Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The possibility dogs by Susannah Charleson

The path a life takes can sometimes be surprising, and sometimes the journey is the most surprising of all.  This is a memoir with a difference, blending together a life of working with a search and rescue trained golden retriever and providing refuge for rescue dogs - and a life of discovery in the often misunderstood world of psychiatric service dogs.  In a carefully balanced dance of chapters we experience the life Susannah lives with Puzzle, her swarm of Pomeranians, and a puppy that fell into her lap called Jake Piper, but we also learn about the lives who have been touched by working psychiatric service dogs.

I have a strong personal interest in psychiatric service dogs and assistance dogs in general because I have seen them working and done the research - psychiatric service dogs are thought of as a crutch, a gimmick, a chance for someone to take their pet with them to make them feel better, but there is so much more to these dogs than that (and sure some people would abuse the law but you get that everywhere).  What easily could have become a preachy book, talking at the reader about these dogs, instead it is a touching and at times emotional journey through one woman's work to train a rescued puppy to become a working assistance dog, but it is also a collection of short biographies of working partnerships that can (and did) bring you to tears.

In recent years books about working dogs have become very popular, thanks in no small part to the release of a book called a Friend like Henry by Nuala Gardner - a very personal story about a family with a child with autism spectrum disorder and the Golden retriever that reached him when nothing else would.  These stories have traditionally been about assistance dogs for the physically disabled, or in the case of Until Tuesday where the handler has both physical and psychiatric conditions, but Charleson focuses less on the physical and more on the pure psychiatric.  Her story also shows the level of training that is required for assistance dogs, Jake Piper is put through his paces (and then some), he is not given an easy pass just because he may end up as a guide dog for the mind - Charleson expects him to have the same high standards as any other assistance dog.

I come from a country where the law clearly defines a disability assist dog, and where dogs can only work in public spaces if they are certified by organisations listed in the legislation that allows working dogs - and I can see the benefits of this over the system in the United States where anyone can train a dog and call it an assistance dog.  One of the reasons I find our system better is that it holds a high standard for training and certification, allows for better public education, and ensures the person working with the dog has a genuine disability - three things missing from the situation in the United States.  Charleson's book provides a glimpse into the training of psychiatric service dogs and provides a glowing example of how it should be done, how people training their own dogs can strive for and reach high standards.  The possibility dogs is an education wrapped up in an engaging and absorbing story.

If you are interested in learning more about psychiatric service dogs then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are interested in reading about amazing relationships based on the human-animal bond then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are interested in reading a book about rescue dogs that will bring tears to your eyes then this is a fantastic book to read - if you are looking for a good book to read then this is a fantastic book to read.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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