Friday, March 31, 2017

LOYAL :: Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

Those of us lucky enough to have a dog (or two, or more), particularly a therapy or service dog, are so used to being surrounded by the cocoon of support the relationship provides that we begin to become inured to just how special those bonds can be. It's not that we take them for granted, it's that we semi-forgot what it's like to be without them.

We can all stand to be reminded just how far and wide the bonds between canine and human can be stretched. Dogs are infinity, and in Loyal: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism, and the Devotion of Dogs, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh provides 38 fabulous reminders of just how lucky we humans are to have such willing and capable companions.

Journalist Ascher-Walsh is also the founder of the Deja Foundation, an organization that works with rescue groups to assist with the adoption of dogs from high-kill shelters. In writing the prequel to Loyal, a book entitled Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life With Dogs, Ascher-Walsh learned that dogs do more than provide comfort to individuals at the end of a long day. Dogs connect us and bring us together as a larger community. Loyal was borne of that ideation.

Using stories about more than fifteen different breeds (or mixes) of dogs scattered across 21 of the United States (with stops in Puerto Rico and Australia for good measure), Ascher-Walsh shows how dogs better our lives by helping us create better and more diverse communities in myriad ways. Dogs provide assistance that allows a wide variety of individuals to gain (or regain) ground previously unavailable, including kids and adults limited by medical conditions, emotional needs, or physical restrictions. And they guard penguins to boot.

Dogs also help prove we all have a place in the world. The dogs highlighted in Loyal are not all perfect breed standards or dogs raised and trained to provide service. They are also dogs thrown away and found in high-kill shelters, dogs with deformities and physical limitations of their own, dogs trained by prison inmates and dogs who simply proved a knack for a service that could not be denied (i.e., honing in on people who have cancer).

The most fervent dog fan will still learn something from Loyal. If you knew about Conservation Canines, raise your hand. This program at the University of Washington turns rescue dogs into detectives helping to locate endangered species for identification and study. If you knew that one, I know I'll stump you with PHARM Dog USA, a Missouri non-profit that trains dogs to work with disabled farmers. The boundaries of the dog/human connection seem boundless, but Loyal is a great cross-section of the realm of possibilities.

The book itself is really well done, what we have come to expect from a National Geographic publication. It's what I would consider a coffee table book despite it's somewhat diminutive size, perfect for a corner display where it can be flipped through at leisure. The glossy pages are full of color photographs and numerous side columns containing breed facts or general dog-related information. Loyal would be a perfect gift for a special dog person in your life, or anyone who is interested in the world of human-animal connections.

I was lucky enough to be asked to be part of a the blog tour for Loyal set up by Trish at TLC Book Tours. A list of all the bloggers who are chiming in on this lovely book can be found here.

STREET SENSE: A fun, feel-good, and informative look into the world of canine assistance and how dogs allow us to create better communities.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I loved this passage about pit bull service dog Jericho, since it is a myth-buster when it comes to the way many people unfortunately view the breed:

When Smith's Maryland home was invaded in the middle of the night, Jericho alerted Smith to the fact that something was wrong. Since Jericho was naturally a quiet dog, Smith had had to train him to bark. So when Jericho barked that night, Smith knew something was wrong. Smith went to the door, and a man started pushing his way into the house. "We were fighting--I was beating him with my crutch, and it was getting louder," Smith describes. "Jericho ran behind my wife and peed on the floor."

COVER NERD SAYS:  Spare and to the point, the cover image of a gorgeous black lab is tough to fault. The theme does feel a bit patriotic to the United States (blue background; red, white and blue collar and red, white and blue ribbon with stars on it), which may provide a bit too much of a military feel to it, particularly since most of the stories don't deal with the military or law enforcement and some of the dogs highlighted are located outside the U.S. But I'm picking nits, the cover is of a beautiful dog and who can find fault in that?

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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