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Thursday, November 11, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: "Year of the Dog"


-by Shelby Hearon
 2007, University of Texas
 ISBN-13:  978-0-292-71469-4

Caution:  The year-long process of raising a guide-dog puppy is the backdrop for Shelby Hearon's recovering-heart + new-relationship tale, Year of the Dog.  However, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer puppy-raiser for a guide dog school, or are currently raising one, the puppy-raising details in this book may prove to be a disappointment.

Janey Daniels, Hearon's twenty-something protagonist, takes a year-long sabbatical from her pharmacist job in the small, South Carolina town where she grew up to escape the town's incessant gossip after her divorce.  Janey flees to Vermont, home of her long estranged and secretive Aunt May, and plans to occupy her year raising Beulah, a yellow-lab puppy for Companion Dogs for the Blind (a fictional school).

In a scene reminiscent of the Jim Beam Whiskey television commercial where guys "rent" puppies in order to pick up women (click on this link to view the commercial:, Janey meets high-school teacher James Maarten at the local dog park.  James is caring for one of his student's dog.  "The kids tell you, You want to meet someone, get a dog." James tells her on page seven.

Of course, it wouldn't be a story if Janey and James didn't juggle their respective past lives to overcome personal loss, and go on to explore a relationship together.  Along the way, mysteries are solved, and in spite of not much effort from Janey, Beulah grows up.

Beulah seems to function as an "accessory" in Janey's life; not once does Hearon depict the mischievous antics of an adolescent lab, or the frustrations of a first-time puppy-raiser (Janey has never owned a dog!)  Details of raising a guide-dog puppy feel "dropped" into the story, as if Hearon wanted to add authenticity instead of adding metaphoric depth.

Yet, this "authenticity" doesn't ring true to me, a third-time puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  For example, at the "Puppy Social" described on pages 50-53, the future guide dogs have "free-time" after some basic obedience exercises and play with tennis balls and balls of yarn.  We do not allow our Future Leader Dog puppies to play with tennis balls or yarn!

When I take my Future Leader Dog puppy out in public, he must always wear his "working" vest or bandana.  In Year of the Dog, Beulah doesn't wear her working uniform all the time in public.  At a scene on page 180, Janey and James enter a New York restaurant and Janey removes Beulah's vest, "deciding the cafe' looked as if it would welcome her without a vest."

While it is clear that Hearon did some research into guide-dog puppy-raising, I can't imagine that she had first-hand knowledge as a puppy-raiser. 

Year of the Dog is a fun and quick read, but if you are looking for advice or training tips for raising a future guide dog, you'll do better by actually volunteering--and raising your own Future Leader Dog!

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