Category Archives: Dog Book Reviews

Soul of an Octopus

By Sy Montgomery

You might think a book on octopuses would be the farthest from my list of book reviews about dogs and the  environment, but octopuses are very smart, inquisitive, and have individual personalities. In many ways, the octopuses at the aquarium can act as pets, remembering people who interact with them and express their feelings by blowing water at those they don’t like. They enjoy getting their heads petted, and playing, much like a dog.

Soul of an Octopus bookOctopuses can even show affection towards humans by tasting them and hanging onto their arms. They can change color rapidly to show their emotions, red for anger or excitement, white for contentment, and other colors to blend into their environment as camouflage. Sometimes octopuses escape their tanks or seem to play tricks on their caretakers. They enjoy working puzzles and need to have something to do or they get bored.

The author, Sy Montgomery, wanted to get to know octopuses better, so she started with a visit to the New England Aquarium, where she met Athena, the first octopus she ever touched. The meeting intrigued her into frequent visits and getting to know the aquarists and their concerns for the animal’s environments. Octopuses only live a few years, and the book covers several octopuses at the aquarium and the trials imposed on them with conditions at the aquarium.  Octopuses are as unique as their names, Octavia, Kali, and Karma. Eventually Sy wants to see octopuses in the wild and learns how to scuba dive, which presents many problems, but ultimately leads to many successes.

This book is not a documentary, but a very enjoyable read recounting her experiences with these octopuses, the aquarists, and the concerns of spacing, compatibility, and other problems experienced at public aquariums.

I recommend this book to open our eyes to the world around us and to experience other intelligent beings. The Soul of an Octopus was a National Book Award Finalist and I give it a 5 out of 5 stars.

Thunder Dog – The True Story of a Blind Man, his Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust – A Book Review

Few of us know what it’s like to be blind or even know a blind person. Just imagine being blind in today’s world, the challenges, but also the advantages provided by technology, and more acceptance of guide dogs by the public.

Blind people today can do almost anything if they are willing to try, and Michael Hingson tried everything. He was born prematurely and in the 1950s, the common practice was to place preemies in a high oxygen environment. Now doctors know that this practice can cause blindness. Thunder Dog book cover

Mike’s parents did not treat him as if he had a handicap. He went to regular school, played with kids in the neighborhood, even learned to ride a bicycle. He developed a skill similar to echolocation using sounds around him to “hear” doorways and parked cars. He even drove a car short distances around his college campus and flew and landed an airplane (with an assistant). Mike used Braille and screen readers and became a voracious reader who could solve physics problems in his head. He graduated with an advanced degree in physics and went into sales, earning over $100K/year. Mike thought he could do anything.

On September 11, 2001, Mike was in the North tower of the World Trade Center when an airplane struck the building above him. His guide dog, Roselle, helped him down 78 flights to escape the burning tower. If Roselle had lost focus and panicked, Mike may not have survived. Shortly after escaping the North tower, the South tower collapsed and released a powerful dust cloud, almost suffocating them.

Much of the book focuses on his escape with flashbacks to Mike’s childhood, as well as information about guide dogs, and prejudices people have about blind people.

After 911, Mike changed careers to become a famous spokesperson for the National Foundation for the Blind. Roselle was memorialized after she died and no other guide dog will ever have that name. The Roselle Dream Foundation was developed to raise funds to buy equipment for blind children so they can function as normal kids.

I rate this book as 5 out of 5 stars.

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The Dog Year—A Book Review

I met Ann Garvin when she gave an enthusiastic and funny keynote address at the UW Madison Writer’s Institute in 2015. As an exercise physiology nurse turned novelist, her stories intrigued me with her sense of humor. Her book, The Dog Year, grabbed my heart and eyes with a photo of a dog on the cover. I met Ann again a year later at the Chicago Writer’s Conference, where she gave me pointers on how to pitch an agent for the book I am currently writing.

