psychologist is widowed (lost) and relocates to an island off the Maine coast, becomes the animal control officer, and finds the dog who ‘heals’ her. Just how this all occurs takes a few hundred pages and will result in a third book in the series, I’m sure.

Picture This features a young photographer and a ‘possible’ new member of the family (not a baby) as well as plenty to be scared about – in a good way.

Chapters oscillate among the half dozen or so female characters of all ages (bravo!), and the dog. The reading is fairly slow but you will continue, hoping it improves which it does: about 50 pages from the end, the narrative becomes quick and quite suspenseful.

The dog chapters – just a few – add something new and charming to the literature of dogs but mostly the human characters live parallel lives. And perhaps the best feature of each book is the cover!

I have decided not to read any more of Sheehan but I’m sure she has a devoted following. Just look at the reviews on Amazon. Who knows – you may just become one of them!

Book Review: Is My Dog a Wolf? (dog book, children's)

Is My Dog a Wolf? How Your Pet Compares to its Wild Cousin, by Jenni Bidner, $9.95, 2006, 64 pp, Lark Books. (ages 6 and up) (2006 ASPCA® Henry Bergh Children's Book Award in the 'Non-Fiction Companion Animals' category) 

Is My Dog a Wolf?

In a word, “No.” And anyone who continues to use outdated wolf terms like “dominant dog,” “alpha roll,” or “alpha dog” when talking about man’s best friend has not paid attention to advances in dog training or wolf observation in the past few decades.

Written by a Search and Rescue (SAR) dog handler from the upper Mid-West, Is My Dog a Wolf? abounds with story-telling photos on every page. You will surely find YOUR dog depicted somewhere in this book, if only in behavior (chewing, digging, playing fetch).

Bidner provides an antidote to the wolf myths and outdated wolf ‘facts’ that still proliferate on TV and in fairy tales - or are spewed about by a few famous dog trainers (usually the traditional, force-based trainers). The author beautifully explains the similarities and differences in dogs and wolves. For example, wolves cannot be easily be trained as your family pet.

Over the centuries, dogs and wolves have evolved under different selection forces. Wolves are well-adapted for pack living: they hunt cooperatively, and aunts, uncles, and teen wolves help babysit and train the puppies.

On the other hand, dogs have been selected to live with a family of humans, to assist in hunting ducks or herding sheep or just for companionship (there are more than 300 breeds of dogs of all sizes, shapes, colors and temperaments for very different ‘jobs’). Wolves are happy only in the wild, while a dog likes to live in our home and considers our human family to be his pack.

When Fido chases Kitty (a real, live squeaky toy!), plays tug with you, digs in the wrong place in the backyard, chews the shoes you forgot to put in the closet, or barks at the delivery person, he is exhibiting remnants of wolf behavior. Both wolves and dogs have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, use body language including facial and tail expressions, and share the same hunting tools – their teeth. They both play-fight and sometimes even fight over food. But dogs bark more, even though some will howl like wolves. All these behaviors and more are explained and discussed in both photos and words.

For more information, check out the Minnesota Wildlife Science Center at, or to learn about the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

This book is an excellent portrayal of the differences and similarities between dogs and wolves, for children and adults alike. Had it also quoted Dr. L. David Mech, the foremost expert on wolves for the last 40 years, it would have been a perfect treatment. Even so, it is well worth keeping and provides much food for thought.

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

Book Review: Funds to the Rescue - Valuable Details of 101 Successful Ideas! (dogs, shelters, rescues)

Funds to the Rescue: 101 Fundraising Ideas for Humane and Animal Rescue Groups, Susan Daffron (Logical Expressions, 177 pages, 2009, $19.99)

Ever played Pup Chip Bingo? It’s similar to cow chip bingo. You take a field, mark it off in a grid, sell chances, and let the pupsters loose. The first pup to “make a deposit” on a square wins for the lucky person who owns that square - a fun fundraiser.

And don’t forget memorials, bequests, and grants. Or write and sell a canine cookbook.

