Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Weekends with Daisy by Sharron Kahn Luttrell

Sharron had a full-blown case of Canine Deficit Disorder (CDD) after the death of her beloved German shepherd named Tucker.  Even though the family home had been nicknamed Camp Luttrell in the two years since Tucker had died (because they would dog sit for all their family and friends) but there was still a dog shaped hole in Sharron's life - until a chance encounter at the supermarket introduced her to the world of inmate training programmes.  Becoming a weekend puppy raiser for NEADS was not on the cards for the family, was not even something they had thought about, but with the children growing up and almost ready to leave the nest Sharron and her husband decided to give it a go.  

In a very short space of time Sharron was all trained and ready for her first dog - much to the family's disappointment their first puppy arrived in the shape of a Standard poodle with a high prey drive who was more like a small horse than a dog.  With that disaster out of the way the door was open for a small Labrador named Daisy.  Daisy is just what the family ordered (cute, loveable, and very much a puppy) but no one was truly prepared for the impact this little puppy was going to have on all their lives.  All the tips and tricks Sharron learns through working with Daisy have an unusual (and rewarding) influence on her interactions with her children - and they work especially well for relationships with her teenage daughter.  Working alongside Keith, the inmate who is training Daisy in the prison, is also a rewarding and somewhat uncomfortable experience - pushing her boundaries and leading to some interesting discoveries and learning experiences.

As someone who has been involved with raising puppies to work with disabled individuals there were so many echoes for me when reading Weekends with Daisy - not only because of the effect Daisy has when she is out and about, but also because of the anxiety you feel sometimes knowing that you are working with an animal that is destined for great things and one little slip on your part has the potential to undo months of hard work - or even worse, the dog might fail because you have failed to meet the standard required.  So many times I found myself smiling when Sharron described a chance encounter with someone, or grimaced in sympathy when something went wrong - and sometimes I smiled and then grimaced because of what had happened.  The heartache (and pleasure) of giving up Daisy was also a familiar experience, including everyone asking how Sharron was going to cope giving Daisy up - you never truly know until the time comes, and there is always that special puppy that tugs at your heartstrings a little more than the others - a special dog that stays with you for a long time.

Many of the books about service and assistance dogs at the moment are about fully qualified dogs and their handlers, so it was refreshing to have a story about someone who is working alongside a puppy to prepare them for a future career as a working dog - it is a very different relationship with its own pitfalls, challenges, and rewards.  For me this book was also amazing because the story of Keith, Daisy's inmate, is as much a part of the story as Daisy herself and it was interesting/absorbing/rewarding to read about the changes Daisy made for him, and the changes he made for Daisy as well.  At times it is not easy to read about Keith and why he was in prison, but inmate training programmes are amazing (judging from all the articles I have read) both for the accelerated training of the dogs and the inmates themselves, and this is an easy introduction to the valuable work they do in one of the programmes.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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