Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Every Dog Has A Gift

Title: Every Dog Has A Gift
Author: Rachel McPherson
ISBN: 978-1-58542-795-6
Pages: 288
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Publisher: Penguin Publishing
Genre: Dogs/Inspiration Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: Anyone who has ever had a relationship with a dog will tell you: They want nothing more than to give love and be loved in return. In Every Dog Has a Gift, Rachel McPherson draws on her experience as the founder and executive director of The Good Dog Foundation, the largest animal-assisted therapy organization on the East Coast, to share the amazing stories of dogs that bring hope and healing into our lives.

Much has been said about the heroic roles dogs played following September 11th and Hurricane Katrina in providing support and comfort for the families and victims of these terrible tragedies, but the truth is that millions of dogs around the world are heroes every day. These therapy and service dogs (and often quite ordinary, "uncertified" dogs just like your own!) can:

*serve as the perfect audience for kids who need help with practicing and improving their reading skills;
*hold troubled families together;
*provide a calm and centering presence for autistic children, and
*help individuals who have lost the ability to walk to more easily navigate the world.

Every Dog Has a Gift is a celebration of the gift that each and every dog possesses: the ability to bring the healing power of unconditional love into our lives.

My Thoughts: Every Dog Has A Gift is filled with heart-warming, and some heart-breaking , stories that clearly illustrate Rachel McPherson's belief "...that all dogs inherently have the power to heal; and they all want to give love and to be loved in return...". The stories included in this book show the wonderful impact dogs have on the lives of people, particularly those who are ill, disabled, withdrawn, depressed, lonely and sad. In this book, dogs are more than just a cute animal to pat on the head. Their ability to heal and comfort people is clearly evident. I grew up with dogs and know that, not only do they adore attention and want to be loved but they really want to give love. Many dogs respond to people's moods and show a remarkable ability to lift someone up when they're down and make people feel loved. Anybody who has loved a dog and experienced their companionship will love the stories in this book and many will see their dogs in a new and different light.

Rachel McPherson impresses me as an ambitious, dynamic and very caring person. She had her own company and a fulfilling career as a film and television producer before she researching dogs and their ability to assist in therapy. Her research was initially for a documentary but, through her research McPherson discovered that dogs weren't allowed in hospitals in New York. Her love of dogs and her belief "that each and every dog is a therapy dog", and has the ability to heal and comfort people compelled McPherson to start The Good Dog Foundation dedicated to dog-assisted therapy. She also worked to get the law changed in New York to the benefit of so many people in hospitals and other institutions. Today, the Good Dog Foundation is responsible for thousands upon thousands of visits every day by dogs to people in health care, social services, schools and all sorts of community organizations not only in New York but in CT, NJ and MA. Good Dogs was also asked to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina after the wonderful work they did at Ground Zero after 9/11.

One of my favorite stories in this book is about Sunny, a border-collie mix rescued as a puppy during Hurricane Katrina. Sunny wasn't been properly socialized and therefore, was an extremely frightened dog. Debbie Jacobs, a volunteer with the Human Society in VT, assisted with the rescue and placement of animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. She brought Sunny to VT planning to foster him until he was able to be placed in a permanent home. But poor Sunny was petrified and required an enormous amount of TLC and intense care. Jacobs story about caring for Sunny, learning how to take care of and heal, as much as possible, a terrified dog is amazing. But the really remarkable part of this story is how much Jacobs says she's been rewarded by caring for Sunny and how much Sunny has taught her about life. Knowing that their are people like Jacobs in this world who will provide a safe, secure and loving home for a beautiful dog like Sunny and considers herself fortunate to have Sunny in her life is just wonderful.

The story of Jessica, a three-legged Shetland sheepdog-collie mix, adopted by Toni, is one I will never forget. Jessica has 3-legs due to a birth defect, but was extremely timid because of the life she'd lived and needed to be socialized. One day, on one of their many walks, Jessica and Toni met Jeanette and her 9-year old son, Bobbie, who was in a wheelchair and had one leg due to an automobile accident. Jessica, who was very shy around strangers, stood right next to Bobbie's wheelchair and let him pet her. Toni's story tells about the relationship that grew between Bobbie and Jessica and how with the comfort, support and closeness of Jessica, Bobbie's depression lifted and he became an active participant in his life.

Every Dog Has A Gift is comprised of inspirational stories grouped into 3 categories about dogs as healers and teachers, dogs that changed lives or dogs in the lives of children. The stories would make a terrific book on their own. But McPherson goes a step farther. Part of this book is also a "How-to" manual. The end of every section includes a chapter about getting involved with dogs like those in the previous stories. Information about service dogs and the different types of programs available is provided as well as a list of resources for the different service dogs and the programs. There is a section on special needs dogs, and how and where to adopt a dog with special needs. McPherson also includes information for families about how to choose the right dog for your family and a list of resources to help them. The final section in the book is all about becoming a therapy team with your dog.

I entered a drawing sponsored by Penguin to win an ARC of Every Dog Has A Gift and I am thrilled that I was one of the winners. This is a wonderful book filled with stories I know I will read again and again. And now I want a dog. Sorry kitty-cats!