My favorite fundraising ideas are Walk Naked (a dog named Naked) and Eat for Pete (at a restaurant - each year, a different dog is named Pete). Or sponsor a particular special needs dog for $10 a month.
For more great ideas, read on!
Funds to the Rescue is a book no rescue or shelter should be without.
Author Susan Daffron, a marketing and public relations expert, shares her worlds of experience with the world of animal volunteers.
Mostly-volunteer organizations may not have the luxury of a marketing position but this book can take the place of that highly paid person!
Each idea in Funds has proven to be successful AND Daffron gives us the name the shelter or rescue that used each project and just how successful it was! What a superb resource to be able to call upon: the people who actually put on the event and the animals who reaped the benefits – bound to save you time so you can spend more time saving animals.
Did I mention Daffron explains 101 ideas and includes icons for estimating the level of difficulty (a pawprint), the up-front cost (a moneybag), the planning time (a clock) required– all on a scale of 1-5. The project requiring the fewest personnel, the fourth icon, rates a 1-person-figure while projects needing more people to pull it off are given 5 person-figures.
But more than just a detailed list, Funds is also a blueprint for successful fundraising. Step-by-step, Daffron takes us through setting annual (and long-term) goals/objectives while avoiding volunteer burn-out; showing us how past donors can become future donors; delegating and thanking volunteers (and why); and what to do before, during and after an event.
She raises legal issues, illustrates the importance of ‘branding’ (without mentioning the term), and explains both the ‘marketing/fundraising funnel’ and ‘pyramid of giving’ to animal organizations.
How about a Fur Ball; an easy, quick, old-fashioned letter-writing campaign; or a murder mystery dinner that raised over $25,000 for one shelter? Partner with a business looking for a write-off, thus appearing more humane to customers or clients. Add a Wish List to your website. Sell stuff on eBay. Heck, sell a whole house! Nowadays you can get one cheap (but not for long).
I might have used catchier names for the projects, numbered them in the table of contents, and perhaps included a chart or list so a shelter or rescue could easily start with projects that might be the quickest or that require the least up-front resources (funds, planning and personnel) or modifications, but, on the whole, Funds fills a much needed gap!
Daffron also wrote Publicity to the Rescue (with 19 case studies) and Happy Hound: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Dog or Puppy (adorable cover photo). Another good source is Rescue Matters! by Sheila Boneham.
If you work or volunteer for a rescue or shelter and haven’t read a ‘How To’ book recently, it’s time for a brush-up.
And look into the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals,
You’ll be glad you did and so will the animals!
Caveat: these are methods and ideas for your organization to modify depending on your resources and needs. Even the steps can be personalized, as well as the level of difficulty for your group, the number of per­sonnel required, etc.
Funds is a start. A great start!

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, May-Jun 2012.)


Book Review: Tea and Dog Biscuits - Warm and Hilarious Rescue Stories (dogs, rescue)

Tea and Dog Biscuits: Our First Topsy-Turvy Year Fostering Orphan Dogs, by Barrie Hawkins (2010, Chicago Review Press, 254 pages, $14.95)

Tea and Dog Biscuits is the warm yet hilarious story of a country couple in England who decide to take in and re-home homeless, mostly German Shepherd dogs, to honor their elderly dog that recently passed away. The couple is not yet ready for another dog, but can provide for temporary canine visitors.

Dog rescues are plentiful in the US but what do we know of rescues in other countries? Do you know how to start a dog rescue?

Read about the young veterinarian who drives a puppy up from London rather than euthanize it, for a man whose girlfriend broke up with him and who now wants to retaliate by telling her the dog ran off.

Read the inspiring tales of the dying woman who wants her dog taken care of before she goes into the hospital for the last time, the homeless man who can no longer tend to his best friend, the junkyard dog who becomes a police K9, the dog who roams the roads after a man shoves him out of the car, the dog who spends more than 11 years living in a pen – and other seemingly horrendous stories of humanity’s inhumanity to our best friend that will inspire you.

However, Tea and Dog Biscuits is also a collection of the success stories from the couple’s first year and the wonderful families they help find the best-fitting dog for.

The Hawkins are good, good people. They take in dogs and, as much as possible, also accept those people who can’t be good to their dogs. The Hawkins love these dogs until they are ready to be re-homed – whether it is three weeks or several months later.

