Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Fifty years ago, Joni Eareckson took a dive that left her paralyzed and changed her life forever. Today she runs a non-profit organization called Joni and Friends that offers many ministries to those impacted by disability. In her autobiography, Joni, she shares her journey into faith, and in A Step Further she attempts on a personal level to answer why God allows trials. Fifty years later, these books remain fresh and inspirational.

Joni is a compelling story of an average athletic and church-going adolescent. Growing up, Joni enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. While she believed in God and knew scriptures, her spiritual walk was lukewarm. On July 30, 1967, Joni dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels, which for some have meant death but for Joni instead resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic. In writing about her rehabilitation, she holds nothing back of the emotional upheaval she felt—anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. Her openness is part of what makes her story such a page-turner. When she writes about at times turning away from but ultimately turning to God, I’m ready to listen because this isn’t just another feel-good conversion story.

As great of testimony as Joni has, I’d be remiss if I don’t point out that the well-crafted writing style is key to my repeat enjoyment. Joni has excellent character portrayal and setting description. People are developed through dialog and succinct sentences such as “His large dark eyes, usually smiling and full of good-natured fun, were clouded with concern.” Places are revealed through perfect word choice such as “The hot July sun was setting low in the west and gave the waters of Chesapeake Bay a warm red glow.” At every point of Joni’s narrative, I feel as if with her no matter where she is or what experiences she’s facing, and so I am pulled into her world.

During her two years of rehabilitation, Joni learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. She also writes this way. To date, she has written over forty books and recorded several musical albums. One book, A Step Further, Joni wrote in response to the thousands of letters she received from people who identified with her depression, despair, and loneliness. The writing of it she says required much study on her part. The result is a well-balanced answer that incorporates additional autobiography while also providing scriptures that address suffering and the destination for every Christian of heaven. Naturally, in being an exposition not a narrative, A Step Further isn’t as suspenseful as Joni. However, it is just as easy to read, and just as honest. There aren’t any pat answers, but rather carefully thought-out encouragement from someone who accepted God’s response of “No” to her prayer for healing.

For me, Joni and A Step Further are treasured religious classics. I read them back in junior high, and Joni was one of the first movies I saw on the big screen. If you’ve yet to discover them, you’re in for a treat.

Laura Moss has been an outdoors lover and cat lady all her life. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism, and has written about pets professionally for more than five years. Laura is also the mother of a timid rescue dog and two mischievous rescue kitties whom she’s clicker trained and leash trained. Her latest venture is the Adventure Cats website and accompanying book.

When Moss couldn’t find an online resource for hitting the trail with her cat, she created one with the help of a group of fellow outdoorsy cat lovers. AdventureCats.org is also intended to challenge negative stereotypes about cats and the people who love them in order to increase shelter cat adoptions. As for the book, Adventure Cats, it’s a collection of photographs and stories of real-life cats, combined with and all the how-to information for taking owners and their cats into the great outdoors.

Below is an interview with Moss, and a review of her book will appear in a future post. Get in touch with her on Twitter, or email her if your message has more than 140 characters.

ALLISON: When and how did you become a cat lady?

LAURA: Growing up, there was always a cat in my home, so I guess I’ve sort of been a cat lady since the beginning. When I was 15, my mom finally let me adopt a cat of my own, and that was such a huge deal for me. I adopted a little orange tabby from a local shelter, and she moved with me for college and grad school, and she shared my apartment when I got my first job. She was a huge part of my life, and she inspired me to get involved with local shelters.

ALLISON: You’ve written professionally about pets for more than five years. How did you break into this field?

LAURA: I was an editor for Mother Nature Network for several years, and I became the go-to pet writer. I’ve always had a great love for animals, so it was a very natural fit for me. Through that job, I made a lot of connections with other people who work with animals and write about them, so that’s led to a lot of different pet-related opportunities for me.

ALLISON: There are eleven people on the Adventure Cats team. How did the group of you connect and what has enabled you to work well together?

LAURA: My husband and I do most of the day-to-day work. When we discovered this huge community of people who were enjoying the great outdoors with their pets, we created a website as a way to share their stories. Since then, the website and its social media outlets have gained a bit of a following, so we’ve had to reach out to people for assistance. One thing this venture has taught me is that there are so many people out there who are much smarter than I am, and it’s important to ask them for help when I need it.

