There are many dogs in shelters who are adopted and then returned over and over again. They bark too much. They are too active. They are too playful. In “Ember: Rescue Dogs #1” by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines-Stephens, we learn that those kinds of dogs often make the best working dogs.
This story is the first in what will be a series about rescue dogs who earn that title by then rescuing others — in effect showing the readers that just because a dog is in a shelter, unwanted, that dog, like all dogs, has a place where it can shine. Ember, who in the story pushes all her young siblings out from their hidden place when a fire threatens their home, a hole under a house, is rescued last. The firefighter who pulls her out resuscitates her and cradles her in his hand. Before leaving her with the animal control workers, he gifts her with one of his gloves. That turns out to be her most prized possession as poor Ember goes from one family to another, each time returned to the shelter for various reasons.
On a side note, I have been involved in animal rescue for decades, I’ve seen dogs who have been deemed “unadoptable.” In fact, I adopted one, a rottweiler/pit bull mix, at the age of six months. He was so frightened that he had to be carried to our car. Sammy was very difficult to house train and so rambunctious that we often feared for our kneecaps as he would run by us and misjudge the distance, often almost knocking us over. He chewed prescription glasses, cell phones, shoes, and more. He had the energy of a puppy throughout his life. In spite of his energy, he became a certified therapy dog because he wanted more than anything to please. He would have been a wonderful SAR (search and rescue) dog. He had the drive, the intelligence, the loyalty and love of play. What often makes for a difficult dog to live with (and he was), makes for a fabulous SAR dog.
So in the story, Ember’s energy and her love of searching and smelling and digging (finding things that past dogs buried in the ground) made her a difficult dog to live with. But those same qualities also made her a terrific SAR dog. And in this story we meet the family who runs the training facility where dogs are taught and worked to become hero dogs. Georgia is the woman who started the facility, and now her daughter and son-in-law and their children live there. She still lives on the property but doesn’t have an active role in the training. One young trainer who works with Ember is Roxanne, and because of the omniscient third person narration, we are privy to her thoughts and fears about Ember. Will Ember’s past make it too difficult for her to make the grade as a SAR?
Young readers will relate to the novel’s kids: Shelby, the teenager; Forrest, a ten-year old boy who is obsessed with Ember; Morgan, his younger sister who desperately wants to work with the dogs but is deemed too young; and the youngest, Juniper, who dearly loves her cat Twig and wants to train him to be a SAR cat. Like many kids, they make mistakes, get into trouble, but have the best of intentions in the end.
There is much to enjoy in this story with some sweet surprises. Fans of W. Bruce Cameron’s children’s dog books will definitely want to read each of these. I can’t wait to see what the next one brings.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reading copy provided by Scholastic Books, the publisher, for review purposes.