Tea also includes the mission statement this couple created with their beliefs and objectives. They post it on the door to be a daily reminder of why they do what they do.

Easily read as far as British books go (you can pretty well guess at vocabulary words like boot and barmy), Tea and Dog Biscuits will make you laugh and will inspire you well before you finish reading. You may just wish the book were longer than its 254 pages - I did!

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jan-Feb 2012.)


Book Review: Stay! Keeper's Story - A Keeper (dog book, children's)

Stay! Keeper’s Story, by Lois Lowry, 1997, Houghton Mifflin, 128 pp, $5.50 ($15 when first published as a hardback), ages 9-12. 
Have you ever met a canine connoisseur of French cuisine who writes poetry that ALMOST rhymes but will keep you giggling with glee? (Actually even a child can supply the final word to make each couplet rhyme before Keeper does. Keeper is a gem, of course, but still a dog, after all.)
Keeper is a dog born on the streets who leads three lives in succession, each with its bright spots and not-so-bright ones, peopled with canines and humans with their own realistic foibles.
With twinges of sadness but much more survival color and hope, and told from a dog’s ever-optimistic (almost vain) point of view, Stay! is a story you just might want to read again and again. Although it was written for children, it is a book you can read WITH your child and discuss with your child.
A thoughtful dog, Keeper periodically tries to find one of his littermates while surviving one adventure after another (living on the streets, becoming a media star, etc.), learning life along the way. 

Ever on the look-out also for a child he might call his own, Keeper could easily be a golden retriever – he is about the right size and color and even sports a flag-wav­ing 5th-appendage, a ‘lovely tail’ (in his own words).
On page 81, Keeper meets a young girl he might like to make his own: 

“I moved my lovely tail back and forth for her to admire.
“She had a similar tail of hair at the back of her head, and she swung hers back and forth in reply. I looked at it, carefully assessing it as a rival tail. But human tails do not compare with those of dogs. Hers was tied rather messily with a band of ribbon, and there was something that looked like a wad of chewing gum near the end. I do have to deal with burrs and other intrusions from time to time, so I understood the problem. Still it did not appear that she had even tried to gnaw it loose.
“When she smiled at me, I saw that her front teeth were missing, which obviously accounted for her failure in adequate grooming. Perhaps she had been in a terrible fight.”
Lowry has written more than 30 books for young adults, among them the Anastasia series and the Newbery-award winning Number the Stars and The Giver (the latter has appeared on the Banned Books list along with To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Anne Frank, and Huck Finn!). 

She is an author well worth getting to know and Keeper is a dog with a history you will remember. 

The only thing I might change about Stay! is for Keeper to definitely be a golden retriever! 
(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jul-Aug 2012.)


Book Review: The Puppy Diaries - A Great Cover! (dog memoir)

The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scoutby Jill Abramson (2011, Henry Holt and Company, $22, 242 pp) 

Whoever said, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” was right! The Puppy Diaries has an adorable white (platinum blonde) golden retriever puppy on the cover: the book inside, however, does not quite measure up to the promise on the outside.
Abramson, an editor at The New York Times, had an incredibly successful column on the paper’s website about her first year of living with Scout, her puppy named after the sprite in the classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
Perhaps the periodic web updates during Scout’s first year were popular because they were unique - following a new puppy in real-time, with all the trials and tribulations and training sessions and puppy kisses, too! What a wonderful idea! And many readers sent in their own photos and anecdotes so the web column was a shared experience in NYC and across the country. Why would the book not be as successful? It just wasn’t.
This is a quick, light read: you can probably get through all 242 pages in one evening, if you don’t end up reading slower and slower. . . .
Abramson drops a lot of names, especially dog-people names from the entire spectrum of scientists, trainers, behaviorists, PhDs, but fails to put their ideas and findings into perspective. For example, Cesar Millan (whom she refers to throughout and is even photographed with), Karen Pryor,            Dr. Katherine Houpt, Dr. Karen Overall, Turid Rugaas, Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Marc Bekoff, Victoria Stillwell, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, the monks of New Skete – from reward-based training to the old-fashioned but still practiced force-based training. Fortunately, Scout was trained using rewards. (I did notice that the author never referred to the PhDs as PhDs, either, with the exception of Dr. Overall)
The Puppy Diaries starts off with a very lengthy portion devoted to Abramson’s childhood and her first dog as an adult, Buddy, a Westie (who appears over and over) – very different in size and personality to a Golden like Scout – and an acci­dent during her more recent dogless years. Several dog books today dwell on the author’s personal life more than life with the dog. I guess because people write the books, not dogs.
Abramson and her husband are better than average dog owners (they used a Gentle Leader and Henry actually attend­ed Pryor’s ClickerExpo in California) but still made some common everyday mistakes – starting training late, not acclimat­ing Scout to the city (NYC) early enough to prevent some problems. Scout is an easy dog, a golden who quickly became house­trained but still had to occasionally attend (and loved!) dog day care (in Scout’s case, Biscuits and Bath in NYC) for dog socialization and to expend canine energy with her buddies.