ALLISON: What about your background (besides writing) have you used to promote Adventure Cats–the concept, the website, the book?

LAURA: My background in journalism certainly plays an important role. While I’ve learned a lot about cats and their behavior through my work, I’m not a cat expert—but what I am an expert at is gathering information, interviewing people smarter than I am, and telling stories.

ALLISON: For readers who don’t know anything about adventure cats, would you tell about the first adventure cat you met? The most recent?

LAURA: I guess the first adventure cat I ever met was an orange tabby cat at the shelter I was volunteering with in college. He took leashed strolls around the store, and it was the first time I ever realized that some cats can be leash trained and enjoy a walk. The most recent kitty I got to meet up with was Floyd The Lion, who is this very fluffy and friendly cat in Colorado. He’s adorable and will quite literally pull you down the sidewalk on his leash.

ALLISON: What type of adventures have you taken with your cats?

LAURA: My cats love going outside, but they’re definitely close-to-home adventure cats. They’re very comfortable exploring the wilds of the backyard, sticking their paws in the creek and lounging in sun puddles, but they’ve never expressed any interest in venturing much farther than this familiar area.

If you’re going to try taking your cat outside on a leash, I think it’s very important that you don’t force your cat outside his or her comfort zone. While there are definitely some cats who are comfortable in public parks or on trails, I think they’re the minority, and a lot of cats won’t feel safe in such an unpredictable environment.

One thing I always tell people is that just like when you’re indoors, your cat is the one who calls the shots, so if your cat doesn’t want to venture past the porch — or even outside at all — that’s the way it’s going to be. You have to accept that and focus on having indoor adventures instead!

ALLISON: For others who aspire to change stereotypes about cats, what advice would you give?

LAURA: One of the best things you can do is simply to share the positive experiences you’ve had with your own cats. I think often people can have one bad experience with a cat or make assumptions about what cats are like and let that prevent them from bringing a feline into their lives. Stories like the following are some of my favorites: This Adventure Kitty Turned Her Rescuer Into A Cat Person

How does the cat mind work? And how does a cat owner best engage their feline friend? Two books that I recently read tackle those questions. Thomas McNamee explores the secrets of cats in The Inner Life of Cats and Laura Moss proposes a unique way to help cats live to the fullest in Adventure Cats.

She loved us anyway. What choice did she have? Who else was she going to love? Augusta had love inborn. She had to do something with it.–Inner Lives of Cats

The kitten licked snow from her toes and cried for her mom but no answer came. Instead on a cold wintery morning in Montana, she was rescued by McNamee and his wife. After the kitten was given her full of milk and tuna, her first order of business according to McNamee was to make a mental map of her home. The Inner Lives of Cats weaves science with narrative, as McNamee tells of adopting a black kitten named Augusta and uses research to deepen his understanding of what makes her tick.

McNamee’s search for solid information on cats leads him down many paths and the knowledge he imparts to is eclectic. For example, he shares that cats map their territory through scent and hearing, while also explaining that cats can’t focus very well on close objects even though they see in the dark. In addition, McNamee covers the origins of cats, how they different from dogs in their emotional needs, ways they entertain us, their varied interactions with their humans, and much more

These meticulous details would run the risk of boring the most avid cat lover, except for their being adeptly integrated into a heart-warming tale of how one cat changed one couple. Augusta wiggled her way into the hearts of their local barn cats. She respected the unspoken boundaries between her and their horses. She avoided becoming prey to local predators such as coyote and bear. And she brought happiness and love to her owners, the depths of which remained unrealized until age and sickness took her. The Inner Life of Cats is a fascinating and beautiful tribute to our feline companions.

Basically, I wanted to train her to be a dog. I’ve always been a dog person, but when I moved in with my husband, I had to leave my dog with my mom. It’s a void that I’ve been desperate to fill since.–Adventure Cats

Georgia resident Emily Grant was “a bit of a self-professed cat hater”. But after discovering a five-week-old kitten and her three tiny siblings, Emily knew she simply couldn’t leave them. Although she intended to simply find them homes, by the time the Eevee was three months old, Emily was so attached that she decided to keep Eevee if she’d would take to a harness and leash. Not only was Eevee was comfortable walking on a leash, but the two of them were soon embarking on outdoor adventures. Soon Emily loved seeing Eevee’s “curiosity in action,” and she wanted to take Eevee everywhere and show her everything.

The above story is one Laura Moss’s favorites about adventure cats. What are adventure cats? They’re cats that like to join their owners on paddles, climbs, hikes, or simply strolls around the neighborhood. Moss wrote Adventure Cats to serve as resource for people looking for safe ways to explore the great outdoors with their feline friends and to challenge negative stereotypes about cats with the hope of increasing shelter cat adoptions.

In this comprehensive and colorful guide to helping cat live “their nine lives to the fullest,” Moss covers everything anyone might want to know about how to raise an adventure cat. The introductory chapters cover the feline training and safety measures needed before one embarks on outdoor trips, the middle chapters provide tips for traveling in such locations such as the backwoods, the high seas, and the snowy landscapes, and the concluding chapters detail how one can provide a more enriched life to even the most home-bound cat a more enriched life or cats with special needs. Every section contains illustrative stories. When I finished this book, I had a to-buy list in hand.

The authors of each clearly know and love their subject. Their books will expand your perspective on cats. Inner Life of Cats and Adventure Cats are both welcome additions to my growing collection of cat books.

“Happy pets, happy people.” That’s the aim with which Zazie Todd started Companion Animal Psychology. The site shares evidence-based information about how to care for our pets. While exploring a variety of topics in animal welfare , there are particular themes to which Zazie often returns: the importance of enrichment for our pets; the use of reward-based training for dogs (and cats); the need to make visits to the vet less stressful; and the psychology of the human-animal bond.

Todd has a PhD in Psychology (University of Nottingham) and an MFA Creative Writing (UBC). She also Zazie graduated with honors from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, holds a supporting membership with the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, and volunteers at the British Columbia SPCA. Todd  grew up in Leeds, in the north of England, and now lives in Canada, with her common law husband, one dog, and two cats.

In conjunction with Companion Animal Psychology, Todd started an animal book club on Facebook, of which I am a member. Below is an interview with Todd. Get in touch with her by email at companimalpsych at gmail dot com, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Companion Animal Psychology Book Club.

ALLISON: Tell me about your first pet.

ZAZIE: I wasn’t allowed a pet when I was growing up. I really wanted a cat. When I was in high school, a neighbour’s cat used to come in our garden a lot and I liked hanging out with her. But I didn’t get a cat until I was a grad student in Edinburgh. I went to a cat rescue and adopted a young ginger-and-white cat called Snap. I found out later that the lady who ran the rescue had no intention of adopting to us that day because she didn’t adopt to students, but she thought if she let us visit she could educate us about cats. But she had a cat with a wobble–with hindsight I’m guessing it was cerebellar hypoplasia–who apparently didn’t like anyone, but for whatever reason this cat did like me and my boyfriend. So I was allowed to adopt the cat that was climbing on my shoulders and hanging upside down from my arm. He was a lovely cat, very playful and very friendly.

ALLISON: Your background is in psychology and writing. When did you decide to start working with animals? Why?

Bodger

Bodger

ZAZIE: I’ve always been interested in animals but although I used to sometimes supervise student projects on pets, it wasn’t the main focus of my research. But when I left academia I was very lucky to be able to do an MFA Creative Writing at UBC, and finally the time was right to get a dog. Actually, we got two dogs, and this was the first time I really paid any attention to dog training advice. What I noticed was that it was very hard to find good advice on how to train a dog. I mean, it was out there, but there was also–and still is–a lot of advice that is just not true and even downright dangerous. And at the same time, there’s really been an explosion of interest in researching the human-animal bond and canine cognition, so there’s a lot of fascinating material to write about. I think it can make a huge difference, not only to the animals and their welfare, but also to the people who care for them. Happy pets, happy people, as it were!

When I decided I wanted to learn more about the training side of things, I was very lucky to get a scholarship to the Academy for Dog Trainers. I graduated with honors in February 2016. One of the things I really like about the Academy is that it teaches you to be very efficient in your training, which makes all the difference when you are working with shelter animals. Right now I’m half-way through International Cat Care’s Certificate of Feline Behavior and really enjoying it. Everything is evidence-based and designed to be helpful to you in practice. Because dog training and so on is not regulated, I think it’s important to have the qualifications to show you know what you’re talking about.

The nice thing is that a lot of people are very interested to learn more about animals. I’m especially thrilled that Greystone will publish my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy because it will help get that information to a new audience. So for me it’s been a gradual transition–the psychology and writing are still there–but animals got added in more and more!

ALLISON: How have you grown as a pet owner due to your research into and training with animals?

Harley-Sep2016

Harley-Sep2016

ZAZIE: What a great question! I’m sure if I went back in time I would do some things differently. I certainly know a lot more about how to care for animals. One thing is that I didn’t used to know about food puzzles for dogs and cats, and that’s a great thing to provide. I know a lot more about socialization of young animals and how important it is to give them lots of positive experiences. And I think vet care is another change…. I used to take treats to the vet with me anyway, and I had taught previous cats to like the carrier but it wasn’t a very organized plan. It’s one thing knowing the theory and another thing knowing how best to put it into practice! But husbandry training is something that was included in the Academy for Dog Trainers curriculum, and I’ve since become Fear Free certified too. I think being able to help an animal feel more comfortable at the vet makes such a big difference. I feel sad for the times I used to take animals to the vet and just expect them to put up with it!

ALLISON: I first discovered you through the Companion Animal Psychology blog. How have you gained attention for it?

ZAZIE: When I look back at the last five years I am surprised how much the blog has grown. So I think one thing is simply being persistent and keeping going. I decided quite early on to try and stick to a schedule and post every week on a Wednesday morning. I don’t always manage it–sometimes life gets in the way, of course–but most of the time I have. It means regular readers always know when they can look and find something new on my blog.

I try really hard to be accurate in what I write. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially when writing about research, because I have to pick which bits of the story to include otherwise it would become too long or the main points would get lost. Sometimes I’m able to write about research that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media, so I’m able to bring something new and I think that helps bring people to my blog. The other thing I think bloggers need to remember is that even when writing about a topic other people have covered, everyone brings something unique to it and so it’s still worth writing about. But it’s not just about imparting information, it’s also about showing people why it matters.

Of course, social media is a big part of it. On twitter and Facebook, I like to share a lot of content from other people too. Like I said before, there’s a lot of bad information about cats and dogs, so when I see something good I think it’s important to share. And whenever someone shares my posts–or buys one of my t-shirts that raise funds for my local shelter–it makes me happy to think there are so many people out there who care about animal welfare.

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

ALLISON: What is your favorite part about living in Canada?

ZAZIE: It’s hard to pick one thing as a favorite because there’s so much to love. But I would say nature, because Canada has so many beautiful places, including many I have yet to visit. I have lots of exploring to look forward to! There are so many forests and lakes and beaches that are just stunning. The wildlife is amazing–we have bobcat, cougar and black bears. And I love watching the hummingbirds! People here are very friendly too. I also like that Canada celebrates its diversity and this is a place where people from all over the world can feel at home.

ALLISON: There are particular animal welfare themes that are important to you. When did you develop those passions? Why?

ZAZIE: When I went to get my first cat, I went to a rescue, so even back then I wanted to help homeless animals. I should add that not all of my pets have come from shelters though. But because my background is in Psychology, and so much of that is relevant to the human-animal relationship, that’s somewhere where I thought I could make a difference. I’ve become really interested in the dog training side of things and I think it’s such a shame when people are given incorrect information. For example a lot of people still believe that you shouldn’t let your dog on the settee or on your bed, and they’ve heard this from TV or the internet. Of course I understand that some people don’t want to, but there are people who would like to cuddle on the couch with their dog but don’t because they have been told it would make the dog ‘dominant’. Or they do let their dog on the settee but then they feel guilty because they think they aren’t supposed to and it might be bad for the dog. That’s something that can stop you from getting the most out of your relationship with your dog, when really it’s up to you if you would like to or not.

One of the reasons I am so interested in enrichment is because of the different circumstances for cats here. When I lived in England, my cats could go outside during the daytime and they would spend a lot of time in the garden or nearby. Here that’s not possible because there are a lot of coyotes, so it just wouldn’t be safe. I think it can be a bit boring for a cat being indoors all the time. A lot of people have indoor cats here and so it’s even more important to make sure cats have what they need (in terms of scratching posts and cat trees etc.) and have food toys and playtime.

ALLISON: You volunteer at a shelter. What have you learned about increasing adoptions?

