Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

Celebrate Love Your Pet Day on February 20 with Ralphie Always Loved by Andrea Yerramilli. This colorful and upbeat picture book will win the hearts of everyone who loves dogs, enjoys dog rescue stories, and is a child at heart. My Advanced Reader Copy even came with a bookmark and a bandana. The story was inspired by the author’s real dog.

Yerramilli adds a whimsical touch to what could otherwise have been an overly sentimental story. The story has a fun start, with Ralphie being in heaven, where the angels in heaven are busily painting puffy white clouds on a clear blue sky. He wants to help and so dips first his tail, then his paws, and even his tail into the paint. The result is a mess, but God just laughs and grants him the wish of visiting earth. Yerramilli recognizes the reality of dog relinquishment. Three owners in a row gave him up to a shelter. Rather than dwell on the negative, Yerramilli chooses to focus on the positive. Ralphie was still young when he found his forever home, one where he grows old and knows that he’ll always be loved.

Through the power of words and fiction, Yerramilli models what a lifetime commitment to a pet should look like. After three strike-outs, Ralphie was adopted by a couple who want him as a companion for them and their older dog. The couple doesn’t care that Ralphie has a lot to learn, but rather teach him good manners. Nor do the couple give him up after having a baby, but instead they gave Ralphie time to find new ways to love. Whatever changes came into their life, even that of their first dog dying of old age, the couple ensure Ralphie remains part of their family.

The illustrations are done by Samantha Van Riet and are just as heart-warming as the story. She lavishes each page with warm and bright colors. One of my favorites is a yellow-framed portrait of Ralphie. God has just dipped his finger into paint and drawn a heart on Ralphie. The watercolor backdrop is a lovely blend of purple, blue, and yellow. Another favorite of mine depicts gray-haired Ralphie with a bone. Next to him are a montage of fond memories of times with family.

The real Ralphie was diagnosed with cancer at age 16 and recently crossed Rainbow Bridge. Read more about his true adventures at 16 year old Ralphie Loves Every Human and Animal He Meets.

The second half of December I treated myself to three dog cozy mysteries. All three are titles my husband bought for me at a library book sale. The first is by an author (David Rosenfelt) whom I know about through the animal rescue world, while the others are by authors with four or five-star ratings at Cozy Mystery List.

My interest in the Andy Carpenter mysteries by David Rosenfelt comes from my having read his funny account of the start of a dog rescue foundation. The series contains sixteen titles to date and features a reluctant attorney who is most likely to be persuaded to take a case when a dog is somehow involved. In Dog Tags, the eighth book in the series, a German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder. If his owner, an Iraq war vet and cop-turned thief, is convicted of the crime, the dog could be euthanized. Dog Tags didn’t fit my perception of a cozy mystery, which supposedly don’t focus on violence and contains bloodless murders that take place off stage. Instead Dog Tags revolves around a murder case with roots in Iraq, payoffs, hit men, and even a possible national security threat. Indeed, some reviewers have noted that Dog Tales is darker than earlier Andy Carpenter titles. What helps lighten the intensity of the plot is Andy’s sarcastic style, adamant opposition to danger, and obvious love of his wife and dog. I also enjoyed the quirky characters including Pete who is always calling in a favor, Marcus who eats as if there were no tomorrow, and Hike who puts pessimists to shame. Dogs are front and center, with one being on trial and the other being Carpenter’s own pet. Dog training and the building of trust are also integrated into the mystery.

The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location. More than any other animal book, thanks to his unique style, Quinn had me wondering what goes on in the mind of my dog or for that matter any dog. As a canine partner, he likes to puzzle out what scents mean for the case. He’ll also wag his tail, growl, and bark to turn Bernie onto clues. And he enjoys helping Bernie tackle criminals. At the same time, he’ll also interpret phrases so literally that conversation can be quickly lost on him. He’ll also scavenge places for food and will rarely turn down food—no matter what it’s source. Bernie is an equally multi-layered character. He makes bad financial investments, and proves a tough guy with criminals, but also has a soft heart for his dog and the woman he loves. Thereby Hangs a Tail takes place in remote areas in Arizona, well-suiting it to the cozy mystery genre.

The Rachel Alexander and Dash mysteries by Carol Lea Benjamin is my only selection by a female author. The series contains nine titles to date and features a female detective and her pit bull. In The Wrong Dog, the fifth book in the series, Sophie Gordon hires Rachel because her cloned dog does not possess the skills of a service dog as was promised to her. While Rachel is searching for the Side-by-Side agency that led Sophie astray, she’s thrown into a deeper mystery when Sophie is killed. I found the first two chapters, wherein Sophie recounts her story to Rachel, somewhat confusing and dull. After that, the narrative improves. I enjoyed how the plot unfolded, with Rachel finding herself in more and more danger as she digs deeper into Sophie’s murder. I also appreciated Rachel’s attempts to find Sophie’s two service dogs a home. Although the dogs (and an iguana!) are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. The dogs like playing in the dog park and accompanying Rachel on her sleuthing expeditions.

