Dogtown, by Stefan Bechtel (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
No, it's not the movie starring Nicole Kidman. It's the book starring
16 dogs and a supporting cast of some very special, very loving humans.
This book consists of 15 short stories of compassion (two of the 16
dogs are in one of the stories). The thread that ties them all together
is the stories take place at an animal sanctuary called Dogtown. Best
Friends, the group that owns Dogtown, also has "towns" specifically for
cats and for birds.
Dogtown is one of the nation's largest "no-kill" dog sanctuaries. But
it's more than just a sanctuary. Its staff seeks the "hard cases," dogs
that have a poor chance of adoption due to behavior problems or some
other issues. Dogtown staff and volunteers work with these dogs to
overcome those problems so the dogs can become suitable for adoption.
When a dog is adopted, the Dogtown caregivers say the dog has "found a
forever home." If the dog isn't adopted, s/he can spend the rest of
his/her life at Dogtown being loved and cared for.
This book, while addressing a noble endeavor, does have some minor
- The author occasionally overdid it with the hyperbole, and with
literary allusions that don't fit. The author sometimes didn't pull
this off very well.
- Similar to the previous problem, the author occasionally overdid
it with flattery.
- Excising a few of the advertorial comments would have resulted
in a better book.
The problems with this book keep it from getting a five-star rating,
but it's an excellent book nonetheless. If you watch television,
consider replacing that activity with something fulfilling. You can, as
Dr. Mike (who used to live not far from me) noted in his story,
volunteer to help out at your local animal shelter.
Overall, the writing was clear and engaging. I found it impossible to
read any given story only in part. Once I started one, I had to read the
On a mechanical note, Bechtel is solid in his wordsmithing. Unlike
many of today's authors, this one is competent with the English
language. He even used possessive pronouns with gerunds, which is
notable in today's grammatically-challenged publishing world. Nor did he
use the book as a vehicle to expound on personal political views (the
literary equivalent of a dog with a biting problem).
Bechtel brought up some interesting statistics, but didn't conclude
anything for the reader (I like it when an author does exactly what this
one did). If you connect the dots, you see that the number of dogs
produced in puppy mills each year is roughly equal to the number that
wind up in animal shelters each year. And most of those animals are
killed (euthanized) because there's no place to put them.
The pattern goes like this. A "breeder" sells puppies to retail pet
stores, with plenty of profit all round but horrendous conditions for
the dogs. People go into these stores and buy the dogs, thus creating
the demand that fuels the supply. The dogs typically are not prepared
for living with humans, having spent their entire lives thus far in a
box or a cage. The result of this situation is the dog goes to an animal
shelter, where it basically sits on death row. This pattern repeats
itself over and over again.
This book has many benefits that go beyond "feel good." Reading
through the examples, you see a fair amount of practical advice. I
recognize the principles, because I use them myself. Those principles
include such things as using positive reinforcement.
In one story, a trainer averts her eyes to reduce the dog's anxiety.
Try this with any wild animal, and you'll see how effective it is. Using
this technique, I can slowly move to within a yard or so of a wild
rabbit and it won't run off. Such "tips" are dispersed throughout the
book, though you have to look for them (the book isn't a training
The folks at Dogtown don't seek to dominate dogs. They seek to
understand dogs, and from there build mutual respect. Practicing this
philosophy will help any pet "owner" have a more fulfilling and
relationship with the pet. Actually, this book can serve as a good guide
for how we should treat our fellow human beings. It's definitely an
uplifting read. If you want to dig into the thinking behind the success
the stories talk about, it can be a life-changing read.