ZAZIE: As a volunteer I work directly with the animals, so I’m not personally involved in the adoption side of things. But one of the things I think is important is to have descriptions which are accurate, which means highlighting the positive things about the animal as well as any issues that potential adopters may have to deal with. It’s easy to say a dog jumps up and will need to learn some manners and then forget to mention that this is a very friendly dog–and that’s an important thing to know! Also the photos matter, because so many people are looking online to see which animals are available. I interviewed Dr. Christy Hoffman recently and asked her about her research on increasing adoptions, and she mentioned that for cats it can help to have a toy in the photo. But if you put a toy in every cat’s photo, then it’s no longer helping to differentiate that particular cat from the others. So you should include the toy in photos of the cats that you think need a bit of extra help getting adopted.

ALLISON: We have a shared passion of increasing awareness of the importance of enrich the lives of cats. Tell me of a time you have helped a cat owner.

ZAZIE: We do! And I always enjoy your blog posts. Recently, I have been spending time with some fearful cats. They are actually very friendly cats when they know you, but they are afraid of new people. So at first I completely ignored them except to put small treats in places where I thought they might feel safe coming to get them. Then they started to approach me, but I knew that if I reached out to them they would duck away from my hand or even run away because they were still nervous. I didn’t want them to have that experience so I just let them come to me on their own terms. Then I started putting my hand out and they could decide whether to come and rub on my hand or not. Now they are used to me and we are good friends and they like to be petted. But that’s only because I made sure they felt safe at each stage.

ALLISON: As part of Companion Animal Psychology blog, you also started a book club. What inspired you to create it?

ZAZIE: I have been in book clubs before that mostly read fiction and I really enjoyed it. Actually I also did some research on book clubs once. That was back in England and I ran several book clubs for a study I was doing. Anyway, I had been thinking for a while that it would be nice to have an animal book club, but the thing that made me actually set it up was reading The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. I really liked it and wanted to be able to discuss it with other people. So I made that the first choice for the book club! But now the members get to choose the books, which is only fair. It’s a chance to read some really interesting books about animals and discuss them with like-minded people. I was a bit amazed at how many people wanted to join!

ALLISON: When not trying to change the lives of animals, how do you spend your time?

ZAZIE: I like going for walks, with or without my dog. I like to read fiction as well as non-fiction and right now A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is at the top of my book pile. And I like spending time in my garden. I am always behind on the weeding so my garden is a bit overgrown but I enjoy being outside and all the birds and butterflies that we get. I don’t travel so much as I used to but, bearing in mind that this part of the world is somewhere I always used to like to come on vacation, I don’t think that matters!

Animal welfare takes a village. This is the message I took away from the ten nonfiction books I recently read. There were books about shelters, rescues, and fosters. Some titles kept me up at night; others required me to push myself more to finish. Yet all were informative, enlightening, and worth the read for anyone with a passion for animals.

The Animal Shelter by Patricia Curtis details the purpose and history of humane shelters. A shelter is a place where stray, lost, abandoned, or surrendered animals are housed in kennels and rehabilitated until they’re adopted or euthanized. Curtis illustrates this definition with a story of a dog bought by a couple for their children as a Christmas gift, and then later surrendered it when the routine of life resumed after Christmas vacation. Although not real, Curtis drew on a composite of millions of dogs living and dying in shelters to create her story. But shelters don’t just tackle animal homelessness. They also fight to end dog fighting, animal baiting, and medical testing on animals. In addition, they advocate for humane ways to capture and euthanize animals, the hiring of skilled professionals (animal control) to do this job, and humane education. Curtis dedicates a chapter to each of these topics, as well as two chapters to the history of animal shelters. Although her book is somewhat dated, having been published in 1984, it provided me with an appreciation for historically how instrumental shelters were in changing the landscape of animal welfare.

May their beautiful spirits and unending dedication continue to give a voice to the voiceless, inspire us to work as one, fill us with enormous hope, and remind us to always balance the dark with the light.–Finding Shelter by Jesse Freidin

Finding Shelter by Jesse Freidin is dedicated all the “animal shelter and rescue volunteers that we’ve lost over the years”.  The world of animal welfare is one filled with controversy, drama, and passion. As such, it’s one where those who dedicate their lives to saving animals sometimes burnout or even take their lives because the stress overwhelms them. Freiden created his portraits to erase the negative connotations associated with animal welfare workers and with homeless animals. Finding Shelter is divided into two sections, one which gives tribute to the volunteers “who spend every waking minute thinking about how they can keep just one more animal from being euthanized” and the other which gives tributes to the dogs that “wake up in the shelter every morning ready for their second chance”. If I were to change anything about Freidin’s book, I’d provide a broader coverage of shelters and animals; he featured only ten states and focused exclusively on dogs. I’d also provide more context to the selected portraits, which currently feels a little haphazard. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the diverse stories and admired the professional photos. After reading Finding Shelter, you’ll have nothing but high regard for shelters workers and animals.

