Leigh Brill’s A Dog Named Slugger: the True Story of a Service Dog who Changed My Life

Dear Reader:

I asked NetGalley to review A Dog Named Slugger actually, I didn’t really have to ask because the publisher was eager to have it reviewed.  For those who don’t know of it, NetGalley is a website that links ebook publishers with bloggers.  You go to their site and you can browse books by topic and such and pick the ones you want to review.  You have to register and give info linking to your blog so that they can figure out if you are legit and a good fit for the particular publisher.

When you find an ebook you want to review it will have some designation like “read now!” or “request.”  Read now books are immediately available to you.  Request books must have a request sent to the publisher and then you may get permission to read and review them.  And that’s the deal, if they give you the ebook, you have an obligation to review.  It is primarily moral, I guess, but I bet if you agree to review a bunch of books and never follow through publishers would stop granting your requests.  Oh, and if you don’t have a dedicated ebook reader or ipad, you can read them using, for instance, the free kindle app you can download to your pc or mac computer.  So, everyone can use the site as long as they have some sort of blog.

So, anyway, I was browsing their dog-related books and came across A Dog Named Slugger (K, 2010, Bell Bridge Books) by Leigh Brill that I already owned.  It was designated “read now” which I figured meant that the publisher was particularly eager for reviews.  Since I’d read it and loved it, I downloaded the file so NetGalley would put me in line to be able to write a review here and then forward that review to the publisher.

You can link to Leigh’s website by following the hot button above.  There you can see pictures of her dogs, learn about her, email her, and buy her books.  I read elsewhere that she donates a portion of the proceeds from book sales to services dogs for veterans – I was unable to confirm this on her website, so I’m not sure it was accurate.  I do know that she actively works on behalf of helping others gain access to service dogs.

A Dog Named Slugger

So, the reason I set out to review it for the publisher is I loved the book and felt it deserved more attention.  And I actually re-read it last week (even though I’d read it not that long ago and I don’t re-read stuff much) and loved it again.

Leigh has cerebral palsy.  She poignantly describes all the struggles and heartbreaks of growing up with the disease – not just all the surgeries, but all the rotten treatment she got from kids her age.  As a result, although pretty determined, she wasn’t really confident.  She started college and was struggling to do everything even though her disease makes many things difficult.  Two of the things that were toughest for her are balance while walking, especially on stairs, and picking things up from the ground.  When she met another female college student with a service dog she began to realize that there was an alternative: she could get a great, loving, highly trained dog that would be a marvelous companion and a great helpmate to her that would make her life much easier.

Once she got hold of the idea she approached Caring Canine Companions (I don’t think they have a website, at least I could not find one) in Virginia to see if they could match her with a service dog.  They screened her and told her that they thought a dog could be very helpful for her.  Then she had to wait (with bated breath) for, potentially, years to get a dog.  It didn’t turn out to be nearly that long as they had a dog named Slugger who hadn’t fit in another situation.

Keep in mind that Leigh was raised not to talk about her cerebral palsy as if it were some shame that she and her family were responsible for.  So it was therapeutic for her to admit she needed help and to find that there were people out there who accepted her as she was and could help her.

She got Slugger, who, as you can tell from the cover of the book, was a yellow lab.  They were a wonderful match and he opened up her life in ways she could never have imagined.  People were much kinder and friendlier.  She was the hit of her college dorms as everyone wanted some quality time with Slugger.  Walking was easier as are many ordinary daily tasks.  Also, Leigh learned to stand up for herself when, as all too frequently happens, especially to people with service dogs who aren’t visibly blind, she was denied entrance to an establishment because of her dog.  She went on to get a masters in counseling and work at a Ronald McDonald House for families with sick kids.  And Slugger came to play a role as a comfort to those kids and their parents too.  Leigh successfully filed a discrimination suit against an employer who offered her a job if she would leave her dog at home.  In short, Slugger’s help to her went far beyond just picking up a dropped pencil.  She chronicles his role in her life as she developed into a confident, successful young professional with the world’s best service dog, Slugger.

Leigh writes really well.  Her chapters just pull you through the book eager to get to the next bit.  I was re-reading it in a restaurant last week and had to put it down because I was getting so teary – and not even to anything sad.

I just love it when dogs get to fulfill their true potential by not just being our layabout companions, which is a pretty good thing, but also through having a “job” themselves.  I truly have nothing against the many wonderful, wonderful pets out there who have few demands or expectations placed on them.  But I also think there is something tremendously special about the relationship that people can have with a dog when they are helping the people, whether through activity dog work where they informally visit nursing homes or other settings; herding, drug detection, or military service work; obedience, agility, or rally competition; therapy dog work where they help someone heal or develop emotionally or physically; or service dog work.

I’ll take a tangent here to a personal story try to explain what I mean.  All three of my dogs have visited the nursing home in my neighborhood and I hope to volunteer with my young golden in hospice.  I’ve already seen how any one of my dogs can light up someone’s day in a nursing home.  Early on, I had the experience of connecting with a man in my neighborhood nursing home who seemed somewhat out of the ordinary (although really, nursing homes are just a slice of life with all kinds of people in them – they are just older than average).

He had tattoos and was thin as a rail with long grey hair and gave off a biker vibe.  When you go back to a nursing home with your dog once a week you get to know people pretty quickly.  Some people are huge fans of your dog, some are moderate fans, and a few are scared of dogs or disinterested.   This man (I’ll leave off his name for privacy) was one of the huge fans.

He didn’t talk too much, but every visit he lightly “grabbed” Ruby, my 12 year old retriever mix, sunk his fingers into her fur and just reveled in touching and petting her. When I say “grabbed” I don’t mean anything rough or inappropriate – it would be my job to stop that.   Unfortunately, over a month or two, he came to seem weaker every visit.  When you visit people as a volunteer, of course, you don’t ask why they are there, so I didn’t know why he was there or how seriously ill he might be – I just tried to roll with him the way he was and connect with him.

The last time I saw him, he seemed very weak, maybe in and out of consciousness, but still he grabbed and petted Ruby like he always did.  We talked a little and he told me about his pet bird.  And then the next time I visited, he was gone.  I’ll always assume he had a terminal illness and died, but I never asked.   I can say this experience taught me the power of a simple visit from a friendly dog.  She may have been the last creature that he physically connected with – it obviously meant a lot to him and it means a lot to me to know that my dog and I could do something like that for someone in what was probably their last days.

And that, for me, is the power of a dog doing “work” (and we can define that very broadly) with people in a way that bonds the dog and the people.  To me, this is the best of the human-dog relationship.  And that’s why I love A Dog Named Slugger – it shows that power in a beautifully written, moving book.  I highly recommend it!

Happy Reading, Ruby

K = kindle copy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: