Late December of last year I walked into Barnes & Noble with no intention of buying any books and walked out with Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell. I’m a sucker for stories about animals, especially those found at shelters. Granted, this is a straightforward story about animals in needing a home, but it’s also a highly-visual mix of comic strips and photos. And, in the end, it’s an emotive tearjerker that works.
I had not heard of the Mutts comic strip prior to my purchase, but of course I’ve since done some research. The popular strip, which Charles Schultz said was “one of the best comic strips of all time,” follows Earl the dog and Mooch the cat, and their adventures with their humans and the many animals in their neighborhood. On occasion, the Mutts strip will focus instead on animal rescue issues, and will feature an entirely different cast that is no less endearing or humorous. In Mutts Shelter Stories, we meet Chickpea and his brother, eternal optimists who think it “impossible” that no one would adopt them. We also meet Lenny, who tries to sell every visitor on his endearing qualities: he would make a great guard dog, he gets along with cats and with children, and he’s eager to please. Gee, he’ll even dance for you! We also meet human characters such as Bill who has not yet adopted, but has already visited the shelter. He can’t get one particular cat out of his mind. He hopes she’ll still be there. He knows that they’ll have a wonderful life together. We also hear from humans who have already chosen to adopt, such as Emma, who used to live alone but now has a “lovely new man around the house”. Sadly, just as in real life, there seem to be more animals to adopt than humans who want to adopt. Happily, many of the huge featured cast do end up in forever homes.
Mixed in with these fictional comics are photos of real animals, accompanied by captions that share their true heartwarming stories. There’s Allen the cat who came to the shelter as a stray just before Christmas. His owner adopted him to ensure that his last days were spent in peace and comfort. Tilly the dog was found abandoned and tied to a tree. His owners found their perfect match in this happy, loving, and sensitive girl. Through full-page photos, McDonnell is able to indirectly but effectively convey the many varied ways animals end up in need of homes, such as: being too big, born on the streets, abandoned when their owners move away, or one pet too many in an overcrowded home. He’s also able to show reasons why some animals are overlooked for adoption, such as: being shy, black, or old. McDonnell even dedicates a section to those pets who lose their homes during storms. Having been the proud owner of guinea pigs (two of which came from shelters), I’m pleased that McDonnell didn’t limit his shelter residents to dogs and cats, but also included guinea pigs, ferrets, and rabbits. Last, the photos also show the diversity among types of adopted pets, such as: ferals, strays, and seniors.
Should the comics and photos inspire readers to want to adopt, Shelter Stories is the whole package. The book’s introduction, written by the president of the Humane Society of the United States, explains why pets are important and how one can help their cause. The back pages include a HSUS adoption guide. McDonnell, who is himself a board member of various animal welfare organizations, refers in his author’s note to the 10 million animals who end up in our shelters each year. His own Jack Russell terrier, Earl, was the inspiration for the Mutts character of the same name and was adopted from a shelter. And his cat, Not Ootie, is a former feral. In Mutts Shelter Stories, clearly McDonnell writes from the heart. The result is an entertaining and inspiring book that any pet owner will be glad to own.
The last story is about Tugs. He writes: “What are you waiting for? Me! It’s a no-brainer.” Mutts Shelter Stories is also the perfect present for the undecided pet owner. It’ll encourage them to “adopt some love today”.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?