Is The Puppy Diaries worth the $22 price tag? The cover photo may be. The website, may be all you need. It is very nice.

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jul-Aug 2012.)


Book Review: Bailey - My Kind of Dog! (dog book, children's)

Bailey by Harry Bliss (the New Yorker magazine’s cover artist and cartoonist), Scholastic Press, 2011, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 3 and up)

Bailey The Dog is always late for the school bus – in the morning because he can’t decide whether to wear the blue collar or the red collar (you gotta look cool in school, you know!) but also in the afternoon (school ends with Reading Time which always makes Bailey sleepy).
But he just can’t wait for tomorrow and more school because, unlike his human buddies, Bailey just loves school. He even brings a bone for the teacher!
Bailey is a light colored pup with muddy brown smudges. All the kids  at his multicultural school want to sit by him at lunch though nobody wants to trade a sandwich for a bone.
Bailey is Everydog and gets into trouble just like every dog would - in school, that is. His best subject is Nature because during that class he can dig and chase squirrels. He even eats his own homework!
Plenty of creative situations let the young reader tell you more about - lots of unique items in the simple drawings add life and conversation to Bailey The Book.

Though your average 3-year-old may not yet identify with elementary school, I’ll bet she can’t wait for the next Bailey book to come out (Bailey at the Museum)! Everyone loves Bailey!
[This review also appeared in GRREAT News, March-April, 2013 (, page 13), and September-October 2012!]

Book Review: Suspect 

He Got The DOG Right! (dog book, novel)

He Got the DOG Right! Yippy Skippy!

Suspect, by Robert Crais (Putnam, 312 pages, 2013, $28) 

Grading Suspect

I would have given this novel an A+ if only Robert Crais hadn’t mentioned the term, alpha, quite so often (‘alpha’ being outdated and now disproven). Instead, Suspect merits only an A. But what an A!

What did Crais get right?

The body language of a dog. The fact that you can’t reinforce fear. Why you should talk to your dog and often – your dog will not understand your words but will understand your tone. How a dog can see your heart in your eyes - and dogs are drawn to our hearts (from page 235).

And more.

The bottom of page 58 was music (paraphrased) to this reward-based trainer’s ears: The best dog training is based on the reward system. You should not punish your dog for doing wrong but reward your dog for doing right. When your dog does something you want, you reinforce the behavior with a reward – pet’m, tell’m he’s a good dog, let’m play with a toy. The standard reward for a K-9 working dog is a hard plastic ball with a hole drilled through it where you can smear a little peanut butter.

What’s it all about?

The long road back. Two injured beings – one, a wounded military working dog whose handler was killed in Afghanistan, and the other, a wounded policeman whose partner was killed on duty in Los Angeles – each being was present during the respective incident and sustained not only physical injuries but also emotional injuries. The question now is: Can these two beings heal each other?

The long road back - to what? Normalcy?

A fearful man, a fearful dog. A man who seeks retribution and forgiveness and must help a dog heal in order to do so. A who-dun-it with a smattering of romance, considerable escalating danger and can’t-put-it-down suspense. In other words, a darn good book.

For whom?

I recommend Suspect for dog trainers to recommend to clients with a fearful or reactive dog and for anyone interested in the canine-human bond or who wants to learn how to train a dog to associate unexpected sounds (e.g.) with a positive experience - like bologna! And, of course, anyone who likes a good suspenseful story.