Now that I have read six animal cozy mysteries, I’m curious about trends. Are dog mysteries normally darker, written by men, and starring male leads? Are cat mysteries normally lighter, written by ladies, and starring female leads? I’d also welcome reader recommendations! For those of you who are fans of animal mystery cozies, who are your favorite authors and why?

bookofjoeFor dog lovers, The Book of Joe is quirky little book with lots of personality. It’s written by Vincent Price of Hollywood fame who starred as a villain in dozens of macabre horror films. Far from being scary, however, The Book of Joe is a light-hearted and humorous account of Price’s life with pets.

An orange-brown-black haired mutt who came into an empty moment in Price’s life is the star of this memoir. Price referred to him as “all dog”. At one moment, Joe could dutifully put up with hauling and yanking of a five-year-old boy (Price’s son), and in another moment Joe would eat shoes and fetch empty cans and cartons from the garbage. Joe also had a tremendous sense of responsibility to the humans he loved, while at the same time no lack of playboy when it came to the female dogs. Joe had other contradictory traits too. For example, Price tells about Joe’s stubborn refusal to use a dog door. “Four months of pushing, shoving, pulling … nothing worked. Then one day he bored of the silly game and used the dog door.” The Book of Joe will regularly put a smile on your face!

Not all is perfect about this unusual and touching book. For instance, it falls into the trope that a dog always dies in a dog book. Price gets the cliché out-of-the-way in the first chapter by putting it in the first chapter, but I’m not sure that it’s any better than having it at the end. Spoiler Alert…. At least the dog who dies isn’t our hero Joe! Then there’s the numerous digressions that Price makes, some which are about other pets, but some are simply about his personal life. I do admit though that these ramblings grew on me and added to the endearing flavor of the book. Finally, there’s some mature content in this otherwise family friendly story.

For older readers, The Book of Joe is a quick and entertaining read that they should appreciate. It’s enhanced by line-drawings and witty remarks. The memoir has been out-of-print for years, but now is being reissued with a portion of the proceeds going to the Fund for Animals, a network of animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers.

After becoming a volunteer with Husker Cats in 2014, I started to follow online groups that also took care community cats. One day a post appeared about a picture book that had been published on the topic. Being a book reviewer, I naturally contacted the author and requested a copy of Nobody’s Cats. Since then, Valerie Ingram and I have exchanged emails about many topics including our former teaching careers and our passion for homeless cats. When she released a new book this past fall, Out in the Cold, she graciously sent me a copy. It’s an honor to know Valerie, who is an advocate for homeless animals, and to introduce her to you.

valerieingramValerie was born and raised in Burns Lake, a small and rural community of northern British Columbia. She grew up on a farm, and critters of all kinds were always a part of her life. After spending twelve years teaching in her home town, Valerie started the Lakes Animal Friendship Society with her husband in 2008. While humane education is her passion, she also runs Lakeside Legacy B&B, and offers free stays for anyone in animal welfare to help recharge their batteries and combat compassion fatigue. The Lakes Animal Friendship Society is personally funded for the most part, with donations and grants targeted at on-the-ground projects.

ALLISON: What was your favorite part of childhood?

VALERIE: My favorite part of childhood was growing up in a rural and Northern setting. There was so much room to explore, to play. We have four distinct seasons in northern BC, which I think can be so enriching on its own! Ice on the lake, swimming in the summer, snow for sledding and so on. I spent many hours simply observing nature, exploring my surroundings, which of course brought me to many hours of watching critters of all kinds. Everything from the fox living in the sandy bank close to our house to the crows talking to each other in the trees. Loved these moments and memories.

ALLISON: What animal would you most compare yourself to as a child? As an adolescence? Why?

VALERIE: Hmm, compare myself to an animal as a child. That would be a quiet and inquisitive mouse:) I explored, but quietly. I didn’t want to disturb what I was watching. I was often solitary too. Only one older brother and we did not live near any other children my age.

As an adolescent? A horse. I LOVED horses. Grew up on this acreage with a small farm so there were always animals around. I would see the horses so free in the back fields. So happy, so playful. I wished to be that free.

ALLISON: You were once a teacher. What attracted you to the field?

VALERIE: I always wanted to nurture. Nurture a sick kitten, nurture a dying plant, nurture the children I was a nanny for growing up. It seemed natural to work with children in schools. As I spent the last few years teaching formally, I found myself inadvertently rescuing dogs and cats, and I’d bring dogs to school to teach the children about their care. It seemed a rather natural transition to move from the classroom (which was consuming) to a volunteer basis of coming in to talk to the children about the care and compassion and responsible pet guardianship of our pets.

