What is it that dogs have done to earn the title of “man’s best friend”? And more broadly, how have all of our furry, feathered, and four-legged brethren managed to enrich our lives? Why do we love them? What can we learn from them? And why is it so difficult to say good-bye? Join B.J. Hollars as he attempts to find out—beginning with an ancient dog cemetery in Ashkelon, Israel, and moving to the present day.
Hollars’s firsthand reports recount a range of stories: the arduous existence of a shelter officer, a woman’s relentless attempt to found a senior-dog adoption facility, a family’s struggle to create a one-of-a-kind orthotic for its bulldog, and the particular bond between a blind woman and her Seeing Eye dog. The book culminates with Hollars’s own cross-country journey to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery—the country’s largest and oldest pet cemetery—to begin the long-overdue process of laying his own childhood dog to rest.
Through these stories, Hollars reveals much about our pets but even more about the humans who share their lives, providing a much-needed reminder that the world would be a better place if we took a few cues from man’s best friends.
Thanks to the University of Nebraska Press for providing this ARC!
Author BJ Hollars has a unique writing style, at times wonderfully evocative, and at others somewhat cloying. He is great at describing the scene, whether it’s a dreary shelter or a well furnished blind woman’s home (he realizes that the decorations are for the sighted visitors, in an “aha” moment that pulled me up short, as did him).
He is also unashamed to describe his deepest and most secret emotions as well–he is very moved by the euthanasia of a shelter dog and shares with the reader his reticence to witness the event. Towards the end of the book, when he is recounting his road trip to scatter the ashes of his family pet that died many years ago, he lays bare his grief in a way that encompasses his family, his journey through life, and the love for his dog, even though she has been gone for years, her ashes gathering dust on a shelf in his parent’s home.
There are also times when he seems too glib for his own good, as he belabors the point of a bulldog’s gas, or saying a desceased dog was “found deflated” in a bedroom. These moments are few and far between, thankfully. Most of the book is filled with touching moments and “lessons” learned from his interactions, such as live your life with hope and don’t judge a book by its cover.
Dogs and people share space equally in this book; as we see how canines enrich the human lives and vice versa. Not all told here is sweetness and light, however. Hollars manages to take some of the darkest things we know: death, disability, and aging; then spin them into a story that will leave you with respect for the bond between a dog and his person. He is not afraid to cover touchy subjects, such as a dog sentenced to death for killing a cat (and how the shelter subsequently handles that situation).
I’m thinking that the readers of this book will come away with new knowledge and respect for both dogs and the humans that love and care for them. The stories are easy reading and can be read one chapter at a time without losing your place. Definitely a winner.
Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0803277296″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].