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January 17, 2006 > Dog tales

Dog tales

Shortly before Christmas, our 12-year-old dachshund was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Within a small window of time, we needed to choose between surgery - costing as much as a European vacation - or electing not to have the surgery and taking the chance of a permanently disabled and incontinent dog.

Our poor vet, who must hear on a daily basis about the dilemma of what a pet owner should do when faced with a hefty Veterinary bill, left the decision to us.

Being a dog owner to many is like being a parent. Until you own a pet yourself, you may not fully understand what the fuss of caring of your pet is all about. On one level, I know that if some stranger were to flash a t-bone steak in front of my dogs, they would run off and probably not even look back at me, the person who feeds and takes care of them and foots their medical bills! Dogs, known as 'man's best friend' are cherished for their unconditional love. They love you no matter what and act like you are the most wonderful and important human alive -- whether you deserve it or not.

Now that our dog's post-op recovery is progressing nicely, I wonder how I could have ever considered -- for even a moment -- not having the back surgery done. I mean, what was I thinking? If you own a dog, you'll understand where I am coming from.

But you don't have to love dogs to appreciate a good dog tale. Here are few favorites...

"Where the Red Fern Grows," by Wilson Rawls, Bantam Books, $5.99 (1961):
One of my favorite parenting memories is sobbing while reading this classic out loud to my children. At the end of the story my youngest cried, "Why does the dog always have to die?" This Depression Era story slowly builds as Billy Colman saves his money over two years to purchase two coon dogs. The story follows their adventures together up until Billy's eventual loss. The book is written in a wonderful Ozark dialect that rolls off your tongue. For ages 9 years old and up.

"Good Dog Carl," by Alexandra Day, Aladdin Books paperback, $6.99, (1997 reprint):
Lovable rottweiler Carl is the perfect babysitter -- silly, loving and endlessly patient. The adventure begins with mom saying, "Look after the baby, Carl. I'll be back shortly." Once the door shuts behind her, Carl looks out the window to make sure she's gone. Once the coast is clear the baby crawls out of the crib and onto Carl's back for a ride. The first stop is mom's bed. The second stop is the top of the dresser where mom's powder puffs suddenly become hats.

The infant, now in Carl's capable paws, soon slides down the laundry chute, takes a swim in the fish tank, dances, raids the refrigerator and all-in-all, ends up making a huge mess. But Carl dutifully bathes the enfant, cleans up all evidence of chaos, puts the baby back in the crib and plays it cool by the time mom gets home. "Good dog, Carl!" mom says. Readers familiar with the old adage, "When the cat's away, the mice will play" will gain a better idea of what can happen when the dog is in charge and "the mom's away." Readers (and those being read to) will love the captivating illustrations that complement the story. For preschoolers.

"Shiloh," by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Alladin paperback, $5.99 (2000):
This 1992 Newbery Medal winner revolves around 11 year-old Marty who finds an abused dog near his West Virginia hills home. The boy struggles with the question of what to do. Should he return the dog to its owner only to have the animal abused again? Should he tell his parents? Should he steal food to help the poor creature? Marty wants to protect Shiloh however he fears that his parents will insist he return the dog to its rightful owner.

Marty wonders if he should do what is right in the eyes of a higher authority (his parents) when he knows that most likely that action will result in a great wrong inflicted on the dog. On the other hand, he contemplates if he should follow what his heart says is right, even though that action may be considered wrong in the eyes of his parents. Marty's dilemma is further thrown into confusion by his own conscience that insists on both honesty and what's good for the dog at the same time. How Marty responds to this conundrum provides a great lesson for readers. For children 8-10 year olds and up.

"Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog," by John Grogan, William Morrow Books, $24.95 (2005):
Labrador retrievers are generally considered even-tempered, calm and reliable, but then there's Marley, the subject of this delightful tribute to one labrador that doesn't quite fit the 'lab' mold. Grogan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his wife, Jenny, are newly married and living in West Palm Beach when they decided that owning a dog would give them a taste of parenthood before they become parents themselves. Marley is a sweet, affectionate puppy who grows into a lovable -- though naughty -- hyperactive dog.

Marley gets kicked out of obedience school after humiliating his instructor, Miss Dominatrix, and swallows an 18-karat solid gold necklace after which a gross -- but hilarious -- recovery operation takes place. With the arrival of children into the family, Marley become so incorrigible that Jenny, stressed out by her new baby, orders her husband to get rid of the dog. Luckily for the reader - and Marley - though, she eventually changes her mind. Dominique Hutches, a Booklegger (Bookleggers are a group of volunteers dedicated to promoting independent reading by children; all have in common a great love of bringing books and children together) and a huge fan of the book says, "This incredibly funny -- while touching -- true story shows how even the most awkward, clumsy wild dog can bring joy to a family and vice-versa." For high school age children and adults.

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