Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dog Days

The first Canadian book to sell over a million copies, Beautiful Joe, by Margaret Marshall Saunders, was the fictionalized autobiography of a real abused dog that had been rescued by friends of the author. Despite its dated style and sermonizing, it has rarely been out of print since its first publication in 1893. It and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, the fictionalized autobiography of a mistreated horse, have probably been responsible for passage of many of the (still grossly inadequate) humane animal treatment laws throughout the United States and Canada. Many thousands of animal rescue workers and volunteers have been influenced and inspired by these books. I wept copiously over both of them in my childhood, and I still have a strong interest in both rescue work and authentically portrayed animals in my reading.

Donna Ball has written a series of interesting and informative dog mysteries about a Search and Rescue tracker in the lovely North Carolina mountains. In the first, Smoky Mountain Tracks, Raine Stockton had resigned from the S&R Service after the painful loss of her beloved and reliable tracking dog Cassidy. When her ex-husband Deputy Sheriff Buck Lawson asks for her help in tracking a missing child and mother, she takes the young half-trained Cisco, who finds not the missing pair, but the body of a drug dealer who may have kidnapped them. While the characters could use more development, the plot, setting, and training details make this series of novellas worth following.

Rottweiler Rescue is an easy reading one-off cozy by author Ellen O'Connell, who has rescued these fearsome looking but usually gentle giants for many years. When rescuer Dianne Brennan takes one of her fostered rotties to meet a potential adopter, she literally runs into the adopter's murderer on the back steps of the house, thereby becoming his next target.

The plot and pacing are good, and Dianne's handling of her rescued animals and their problems is a realistic and respectful presentation of rescue work. The dogs, while central to the story, thankfully do not talk or solve the mystery, as happens in many of the uber-cutesy animal cozies. I would enjoy reading more of these intelligent adventures.

Into Darkness, the maiden novel of award-winning screenwriter and director Jonathan Lewis, may be the most stunning and disturbing dog mystery I have read. Months later, the story still haunts me. Sir Tommy Best was a legend––both a world-famous actor and a blind man; as noted for his philanthropies as his superb acting skills. He went nowhere without his devoted and intelligent guide dog, Suzy. One morning Sir Tommy is found drowned in the stinking mud at the bottom of a dock, having fallen or been pushed through a gap in the walkway above, and Suzy is nowhere nearby. She is finally found several miles away in obvious shock, her harness torn and dragging. Sir Tommy's wife, a famous actress, is sure that he was murdered––Suzy's skill and fidelity would never have let him come to harm.

The only witness is the mute and traumatized guide dog. What happened to the thousand pounds that Sir Tommy had withdrawn from the bank that afternoon, and how is the burnt match with a bit of strange blood at the tip connected to the crime? DCI Ned "the Yid" and WPC Kate "the Dog Tart" Baker have a puzzling and horrifying case to solve in this semi-noir, occasionally darkly humorous procedural. The author's film background is apparent in the tight writing and the highly visual, sometimes claustrophobic scenes.

Rescue Rage is a potent and terrible condition that affects almost all animal rescuers at one time or another. When compassion has been wrung into harrowed and quivering exhaustion, sometimes that righteous fury is the only thing that drags one out of the house to minister to the never-ending parade of neglected, abandoned, and abused creatures. Behind that serene demeanor, your average rescue worker sometimes crafts and relishes fantasies of mayhem and murder that would appall practitioners of the Spanish Inquisition.

At such times, Rebecca Stroud's short e-book Do Unto Others is a highly gratifying read. Homicide detective Amanda Silver, engaged to Kevin Monroe, the lead investigator of the newly formed Animal Cop unit, is investigating a series of murders that seem to have nothing in common except the use of veterinary drugs and the, um, very creative torture of certain of the victims. Stroud has worked in animal rescue for many years, and understands both the inadequacy of most humane protection laws and their lackadaisical enforcement very well. This gory well-written little gem is not for the weak of heart or stomach.

So what have you done this holiday season for the voiceless misused and abused creatures who share our world? There's still time to take food or old linens to a local shelter, or volunteer to walk a few dogs or clean some cages. The Humane Society and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are desperate for funds that can be donated at their websites or by check. When times are tough and money tight, most often the pets go first––to shelters if their owners are responsible, or just tossed out and abandoned to fend for themselves. "Every man is a hero to his dog." Would that every pet owner were worthy of that devotion. Peace and prosperity enough to share to all in the coming year!


  1. I completely understand Rescue Rage, and while I'm really looking forward to reading some of those books, the others, I think I will leave be. I see enough of those in real life, and occasionally want to strangle people bringing in their pets because "My kid doesn't want their cat anymore because she's not a kitten," or "the dog peed on the carpet again, I hope you destroy him."

    Thank you for writing this. It's good to know that there are people who really do care.

  2. I'm in accordance with Anon. And with the plea for help at the end of Periphera's entry.

    “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion.

    We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err.

    For the animal shall not be measured by man.

    In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.

    They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

    —from Henry Beston, the The Outermost House (1928)

  3. Anon, how nice to hear from another weary warrior! Keep fighting the good fight - and check out 'Do Unto Others' when it gets really tough.

    Cave76, you must read very widely indeed! What a beautiful quote. Going to check out that author now.

  4. Periphera,
    I'm not so much a 'widely read' reader but a magpie, known for picking up little tidbits and such in my mind, which of course takes up the space needed to figure out where I left my glasses!

  5. What a great idea to remember the shelters and the rescue groups at this time of year.

    I've never known a 'working dog' but these should be great stories for me and the fangette to curl up on the couch and read.

    My respect and thanks go out to the rescuers. I couldn't do it.

    Best in the new year.

  6. Periphera - Talk about stumbling in...I had no clue that my novella, 'Do Unto Others,' was being featured today but I'm so glad I found out.

    Yes, the book may be a bit difficult to read at times but - to be honest - those scenes were also difficult to write. Yet, aside from venting, I wanted to make an impact...hopefully, I succeeded.

    And rescue rage, indeed...a sad but succinct way to describe the emotions that often overcome all animal-care personnel.

    In any case, thank you for this post. 'Do Unto Others' is struggling to find an audience. I realize it is not for everyone but I believe it will eventually reach those who need the 'virtual vengeance' it provides.

  7. Anon 2, thanks. Those workers and volunteers are indeed unsung heroes. Working dogs in any capacity are a marvel, they can and gladly do things no person can, just for our approval.

    Rebecca, thanks so much for stopping by. Do Unto Others should be required reading for burned out rescuers; that bit of 'virtual vengeance' just hit that difficult spot!