Miracle Dog is a small book by Randy Grimm, the famed founder and president of Stray Rescue in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2003, headlines were made when the city pound opened the door to its gas chamber, and found a dog still alive inside. How it happened no one knows, but soon the story of “Quentin the Miracle Dog” was being told across the nation. Miracle Dog is an educational and engaging mix of personal narrative, documentary details, and animal welfare statistics. To illustrate, I’ll look at chapter three as a sample. Chapter three begins with a tongue-in-cheek description by Grim of the now famous Quentin stealing food from Grim’s refrigerator. The anecdote transitions to the pound, where the supervisor faced the daunting task of euthanizing the dogs in line for the gas chamber. After this narrative, there’s a news report about gas chambers. From here, Grimm switches back to the gas chamber, where Quentin is discovered still alive. The chapter ends with a press release, written by Grim. Anything by or about Grimm is usually inspirational. Miracle Dog is no exception.

To homeless animals everywhere, may they forgive us. And may we be worthy of that forgiveness by giving them the only fitting tribute: to stop the killing.–One at a Time by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer

Of the five books that I read about shelters, One at a Time by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer is one of my favorites, because of how thorough and touching it is. The stories presented are based on the experience of the authors during one week in a typical animal shelter in California. When the authors arrived at the shelter, kennels were almost full, with 238 animals being cared for. By the end of the week, another 125 had arrived. For the book, the authors choose a random selection of animals, and then took the time to get to know them. They learned the circumstances that had caused the animals to be at the shelter, and then followed their stories throughout the week without knowing what the end would be. I can’t imagine how tough this project must have been; the emotional rollercoaster of seeing lives saved and lost. The authors not only presented real stories, but also attempted to paint an accurate picture of the shelter demographics: the proportions of animals lost versus those surrendered was reflected in the numbers of stories shared, as was the number of young animals to senior animals, and even the number of happy to sad endings was reflected. In addition to this meticulous care, stories are organized by categories and each section has an introduction that provides context. The end pages list the 363 animals that passed through the shelter that week, includes a one-line description, and tells the fate of the animals.

My second favorite book about shelters is Rescuing Penny Jane by Amy Sutherland. Sutherland talks to shelter directors, researchers, trainers, adoption counselors, and caretakers across the United States to build her understanding of animal rescue.  Through Rescuing Penny Jane, I learned that today some shelters exist more as consultants than warehouses so that owners might stay united with their pets. Sutherland also elaborates on the numerous services which exist specifically to address financial needs and behavioral concerns that pet owners might face. As such, Rescuing Penny Jane serves as a solid companion to The Animal Shelter by Patricia Curtis. Sutherland also draws on her own experiences with rescue dogs to fill out her narrative. I appreciated how honest she is about her failings. She openly calls her first dog “canine training wheels” and refers to his fear linoleum and ceiling fans. I also enjoyed her ability to balance the serious with the humorous. Soon after Sutherland began volunteering at a local shelter, she found herself tackling the mammoth issue of how to find enough homes for all the dogs, but she also quickly realized that an equally important question was the issue of how to pull a halter onto a stir-crazy German Shepherd in the tight confines of a kennel. Rescuing Penny Jane is one of those books that was so good I couldn’t put it down, but for that reason I was also disappointed when it ended.

From the first day, the caregivers at Best Friends did not see a skinny stray better off dead; they saw one of God’s creatures, worthy of devotion, and they spent well over a decade helping him to become that better dog they saw all along…. In the end, he had ended his days surrounded by people who truly knew him and truly loved him. No one could ask for more.–Dog Town by Stefan Bechtel

Dog Town by Stefan Bechtel is about dogs who live at Best Friends Animal Society. The acclaimed no-kill sanctuary only accepts animals as a last-resort and so, as you can imagine, the dogs featured faced insurmountable obstacles. The very first chapter is proof. It tells about Georgia, one of the pit bulls rescued from a dogfighting operation run by football player Michael Vick. One thing I like about Dog Town, besides the high quality of writing, is that each story also seamlessly incorporates educational information. Case in point, in reading about Georgia, I also discovered why the Michael Vick dogs became among the first former fighting dogs to not simply be euthanized but instead to be given a chance at rehabilitation. Something else I like about Dog Town is that integral to each story is a detailed explanation of how a dog’s behavior was modified. In reading about Georgia, I learned how to teach an animal to not guard food; a strategy I’m trying with my one cat. A final thing I like about Dog Town is that scattered throughout the stories of rescued dogs are profiles of various staff at Best Friends Animal Society. Incidentally, if any of the stories seem familiar that might be because they were also aired on television by National Geographic.

