The Possibility Dogs
What a handful of "unadoptables" taught me about service, hope, and healing
by Susannah Charleson
5 stars - heartwarming, instructive, inspirational
ALR Yellow - one very red scene near the beginning, but the rest of the book focuses on success stories (although some dogs die, so sensitive readers will be happy/sad)
It wasn't until I started reading about the crazy pack of Pomeranians, that I realized that this book is written by the author of another five star title, Scent of the Missing.
First and foremost, Ms. Charleson is an extraordinary storyteller. She is able to write about the struggles of both dogs and humans in a way that is compelling and paints wonderful pictures in the reader's mind. In particular, she can bring to life the quirks, behaviors, and motivations of dogs without ever anthropomorphizing them. Here's a sample where she describes a dog learning to play fetch.
Smarts to burn. Roscoe had plenty of smarts, but he was an odd dog at first. He wasn't sure what to make of fetch. Roscoe was simply too infatuated with the complete perfection of ball. Initially the dog would simply go after the ball and then run with it in his mouth, joyful, heedless of everything and everyone else: Here is this thing I've caught and now I have it I have it I have it. Fetch took a little patience on Alex's part. Plenty of games began and ended with just the one throw. He wanted to possess, but he also wanted to run, and he wanted Alex's attention too. How to do all at once? Alex taught him to fetch by alternately throwing two balls. Once he learned the routine, Roscoe seemed overjoyed by the concept of a game involving all of his favorite things: the ball, the run, and his person, all of which could be had over and over again.
The Possibility Dogs is about dogs trained as service dogs specifically for people with mental health issues. The people we meet have lives that are defined by their illness and have become unable to function in the world. OCD, PTSD, depression, etc. So what does a psych service dog do? He or she can be trained to disrupt obsessive behavior. The dog can learn to sense the onset of an anxiety attack and redirect the owner. The dog can provide a calming presence that enables the owner to re-enter the world.
Ms. Charleson struggles with her own issues, brought on by events surrounding one of her search and rescue missions with her Golden Retriever, Puzzle. By learning how to train her dog to assist her, she begins her journey into the world of psych service dog training.
The dogs featured are all rescues, which makes things even better. Dogs with unfortunate circumstances who are able to not only be companions, but who take delight in the work of helping their humans navigate through life.
Without ever being overly technical or preachy, Ms. Charleson takes the reader through the selection of both dog and owner as well as the training techniques involved. While I'm not training a service dog, reading her descriptions of how eagerly dogs learn basic helpful behaviors has certainly inspired me to pick up the clicker again with Dexter.
There is death in the book. Dogs die, owners die. Ms. Charleson discusses the death of several dogs, but she does it in a way that aligns with my own sentiment. Yes, there is the awful final day (or days) when you know your dog is very ill and you are rushing to the ER or administering handfuls of medication, but if you have loved your dog and provided a good life for him or her, and you are there with them through the end, then it might hurt, but it is all good, it's all worth it.
This is one of the best dog books I've ever read. It has valuable information in it about the world of service dogs and, best of all, it is beautifully written.