‘Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes’


rescuing penny jane


In her recent book, “Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes,” author Amy Sutherland shares not only her personal experiences as a shelter volunteer, but also her investigations of other shelters, the practice of sending shelter dogs across the country to other shelters, and how to help shelters find  homes for dog.

Penny Jane, the titular dog whom Sutherland ended up adopting, came from a farm in rural Maine where she was probably born outside and may have had little or no human contact during her puppy months. Sutherland writes:

“Puppies can easily adjust to life with another species, even a towering one with long, insect-like appendages such as ours, if they are handled and cuddled. If they have not been, humans become as scary as Martians. (The two puppies) fear of humans was a sure sign of their being feral, or what is also called unsocialized.”

Life with this dog was not easy — at all. Sutherland tells of everyday household activities that frightened their puppy — walking up and down stairs, turning around too quickly, making a simple noise, and even moving too quickly. The process of turning Penny Jane (as she came to be called) was slow and careful. It started with getting her used to being in a crate by feeding her in it and tossing treats in there.

One question Sutherland answers that people often ask those who foster and volunteer at shelter is, “How could I fall in love with a dog and not take him home?”

“I can’t explain it, except to say that when you volunteer with shelter dogs, you become accustomed to saying good-bye, like a traveler making friends or having affairs along the road.”

Sutherland writes about Rich Avanzino, who drastically changed the San Francisco SPCA. When he left the shelter in 1999, he had changed not only how animals were killed (by the better humane injection), but also the shelter’s practice of killing adoptable dogs. He is now president of Maddie’s Fund.

Sutherland writes that while she agrees with the philosophy of “no-kill” (who wouldn’t, really?), the term bothers her because it’s widely misunderstood by most people. “No-kill” is a term used for a shelter that kills fewer than 10% of their animals. So if a shelter kills 11% of their dogs, they can’t be “no-kill?” She explains that the term is polarizing, and can result in pitting shelters against each other. She writes:”

Then there are municipal shelters that are obliged by law to accept every stray who comes their way, and who are therefore overwhelmed with more animals than they can care for. Is it fair to call them “kill” shelters?”

Sutherland writes about fear in dogs, about lack of socialization, about training. She writes about many of the reasons that dogs are abandoned at shelters or in the streets. She gives specific examples and shares the stories about many of the shelter dogs she has met and found homes for. She writes about the bad rap that pit bulls get — and how many dogs who look like pit bulls are nothing of the kind.

The stories are lovely, the writing no-nonsense and lacking overly sentimental emotion. This is a wonderful book for any animal lover — but especially anyone who has rescued a pet or who is thinking of volunteering for homeless animals.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harper, for review purposes.

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