It’s rare for me to get three nonfiction adult books about dogs in one month, and even rarer when there is a definite link between the three books. “Rescue Dogs: Where They Come From, Why They Act the Way They Do, and How to Love Them Well” is, like all of the books, a touching set of stories, all about “Pete Paxton” (a pseudonym) and his investigation and undercover work to help dogs who are suffering from puppy mills, bunching facilities, and backyard breeders. The stories are heartbreaking, and in the subsequent sections of the book he delineates why it’s important to rescue or adopt a dog instead of buying one from a breeder or pet store. He also shares how to find a rescue dog and what to expect when you bring it home. His stories always focus on one special dog that energized him, a special personality that motivated him to make things better for all dogs. And in “Doctor Dogs,” Maria Goodavage shares stories of many special dogs, all of whom make the lives of their humans infinitely better. In fact, many of these special dogs have the ability to make life better for mankind as a whole. She shares the many, myriad ways dogs heal us, help us discover illness, help us live with disease, and help us emotionally. The third book, “Molly: The true story of the amazing dog who rescues cats,” brings things full circle with the two previous books. Molly is a rescue, and that’s what Colin Butcher, the author, was determined to use for his proposition — training a dog to rescue cats. He and his family had rescued animals his whole life, and he didn’t want to buy a dog from a breeder, but rather rescue one, as is encouraged in “Rescue Dogs.” Interestingly, the training that Molly received is from the same group that is mentioned often in “Doctor Dogs,” and which nonprofit trains dogs to help humans in many, many ways — even finding lost cats.
Each of these three books is a fabulous read — but don’t just read one, read them all!
Pete Paxton, author of “Rescue Dogs: Where They Come from, Why They Act the Way They Do, and How to Love Them Well,” is truly a doggie hero. He has lived – lived! – in conditions that most of us would not even step foot into. He has recorded and photographed and taken notes on places where dogs are neglected, abused, even tortured, and left to die horrible cruel deaths. And because of his undercover role in gathering information to try to help shut down horrible breeding facilities and corporations that warehoused thousands of young puppies, he couldn’t help them.
I cried over Spot, a dog he tried to save from a woman whom he helped by delivering firewood to her rural home. She had a dog tied on a chain that was gouging his neck, no clean water, moldy food, and no attention, ever. Pete began befriending the dog and, of course, the dog slowly responded to his attention. But when he asked to take the dog and find it a good home, she refused. When he went to law enforcement to see if the dog could be taken away, like most law enforcement everywhere, they did nothing. At that point, the woman told Pete to leave and not come back. He did, even though it broke his heart. I’m sure it broke Spot’s heart, too. Spot died.
This story broke my heart, too. I was only ten the first time I helped steal a dog. We were on vacation in Ft. Meyers, Florida, and there was a man who “trained” dolphins in a small concrete tank, and we stopped to see. Some distance away was a skeletal yellow dog tied to a tree by a thick rope. We went to pet the dog, but because each bone protruded from his body, the only place it felt comfortable to pet the dog was the top of his head. My mother marched over to the man in charge of the place and asked what was wrong with the dog. He told her that the dog wouldn’t eat and was sick. “The vet said he should have died months ago, he’s sick,” he told us. My mother was skeptical, especially when she found an identical dog lying dead by the road. That night, she collected scraps of food from the restaurant and bought dog food. We snuck back when it was dark. “Do you think the dog will attack us?” she wondered. The dog was thrilled to see us, gobbled down the food we brought and drank the clean water. We stole him the next morning on our way out of town. She sent the smallest of the five of us kids with a pocketknife to cut the rope. We ran back to the car, bundled him into the floor beneath our feet, and drove him to a local veterinarian. My mother was going to ask for help getting Oliver, our name for him, home to us in Chicago. The veterinarian ran tests and said he was a healthy dog; the only thing wrong with him was malnutrition. He also said that Oliver was a hunting dog, and he was sure he could find him a good home. It was a happy ending for Oliver.
Not for Spot or Rebel. Rebel was the dog who lived in a wire cage in a place where dogs were sold to labs. The owner, CC Baird, was a buncher who took stolen pets and bought unwanted pets cheap and sold them to laboratories. Rebel, as Pete named him, suffered from tapeworms. As Pete points out in the book, tapeworms are easily cured. (In fact, when one of my dogs recently got tapeworms, switching to a heartworm medication that kills tapeworms was simple.) But to save Rebel, one dog, Pete would have to stop his investigation. He was told, “You can save one dog now or a thousand dogs later.” So he didn’t do anything. Rebel got sicker and sicker. The owner of the facility was actually making money selling the tapeworms to labs. Rebel died a slow, painful death. It took two years for the USDA to pull Baird’s license. In that time thousands of dogs suffered. But if Pete had not investigated and obtained proof of the abuse and stolen dogs and fraud (using blank, pre-signed veterinary forms for interstate shipping of the dogs), tens of thousands more would have suffered.