Yes, I noticed some inconsistencies in the book (I’m a dog trainer and a veteran, after all) but, regardless, the reader will gloss over them as I did (it is a novel, after all) and nothing detracts significantly from the brilliance of the writing and of the plot and of the suspense and of the dog-ness. You have heard of poetic license, haven’t you?

Although 2013 is not even half over, I suspect Suspect will be in my Top Ten for 2013. Thanks, Chan, for recommending it.

Caveat: I must admit that I cannot yet read the prologue. I was deployed to Afghanistan where the prologue takes place. I’m sorry. I tried to read it – twice.

Book Review: Wild 

I'm Wild About Wild! 

(not a dog book, exactly)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed (Alfred A. Knopf, 315 pages, 2012, $26)

I had seen this book with the one hiking boot on the cover and passed it by even though it was a best seller but suddenly I became curious when I saw the cover again – why ONE hiking boot? I found the answer in the prologue and realized I simply had to read the rest of the book.

If you are a hiker (female or male), if you live in Minnesota or Oregon or California, if you have ever dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), if you are a mother, if you have a mother or if you had a mother, if, . . .  if. . . . you simply must read Wild, the story of a 25-year-old woman trying to find her way in the world after her mother’s sudden death from cancer - four years previously.

Wild is a love story about Strayed and her mother as well as a tale about the anger she still harbored that her mother died so suddenly, so young. Strayed’s marriage is crumbling and she is also unable to keep her siblings together, as her mother once managed to do so graciously.

So, what does Strayed do? She decides to hike the PCT, alone, without ever even having gone on a day hike.

An amazingly hilarious read, yet I remain astonished that Strayed would undertake such a journey, 1100 miles, alone, and so ill-prepared (she admitted it with all the funny and tragic details).  She had never been backpacking before and packed so full-to-overflowing that she could barely lift her backpack much less walk with it.

Nevertheless, she took along James Joyce’s Dubliners and persevered through hiking boots that were too small and the consequent blisters and searing heat and blisters and snow and blisters and calluses and snakes and bears and strangers who became friends and never having enough money at the resupply stops. In other words, this is a true tale about a young woman growing up and I loved it.

Wild will be made into a movie and I can’t wait! (Reese Witherspoon)

Wild is an entertaining, sometimes hilarious, always uplifting read. So good, that I bought another of Strayed's titles!

Book Review: 

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman, Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages, 2009, $22) 

The first collection of entertaining essays inspired by the witty weekly columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Chick Wit,” penned by that golden retriever-loving legal mystery writer from Philly, Lisa Scottoline, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog will have you in stitches, saying to yourself, “Yeah, life’s like that!”

Yes, life is like that, but in the words of Scottoline, life makes one laugh in spite of it all. She is one of the few authors skilled in two very different genres: mystery and humor.

Followed by My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman (2010); Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: the Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter (2011 with daughter Francesca Serretella); and Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim (2012 with Francesca), Why My Third Husband is fun and funny, engaging, charming, down-to-earth, and just like your life but with Scottoline’s Mother Mary, Father Frank, Daughter Francesca, Brother Frank who still lives with Mother Mary at age 51 and loves being gay in Florida, and Assistant Laura, but mostly this book is about Lisa’s life of ups and downs that she manages to turn into smiles along the way.

A grand book to read in bed, one chapter at a time, Why My Third Husband shares Scottoline’s goldens, corgis, chickens, cats, and Cavaliers; renovations to her house, visits with daughter and mother, and references to her first husband, Thing One, and second husband, Thing Two.

If I counted correctly, 89 delightful stories and amazing adventures (a handful with contributions by Daughter Francesca while at Harvard) that could happen to you, ordinary woman, if you too had suffered through five years of rejection notices on the way to becoming a best-selling author of 17 novels!

But Scottoline is no ordinary woman. She is a genuine and entertaining presenter on book tours and in interviews and generous to book clubs. Just like a book reviewer wants an author to be – real.

As the book jacket says, Lisa lives with too many pets (my kind of person!), some of whom are cranky that they didn’t make the cover of this book. My only question is: who is the dog on the front cover?

(Photo credit: April Narby)

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