ALLISON: You now dedicate your time to animal welfare. What drew you to this line of work?

VALERIE: It began with small steps. We felt concern for the well-being of the critters (seeing frozen dogs at the end of their chains with no shelter), safety of our children (watching students on the playground have their food snatched from their hands by hungry packs of dogs), and the happiness and health of our families and community (the horror of “dog and cat shoots” as a solution to pet overpopulation, where the community comes to see such things as the norm).

I was fortunate enough to connect with Jean Atthowe, the founder of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force early in my education about the problems and solutions. She taught me how an entire community needs to be involved and educated, and programs must respect the traditions and uniqueness of the community. Providing and teaching humane solutions to pet overpopulation and neglect are the key to empowering the local people and bringing about long-term change. As Jean says, we are seeking a “change in attitude that will thus bring a change in behavior through respecting animals and then other living creatures including members of their family, school, and community”.

ALLISON: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

VALERIE: I’m most excited to see how the children have become empowered. To see how after six years of consistently delivering the same message on care, compassion, bite safety and responsibility, that attitudes and behavior CAN be changed. I tell the children that they have the ability to become a “superhero,” that they can save a life by adopting an animal in need.

I’ve seen the unhealthy cycle of pet overpopulation, abuse, and neglect being broken. The children help spread the message on what our pets need to thrive. It was only natural to take the children’s excitement and passion and further showcase their efforts through a newsletter. We started Critter Care News three years ago, showcasing all the remarkable achievements children have made in our community.

Again with the involvement of local children, we created a song called “Teach My Person How to Love Me” in a workshop led by musician Lowry Olafson. This fun and catchy song helps guardians of all ages understand what their pets need. I now use it in all my classroom visits.

ALLISON: What do you find the most challenging?

VALERIE: The most challenging aspect we have faced are the people who are “not dog or cat lovers” and do not “get” why we pour our hearts, souls and resources into what we do. We are firm in our conviction that healthy, happy animals are an important part of happy, healthy families and communities. It’s not just about being “a dog lover”. It is so much more!

Now we are at a point where we have to figure out how we can make our programs more sustainable. On the education front, looking beyond our community we need to find the resources to bring a consistent, high quality and repeated education program to all the schools along our corridor in northern British Columbia. Potential volunteers are few and far between, stretched thin and perhaps not able to make it back to schools on a regular basis. From our experience, persistence and consistency are critical.

ALLISON: Have you seen a difference between United States animal welfare issues and those you find in Canada?

VALERIE: At their root, a lot of the big issues are the same: like socioeconomic conditions, infrastructure, education, cultural differences. But of course the specific, local issues can vary greatly. One size does not fit all in terms of a workable approach! That’s why it is so important to have the grass-roots, community element to all programs. Areas of downtown Phoenix, Arizona and the rural First Nations community of Tachet in British Columbia may both have problems with companion animal overpopulation, but the causes are different meaning that education and other interventions will take different shapes. The sharing of information and materials contributes to the evolution of these programs as different areas try different approaches to deal with local circumstances. Education is the common thread no matter where you are.

ALLISON: Who keeps you going?

VALERIE:  Without my husband’s support, I would not succeed at a fraction of LAFS projects and goals. He is my tech support, grant writer, shoulder to lean on, and a very patient soul! He shares in this building of a community of care, one animal, one student, one family at a time! We share our house with Dusty and Lulu. Both dogs were in desperate need of rescue, and are both failed fosters. Dusty is now the school spokes dog that comes with me to all my classroom visits. He has patiently taught thousands of children how to read his body language and to greet him safely. And Lulu, well, she is a squirrely pooch that keeps my hubby company when he works in the forest to generate the funds to pay for our humane activities!

lakesanimalfriendshipAs noted in the interview, Valerie and her husband created Lakes Animal Friendship Society to help improve animal care and health. The organization focuses on educating the community in various ways.

  • Education Program: Valerie have completed close to 5,000 student visits in the classroom (Pre K to Gr. 12), and seen a tremendous increase in levels of awareness of how to be a responsible pet guardian and stay safe around dogs and cats. Their community education component has included presentation to local groups and dozens of articles in local media.
  • Dog House Program: The couple began small, building houses in their backyard, and then shifting to refurbishing donated older dog houses. Now the program has become a sustainable one through local schools, bringing our total to 200 dog/cat houses for needy critters. School groups volunteer to build and paint these houses. Extension activities include writing and poster contests to “earn” a doghouse.
  • Feeding Program: Thanks to donations from the wealthier southern region of British Columbia and a discounted shipping cost, the organization has been able to distribute four tonnes of food to critters in need, through its food bank and door to door deliveries where the needs are most.
  • Community Animal Care Events: By establishing a connection with Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT), the organization is able to have volunteer vets and techs from across Canada travel to rural areas where animals from lower-income families are in great need of veterinary services. They carry out spaying and neutering, health checks, vaccinations, and deworming on-site in facilities like community halls. They incorporate education into every phase of the clinics they conduct. The entire community is invited to participate or observe at every step.
  • Workshops: The organization host workshops to provide education kits complete with books, activities, and lesson aids for volunteers wanting to bring messages of animal welfare to their schools and community. The majority of the material has been put together as result of networking through individuals, authors, publishers, and other groups.