There is much more suffering detailed in the book. It’s important to read, though, to really understand the kind of suffering that animals in our country, in most countries, experience in their short lives. Until we have comprehensive laws that require that animals be treated kindly and with compassion, people like Pete will be needed to showcase the horrors of what they must endure. With the current administration, more laws are being passed that forbid secret cameras and punish those trying to help the animals. When money is more important than compassion, those with no power, in this case the animals, suffer. When puppy mill violations are hidden from public view, puppy mill owners feel emboldened and don’t worry. The USDA doesn’t cite puppy mill violations anyway, even in egregious circumstances. Typical puppy mill conditions include piles of feces in cages, muddy water or no water, matted fur, sick dogs, dogs with broken limbs, dogs missing teeth and even jaws from substandard food and no veterinary care. These are dogs who are shoved into small cages, forced to live in the dark with no sunlight ever to shine on their fur, walking on wire cages with feces piled under the cage and never cleaned. Their only contact with humans is rough and cruel, when they are bred or when their puppies are taken away, usually too early.
One puppy mill dog I fostered had been rescued by The Puppy Mill Project in Illinois. Bonnie Bloom of Lucky Dog Pet Service allowed the rescued dogs to stay at her day care/boarding and even named them. I went to help socialize them and fell in love with Irving, a miniature schnauzer, and Ethel, a boxer. They were in neighboring cages, and when I volunteered to foster Irving, I made a promise to Ethel. I promised her a home. My good friend Laurie Weil adopted her, and Ethel was her faithful companion through Laurie’s tragic and untimely death. Irving was similarly lucky and was adopted by the Sechans, a fabulous couple who doted on him and cooked chicken breasts for the tiny guy, who was never 100% housebroken. Irving, like many rescued puppy mill dogs, felt secure in his crate and at first, didn’t want to leave. Especially heartbreaking was when I would pull him out of his crate to take him and feed him or walk him in the yard. When we’d go through a doorway, Irving in my arms, his whole body would flinch and contract, as if in fear that he was going to be hurt. I realized that whoever had Irving before had probably only taken him out of his cage when it was time for him to inseminate some poor female, and he probably bashed Irving against the doorways as they walked around. Irving was one of the lucky ones; Pete’s book reminds me of all those who are not so lucky.
One of Pete’s rescue dog stories involves Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia, the group that rescues moon bears and does much to educate those in Asia about animal cruelty and compassion. She believes that we must educate the next generation to enact change. During a visit to a live animal market in China, a horrendous place where wild and domestic animals are sold and brutally slaughtered, and where former pet dogs, some stolen, look out through cage bars at the humans they used to trust, she decided to rescue one dog since she couldn’t take them all. He was named Eddie and became part of her Doctor Dog program, becoming a dog ambassador in a dog therapy program in Hong Kong. (Read her beautiful picture book, “Jasper’s Story,” and read about my interview with her where she mentions her Doctor Dog program.) (TarcherPerigee Books)
Doctor Dog is a fabulous name for a program bringing together people and dogs. In fact, author Maria Goodavage’s new book about how our best friends (dogs) are becoming our best medicine is titled, “Doctor Dogs.” In her brilliantly written book, Goodavage’s chatty narrative makes this nonfiction book read like a story. Many stories, actually.
The diabetic-alert dogs are incredible, but so are the stories of the dogs who alerted their family members to diabetic highs and lows without any training. One physician who has diabetes had a boxer with no training who alerted him. He realized that when the dog pawed at his leg or whined, it was the dog’s way of alerting to changes in blood sugar. Now, after his dog passed away, this physician has a trained diabetic-alert dog. He explains that dogs alert quicker than even the best sensors. He also says about dogs, “beyond their alerting, dogs have intangible benefits for diabetics, like getting us out for exercise, decreasing isolation and depression. A diabetic-alert dog has the combination of being able to save your life at the same time as giving unconditional love.” And the equipment can fail and lose a connection, but a dog never loses connections. That’s not to say that a diabetic-alert dog, or any dog at work, is infallible. Heat, competing smells, and lack of training can impede a dog’s ability to do his or her job. But diabetic-alert dogs allow parents to sleep through the night, knowing that a dog is on the job and will wake them if needed.
There are seizure alert dogs and dogs who help those with autism. The individual stories that Goodavage shares are heartwarming. To dog lovers, it’s not news, but to others it proves what we’ve known all along: there is no substitute for a loving dog to make us feel better. There are also dogs who (anecdotally) have sensed cancer and bitten at moles that, when examined, were cancerous. There are cases of dogs who alerted their family member to breast cancer. In Japan, they are trying to have dogs help with early identification of those with stomach cancer in an area with high rates of that cancer.
Some dogs detect antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in hospital and nursing home settings, allowing for cleaning of those areas and reducing the contamination and spread of disease. Dogs help veterans and others who suffer from PTSD, and other dogs work with children in courthouses, calming them and offering security when they have to testify in cases involving juveniles.
