Review: In a Dog’s Heart

In a Dog's Heart.

Jennifer Arnold is the founder of Canine Assistants, a non-profit that trains and assigns therapy dogs for a variety of different uses. In a Dog’s Heart is her second book and was published in October 2011.

I hesitate to write a review here, because I found this book somewhat disappointing. Arnold is clearly a wonderful woman with a huge heart and lots of hands-on experience with dogs. She certainly knows a lot more than I do.

My reservation is that as a book, In a Dog’s Heart was not a successful project. It is essentially one woman’s collected ramblings about why she loves dogs. That is all well and good in itself, but it is not compelling or interesting. Perhaps it could have been reworked into something more memoir-like, resembling Caroline Knapp’s sweet book Pack of Two. Instead, Arnold’s book doesn’t seem to have any grounding frame of reference or context to give it much-needed structure.

I did appreciate Arnold’s thorough critique of Cesar Millan and the incredible damage he has done to dog training in America today. I enjoyed the heart-warming stories about the therapy dogs she’s trained, worked with, and assigned to people in need. However, I felt dismayed to read her hearty recommendation of dog food made by companies like Purina and Hill’s Science Diet, long known for creating chemically-laden refuse that is patently terrible for dogs. I also thought it was kind of silly that she believed so strongly in puppy temperament testing, something we’ve known for a while is not any reliable indicator of an adult dog’s temperament.

The book’s lack of organization–or a discernible point–is a crippling element. The chapters are haphazardly arranged and filled with all sorts of random thoughts. I almost felt like she just sat down with a legal pad and just wrote down all of the things she knew about dogs and then decided to structure her book that way. Essentially, I’m not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. Is it a behavioral guide? Is it a training manual? Is it a memoir? I don’t think it really knew either.

Arnold is very well-meaning and has done so much good for so many people and dogs. For that, she should be praised and applauded. But this book? Not a keeper.

Review: Volunteering with Your Pet

Volunteering with Your Pet, by Mary R. Burch

Throughout my young life, my experiences with animals have always reinforced the truth that animals can bring life, joy, and mercy to people in profound ways. The compassion of animals is ultimately why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I no longer feel guilty about it. I have long been interested in animal-assisted therapy and so I was excited to see this book at the library.

The book itself is pretty old (published in 1996)–as evidenced by the fact that the author had to explain what e-mail was–but the advice contained in this little book is not dated. Burch gives her readers an overview of the history of animal-assisted therapy and devotes a chapter to the types of animals that can participate. So, whether you have a dog, a cat, a horse, a llama, or a bird, Dr. Burch has some advice for you.

I was impressed by her professionalism in training and inspired by her many touching anecdotes about the changes she had seen in her years as a therapy volunteer with her animals.

The book also impressed upon me the very unique temperament and nature of a dog who would be qualified for therapy. I can think of only a few dogs I’ve met who would be naturally wonderful therapy dogs (Zoe, for certain, and maybe even Bo, once he mellows out a bit with age), but Burch helps you see that many dogs, given that they have a fundamentally stable and friendly personality, can be trained to volunteer in any number of situations. I am hopeful that we will find a dog who could one day volunteer at a nursing home, school, or hospital. What could be better than allowing others to experience the unconditional love that you receive from your dog every day?

If you’re looking for a basic primer on animal-assisted therapy, then this is a great starting place. It would be nice if it was possibly updated with more current information, but on the whole, this book has a lot of sound advice about beginning to work with your pet in animal-assisted therapy.