This fall I read two books about animal rescue. Me, My Ferals, and I by Christine Booras is a heartfelt story about community cats, while Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt is a humorous story about shelter dogs. Both will resonate with anyone who cares about the plight of homeless pets. You might also pick practical tips on what to do, should you be inspired to become an animal welfare advocate.

meferalsiOctober 2008, Christine Booras saw a stealthy shadow moving, small and dark, and peering through the door of her Tai Chi studio. That glimpse, which turned out to be a confident cat, changed Booras’ life. Booras set out to investigate the wooded area behind the building where she paid rent and discovered not just one adult cat, but several, and kittens. As anyone who has ever tried to find foster or adoptive homes for animals knows, there can be a lot of dead ends. Booras persevered and found homes for the kittens, but this led her with the dilemma of what to do for the adults. Like that of many dedicated to animal rescue, her home was already overflowing with animals.

In the chapters that follow, Booras shares not just her journey into the Trap-Neuter-Release world, but also allows readers a glimpse into her own personal life. The latter at times interrupt the flow of her story and other times help me feel connected to Booras. Over all, the chapters of most interest to me were those which focused on the community cats for whom Booras felt responsible. I appreciate how vulnerable she allows herself to be when sharing of her early mistakes with learning how to trap, create feeding stations and protect them from weather, and handle newcomers to the community including that of other wildlife. She inspires me with the depths to which she researched feral cats, knowledge which she used not only as a caretaker, but also to request a proclamation of Feral Cat Day and assist others with their own colonies. The saddest parts are those moments when Booras discovers members of her colony that have been killed by cars or other hazards, but comfort lies in the fact that many cats knew love and even found forever homes because of her passion.

Me, My Ferals, and I took Booras over three years to write. New adventures kept happening. Even her epilogue, while recognizing how far we have come in caring for homeless animals, notes that there’s still a long way left to go. Until there stop being more animals than there are responsible homes, there will always be a need for animal welfare advocates.

David Rosenfelt describes himself as a “RV half-empty” guy. Then he poses the question of: How the heck did he get himself in this situation? By situation, he’s referring to being part of an eleven-member traveling group with three RVs and twenty-dogs. The traveling group consisted of friends and readers of Rosenfelt’s books who had volunteered their time and money. The three RVs had with refrigerators that were stocked with food and stoves and microwaves with which to cook the food. As for the dogs, they were a small portion of the dogs that Rosenfelt and his wife had rescued from shelters and were now being transported from California to a new home in Maine.

Rosenfelt blames Tara or rather her guardian, Debbie Myers, for their being in rescue work. In 1992, at the end of a movie date, Rosenfelt asked Myers about going out to dinner. She declined because she needed to administer medication to her dog. Despite that unlikely but real reason, the two hit it off. On their third date, Rosenfelt met the dog Tara. When Tara died, the couple found comfort by volunteering in a shelter. This comfort was short-lived, due to the realities of how easy it is for pet owners to request euthanasia for their pet. After one family casually dropped off their grown dog, in exchange for a puppy, Rosenfelt and Myers not only rescued the dog but bailed out of the shelter system. “If we were going to make a real difference, it would have to be another way. And it wasn’t long before we found one.”

Throughout the book, the couple’s road adventures are clearly identified in italics while their rescue escapades are in plain style. Even so, I still at times found myself confused by the narrative. Compassion and humor infuse what could otherwise have been a maddening account of all the reasons that people find to relinquish their animals. There were times though that I found the Rosenfelt’s self-deprecating style grew tiring and I wished for him to take a little more pride in his rescue efforts.

Yet I also enjoyed learning about how two animal lovers unwittingly find themselves in charge of rescuing dozens of dogs. Just as much, I loved discovering all the quirky ways of Rosenselt and Myers. He for example had no problem with making a fool of himself to promote animal adoption, while she had no problem walking out of a shelter with several more dogs than the one they had come to save. I also appreciated how much their story illustrates that it takes a village to bring about change. Eleven people took the road trip with the couple, but just as many or more offered their support along the way.


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2018

This month I’m reviewing Advanced Reader Copies! I’ll also have some major news to share. Keep watch.

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