The Man Who Talks to Dogs by Melinda Roth will make you mad—in a good way. It’ll stir you to compassion and hopefully action, as you read the story of Randy Grim and his fight to save America’s abandoned dogs. Roth’s book also shows fine journalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and contains a lot of information not just about Grim but about a national problem.
I wasn’t sure initially that I could review this book. All I wanted to do is rage. Many of us are all too familiar with the fact that up to ten million pets are euthanized in shelters every year. We might also be aware of the despicable conditions of puppy mills, setups that pump out over 12,000 puppies per month into a society already faced with pet overpopulation. What many of us may be less aware of is that cities also often have up to fifty thousand strays. These are the dogs that Randy Grim set out to help, because these dogs don’t know how to survive on their own, fend for themselves, or hunt. As a result, these dogs who were once loved get to now watch each other slowly die of starvation.
The Man Who Talks to Dogs is set in St. Louis, where hand in hand with human poverty rose an issue all too common in destitute neighborhoods. Pet abandonment happens because people can’t afford to feed their dogs let alone get them spayed or neutered. It also happens when people buy dogs for protection and for fighting, but then dump their pets when they stop being able to fulfill this purpose. According to Roth, bait dogs make up a large portion of urban stray population. These are the smaller, weaker animals used to train the fighters. As for the fighters, they’ve had pepper shoved up their noses, been wrapped in chains, or been buried alive to make them mean. As inconceivable as it might seem, the fortunate ones are those who have been abandoned. Many of the others are made to suffer if they lose a fight by being locked in a closet to die.
According to Grim, because these dogs have been domesticated not to be mean, neglect and abuse makes them emotionally screwed up. Neglect drives them to not just root through garbage but even to eat their own puppies. As for abuse, when abused dogs are abandoned, is it any wonder they growl, snarl, and attempt to bite anyone who comes near? After a severe attack by strays on a boy in St. Louis, hundreds of strays were rounded up and killed. What angers me the most about the stray situation is that the fault rests solely with irresponsible pet owners. In other words, the problem could be prevented. Moreover, if permanent change doesn’t happen, the cycle will happen again and again.
Within the wealth of information Roth shares, and I haven’t even covered one-fourth of it, is a heart-warming and inspiring story of a man who has helped to bring about change. Grim sees the fear in the eyes of strays and hears the plea behind the fear of: “Don’t leave me here.” In response to this plea, Grim rescued a pregnant dog and then got stuck having to feed all of her babies every two hours for six weeks to keep them alive. He drove daily to a warehouse where a pack of stray dogs had formed and through these visits learned the right time for inviting individual members to leave the street life behind. These are just two of numerous stories which will make you believe as Grim does that every dog needs a second chance.
Of course, being a hero is something that most of us will feel incapable of. Roth smartly shows how Grim is far from perfect. For example, he fears most everything, chain smokes, and can spend days mired in depression. His imperfections should encourage the rest of us that we too can do something. Roth also provides examples of how Grim grew in his knowledge of how to relate to strays and to run a shelter. When he first started his rescue, Grim often ended up with a dog who would only bond with him. Over time, he learned to recruit volunteers for shifts in helping tame a dog, so that eventually the dog would accept anyone who showed love. Most of us aren’t going to operate a shelter, but Grim will be the first to tell you he’s just an average guy who did what we all can do: show compassion.
The most difficult thing about writing this review was deciding what information to highlight. Even now, I find myself deleting sentence after sentence that if I shared would make this review too long. I do want to emphasize if you think that dog abandonment is just another state’s problem, think again. An annual 40,000 Americans now take part in some part of the sport. More than one state, including mine, is on the Puppy Mills 2014 Report. Moreover, even a cursory glance through Roth’s book will reveal that the stray dog issue effects many, many, many cities. Abandoned dogs should be all of us concern. To close, I want to thank a friend of mine in rescue who gave me this book, which the founder of Animal Rescue Foundation believes should be required reading for students and one veterinarian believes is a call for civic action for all animals.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?