Underdogs by Caryn Casey has been popular in my area because it featured stories from rescues in the Midwest. Her collection of true rescue tales is a mix of storytelling and education. Each section contains a few stories which illustrate a theme and then concludes with facts related to the theme. The themes revolve around reasons animals become homeless. Some are the reasons covered are not the fault of the owner such as disasters, thieves, or sickness. Other reasons do solely lie with people such as abandonment, greed, and neglect. The author’s writings have been published in various publications, but her book has been self-published, and could have used editing to improve the style. Nonetheless, this author who volunteers at a rescue in her hometown in California has written a well-researched and thoughtful book about animal welfare.

Enjoy the new member of your family and take good care of him, no matter how he happened to come into your life.–Rescue Me by Bardi McLenna

Rescue Me by Bardi McLennan is a straightforward guide to selecting, adopting, and caring for a rescue dog. The first third overviews the reasons why dogs end up homeless and the impact of this life on them. The second third provides extensive coverage of rescue groups. Many things are misunderstood or unknown about rescues. They’re often considered the same as no-kill shelters but instead are a small group of volunteers who find temporary homes for animals until they’re placed in permanent homes. A foster care provider is usually expected to attend adoption events until an adopter is found. Rescues often get their animals from owner surrenders, through partnerships with shelters, or might focus on a specific breed. Rescues also typically cover expenses for the animals in foster care. The final third of Rescue Me overviews how to prepare for and welcome a rescued dog. It briefly touches on problems that might be unique to rescues. A potential companion guide would be one that focuses specifically on the issues that foster care providers face in contrast to those who purchase a dog from a breeder.

Of the five books that I read about rescues (of which sanctuaries are a part), Best Friends: The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Sanctuary by Samantha Glen is my favorite, because of how exhaustive it is. Glen takes readers all the way to the 1980s to before Best Friends Animal Society existed, to when a handful of friends were rescuing animals the way many of us do by taking them home. Thankfully for animal welfare, when these friends dreamed, they liked to dream big. And I mean BIG. In 1982, Francis Battista made a call to his friends telling them that he had found an oasis in the desert that would be perfect for an animal sanctuary. And from then to today, it was five steps forward and at times ten steps back. The group faced opposition from residents, bankruptcy, and the death of their first veterinarian. At a pivotal moment, they also had to decide whether to stay small or to reach out to animal welfare groups across the country. Doing so was far from easy, because many volunteers were introverted animal lovers who valued their solitude, but found themselves having to embrace the commercial aspects of being a business. They didn’t always embrace the changes with grace, but they always managed to find a way to put first the needs of the sanctuary and the animals within it. Best Friends is an inspiring tale of passion put into action!

To some people, homeless cats and dogs have no value. But to those who are not quite so blind, they are not only precious lives but also very special beings, blessed with the ability to touch our imagination and lead us into a world of true magic and wonder.–The Cats of Kittyville by Bob Somerville

The Cats of Kittyville by Bob Somerville is about cats who live at Best Friends Animal Society. This coffee table style book is partly a history of Kittyville and partly a tribute to its inhabitants. When the no-kill sanctuary first began, most of the cats lived in a bunkhouse that also served as an office, clinic, and general meeting room. As Best Friends grew, the structures became more professional and plentiful as the number of cats increased. The additional houses included Happy Landings for new arrivals, the Wildcats Village for cats from feral colonies, Kitty Motel for older cats, and Tender Loving Care for special needs cats. In giving tribute to the resident cats, Somerville includes a summary of how they came to Best Friends, their specific needs, how those needs were met, and whether they still live at Best Friends or have been adopted. If I were to change anything in Somerville’s book, it would be to double the size of this 78-page book to include even more stories!


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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

Categories

Archives

Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

IAABC

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