Goodavage points out that the dogs who work in facilities detecting cancer cells in samples only work around 15 minutes a day three times a week. These dogs are not chained in place and working long hours. Their reward is play time, a pat on the head, an occasional treat. They love what they do, and they are helping in innumerable ways. (Dutton Books)
I’ve often personally seen the proof of a dog’s ability to heal. I bring Peanut, a trained facility dog from Canine Companions for Independence, to school with me. She works with children who are in need of some unconditional love. She is the treat kids on behavior plans get when they reach their goal. Just passing her in the hallway puts a smile on the students’ faces. When there are children with high behavioral needs, Peanut is there for them and helps calm them. She is always safe by my side, but her value to the students is priceless.
Ironically, one of the training groups that Goodavage mentions often is the charity Medical Detection Dogs, which is the group that trained Molly, the star of “Molly: The true story of the amazing dog who rescues cats” by Colin Butcher.
In the beginning of the book, Butcher shares his background and how he eventually decided to combine his detective training with his love of animals. He formed an offshoot of his detective agency to find missing animals. And the work he did is fascinating, but he realized that he needed to do more to find missing cats. When he learned about scent dogs who can smell things like diabetes, drugs, money, and disease, he decided to investigate whether a dog could be trained to find cats through scent.
The group, Medical Detection Dogs, agreed that it was a possibility. True to his background and love of animals, he shared his personal pledge from his years watching in Asia as dogs he couldn’t help died horrible deaths. “I was going to do all I possibly could to help life’s unwanted animals, both now and in the future, and would never, ever, ever buy a pet if I could attempt to rescue one instead.” He went on to explain that, “through my work in the police and as a pet detective, I’d come across far too many abandoned and neglected dogs, the sight of which had never ceased to torment me. On the flip side, I’d also encountered dozens of wonderful animal shelters and rescue centers who were devoted to rehoming unwanted animals and I was forever committed to their cause.”
There is a lovely bit of humor when Molly is first described to Butcher. She had been passed around from family to family as each one failed to manage her unruly behavior. She was a very demanding dog. “She’s been badly deprived of love and affection. She suffers from terrible separation anxiety. She barks like crazy when she’s frustrated. She steals food from people’s plates and pinches treats from their pocket.” And she was one of the most “willful, wayward and stubborn dogs” they’d ever seen. But the good news was that at the same time, Molly was amazing. “Sharp as a tack. Bags of energy. Brimming with confidence.” That’s what makes a great working dog.
The trainers at Medical Detection Dogs did their job beautifully, and Butcher ends up with a wonderful dog. He and Molly must train together, but they pass certification and become partners. The book is filled with stories of their rescues of dogs and cats, most of the rescues with happy endings. Those of us with dogs and cats learn a bit from Butcher’s explanations about why and where stray dogs and cats go. It’s interesting to learn that in the UK, it’s common for people to allow their cats freedom to explore outdoors. Here in the US, most rescues will not adopt cats or kittens out if they are not going to be inside cats, never allowed outside. We believe that there are too many dangers outside — from coyotes (even in urban areas) to traffic, dogs and disease. And after reading about all the UK cats who have disappeared for one reason or another, it’s probably safer just to keep cats indoors.
Butcher and Molly found one cat who fell off a boat and made it to shore. One cat had been missing for six months when they managed to find him. Often, Molly narrowed down the search area and Butcher had the family member sit and call the cat so that Molly wouldn’t scare the kitty away. The work they do is heartwarming and wonderful. Uniting cats and dogs with their grieving family is probably one of the most rewarding jobs one can do.
Butcher explained that because of Molly’s mistreatment, it would take time for the memories of the painful experiences to disappear. He knew from the start that he needed to provide unlimited, unconditional love and affection. And he did. While continuing with her training, he also worked to gain her affection with lots of attention and conversation. In fact, like many of us animal lovers, Butcher talks to Molly constantly.
One humorous story is when he and Molly were first interviewed on national television. Molly was not at her best in terms of behavior. Later, when searching for a cat, children at one house recognized the famous dog. “It’s Molly!” they screamed. “Molly the naughty dog!”
As in the other two dog books, Butcher recognizes that having a pet can be very therapeutic. “They offer calm when we’re stressed and provide companionship when we’re lonely.” And for those with illness, often pets are a lifeline, as Butcher relates about several of his cases. In fact, Molly brings that feeling of security and unconditional love to Butcher personally, as well as making his pet-finding business a success. The happiness that this pair brings to those they help is truly awe-inspiring. (Celadon Books)
All three books do a fabulous job relating the way dogs and humans go together. We love them unconditionally and they give us unlimited love in return. Not only do pets give us that wonderful stress relief, but working dogs make life better for those they help each and every day. The feeling of security and love that comes from a dog — trained or not — is something very special.
Please note: These reviews are based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.