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Book Review of: Dogtown

Tales of rescue, rehabilitation, and redemption

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Review of Dogtown, by Stefan Bechtel (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: 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 problems.

  • 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 whole thing.

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 manual).

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.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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