The Dog Year is not directly about dogs but uses them as ancillary characters to help Dr. Lucy Peterman and her friends heal from various emotional traumas. Dogs are great therapists, which Lucy discovered after she decided to keep an abandoned dog she named “Little Dog.” The Dog Year book cover

Lucy developed kleptomania after her husband and unborn child died in a car accident. Instead of working through her grief, she avoided it by leaving her bedroom untouched, only entering to throw in bags of supplies she had stolen from the hospital where she worked as a plastic surgeon, specializing in breast reconstruction.

After getting caught stealing, her boss gave her a leave of absence until she received counseling from an addiction therapist and completed twenty sessions of group therapy at Alcoholics Anonymous, the only group addiction therapy session available.

Lucy resented having to attend AA, but there she met some interesting people. She also runs into Mark, a former high school classmate now a cop, who caught her stealing a bar of soap at Walmart. They strike up a friendship, which Lucy doesn’t feel comfortable with until he gets her pregnant in a moment of weakness.

As Lucy decided whether to keep Mark’s baby or become impregnated with her late husband’s sperm stored at a sperm bank, she started volunteering at the animal shelter. Through her involvement with the AA group and dogs, she decided to find pets for her AA friends. Visits to the dog park became their new ritual as relationships with the dogs and each other aid recovery from their addictions.

This novel has a lighthearted approach to all the complexities of life. Overall, I found this a unique story about how friends and dogs can help us grow.

I rate this book at 4 out of 5 stars.

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Book Review: Through Frankie’s Eyes

A Dachshund in a wheelchair on the book cover grabbed at my heart.  About fifteen years ago, I too had owned a dog that needed a wheel chair due to osteosarcoma, a fast-growing bone cancer.

Was the author’s experience similar to mine? How did she deal with the constraints of a wheel chair?  I had to find out.

Through-Frankies-Eyes1-e1421358560597Frankie’s paralysis occurred due to a fall while Barbara Techel was on vacation, and complications caused from IVDD (Intervertebral Disk Disease).  Obviously, Techel’s experience with Frankie affected her enough to write several books including two were children’s books and this memoir.  I had to read it.  My springer, Kaylee, had also influenced my writing of our story.

Although Through Frankie’s Eyes is more about the author, Barbara Techel, than about  Frankie.   I found it compelling how this dog gave her a career change and helped her find her life’s purpose.  Preliminary reviews of my yet to be completed book brought  up questions asking, what had I learned from Kaylee and  from my experience with her?  My mind always drew a blank.  I had spent so much time caring for her and earning money for her treatments, I hadn’t thought about much else.

However, a paralyzed dog does teach you.

  • The dog accepts their condition and usually doesn’t get depressed (although the owner might).
  • They test your dedication to their needs since often they do not have full bowel or bladder control and need help getting around when they can no longer follow your every move.
  • You become a local expert on their condition and try to connect with others with similar situations. Techel did this through Dodgerslist, a group that provided much information and support for IVDD in dogs . Unfortunately, this group did not exist when Kaylee was paralyzed.

For Techel, her experience went way beyond these lessons as she reached out to teach children not to judge other people based on their physical appearance, and to accept life’s challenges. The old cliché ‘When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade’ definitely applies to both Techel and Frankie.

My experiences with dogs were amazingly similar to Techel’s at some points.  She also had a dog with osteosarcoma this was not Frankie but her first dog, Cassie, , to whom she devoted a good portion of the first fifty pages of the book.  Cassie suffered much less trauma with osteosarcoma than my Kaylee did, but having gone through the experience of losing a healthy dog to this cancer makes us kindred spirits.  In addition, the dog’s name, Cassie, was the name of my second springer spaniel, who died about a year ago from a brain tumor.

I recommend this book to dog owners, those who love to read memoirs, and people seeking inspiration.  Techel’s experience is even making me consider training one of my current dogs, a cocker named Buffy, to be a therapy dog—if she can stop wiggling long enough to listen.