I always enjoy getting books to review, and last month I received two, just in time to add to your Christmas list.
First is "Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World" by Lisa Rogak. Published by St. Martin's Press, $14.99, paperback.
Rogak has written another dog book, "Dogs of War: The Courage, Love and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs," as well as several biographies of famous people.
In "Dogs of Courage," Rogak looks at the many different types of service dogs that help humans everyday, as well as some "just pets" who have been especially helpful to their humans. The book is broken up into sections for police dogs, fire dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, guide, service and assistance dogs, therapy dogs, prison dogs, medical detection dogs, wildlife detection and conservation dogs, civilian dogs, and celebrity dogs.
The book is well-written and easy to read and understand. It may also introduce readers to types of working dogs that they are unfamiliar with.
For instance, almost everyone knows that dogs can help guide the blind and alert those who are deaf to different sounds, and drug and bomb detection dogs are at many airports, but you might not know about wildlife and conservation dogs who help protect the environment as well as specific animals.
For example, Ridley the terrier helps locate sea turtle eggs so that the eggs can be safely hatched and the young turtles returned to the sea. Some dogs are trained to sniff out invasive plants and animals before they crowd out the flora and fauna that belong in a location. Some are trained to find pythons in the Everglades. These invasive snakes would be almost impossible to track were it not for the specially trained dogs who alert to the python's scent.
There are dogs that are taught to identify the smell of such pests as termites and bedbugs, as well as dogs who cannot only detect mold, but also find the source of the moisture that is causing that mold. Therapy dogs can help sick people, or they may encourage a child to read, just by lying quietly and listening without judgment.
Throughout the book there are examples of specific dogs, such as Midge the Chihuahua who was also a police dog, and Apollo, a standard poodle who helped bring a young girl out of a coma. My one complaint has to do with the book's layout and not with the writing. All of these examples are in black type on a dark gray background, which makes them hard to read easily. Also, instead of inserting these vignettes at the end of a section, they are often dropped into the middle of a section, sometimes breaking up a sentence, so, the reader must flip ahead to finish that sentence, or paragraph, and then flip back to read the example. You could skip them, of course, but they help to bring the reader closer to the topic, so you'd be missing a lovely part of the book.
Dogs do much more than just be our "best friend," and this book illustrates the many ways they help to make our lives easier and better. It's an informative book and makes me appreciate the abilities of my own dogs, even if all they ever sniff out is a dropped potato chip.
Next up, "The Divinity of Dogs: True Stories of Miracles Inspired by Man's Best Friend," by Jennifer Skiff, Atria Books, $24, hardcover.
This book should come with it's own box of tissues, because, trust me, you won't get through it without needing several. Some stories make you smile through your tears, some bring a tear because of the obvious bond between human and dog, but all of them will touch you in some way.
The author has collected 71 different stories, as well as her own experiences with dogs over the years, and has arranged them by subject: love, comfort, intuition, healing, gratitude, loyalty, passing, compassion and forgiveness. Dog lovers won't learn much that they didn't already know. We already know how special our relationship is with our dogs. Still, it doesn't hurt to be reminded of that relationship in case we start to take it for granted, and most of the stories are so heartwarming that you are left feeling good.
If you haven't finished your holiday shopping, either of these books is a good selection for the dog lover on your list.