Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Epilepsy Alert Dogs

Hoyle, McCall. Stella
March 2nd 2021 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Stella is a beagle who has worked as a sniffer dog at an airport with her handler, Connie, and we see this story from her point of view. Unfortunately, Stella makes a mistake, and Connie is killed in an explosion. We meet the dog when she is trying to settle in to her third home with Diane, but Diane doesn't understand Stella's needs. She takes Stella back to the canine facility where Connie worked, and Stella hopes to see her handler, but instead, she is almost euthanized, since she seems unable to settle into a new life. Thankfully, a friend of Connie's, Esperanza, is there, and offers to take the dog back to her sheep farm and train her. Esperanza has a young daughter, Cloe, who is used to her mother training dogs, but takes to Stella and wants to make her a pet. Her mother says that Stella is better off is she can get back to work, so puts her in a crate in the barn at night so she can be with the other animals, including sheep dog Nando. Because of her experience in the explosion, Stella is very skittish, and doesn't like storms or the obnoxious neighbor boys who have firecrackers. Interestingly, when she is out running errands with Esperanza and Cloe, Stella is able to tell that Cloe is about to have an epileptic fit, and is very restless, trying to relay this information to her humans. Esperanza is about to despair of ever training the dog correctly, when Stella saves Cloe from a very hazardous situation. When Stella's real talents are discovered, she is allowed to stay with Cloe as her new furever friend. 
Strengths: Dog books are always popular with my students, and I was super excited to read a book about a girl with epilepsy. There are very few of these out there, but a fair number of students with the condition. It was interesting to see different types of working dogs, especially Nando, who herds sheep. I also liked the back and forth between Cloe, who just wants a dog of her own to cuddle at night, and her mother, who believes that dogs need to work. The plot was cleverly arranged to get some action and adventure into it, and the characters were well developed. Really enjoyed this one. 
Weaknesses: I almost had to stop reading when Stella was at the canine facility and almost put down. Having lost Sylvie in September, this was just too hard for me to read. I went back to it after I finished the book, and it's very delicately done. I don't think it will upset younger readers all that much. I was just bringing too much of my own experience to the book. In the same respect, the book made me feel like I made Sylvie's life a decent one, even if she never got enough tasty treats! 
What I really think: It's fantastic that the author cites Alexandra Horowitz's work, and has a background in training dogs. This reminded me strongly of Tubbs' Zeus: Dog of Chaos, and is a great portrayal of a service dog. Definitely purchasing. 

Woltz, Anna. Talking to Alaska
February 4th 2021 by Rock the Boat
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Winner of the Zilveren Griffel literary prize for Dutch children's books. 

Parker had a beloved dog, Alaska, whom the family could no longer keep because one of her three younger brothers was allergic to it. She misses him, but is dealing with other trauma as well. When school starts for the new year, she is in class with Sven, who has epileptic seizures. These have been going on for a year, and despite many visits to the hospital, they are not under control. He has an elevator key so he isn't on the stairways, and when he has a petit mal seizure the first day, he has to explain to the class what is going on. Not only that, but he has a therapy dog who just happens to be... Alaska. Parker is incensed, and is determined to steal the dog back. When she sneaks into Sven's house, he wakes up, and the two talk. He doesn't know who she is because she is wearing a ski mask, and the two meet at night for while so Parker can visit Alaska, and the two share confidences. Sven is able to figure out who she is, and the two have an uneasy friendship. Sven helps Parker investigate who might have attacked her family's store and caused the family a lot of trauma, and Parker shows Sven that Alaska, whom he calls "the beast", might actually be the best thing for him. 
Strengths: I am always looking for books that show what it is like to live with medical conditions that are prevalent in the student population, such as ADHD, diabetes, scoliosis, or epilepsy, and I can't think of any other epilepsy books. Therapy dogs are hugely interesting to young readers, and Parker's pining for her dog is realistic. The secondary plot with the store having been robbed adds to the interest. 
Weaknesses: Perhaps things are different in the Netherlands, where this was originally published, but I don't think a student with a medical alert dog would leave the animal at home in the US. I think Zeus, Dog of Chaos offers a more realistic portrayal of a service dog for middle grade readers.
What I really think: This had more YA levels of angst, and was a bit slow paced. There are several situations (such as Parker sneaking into Sven's room) that seem unlikely. Despite the cute cover and the excellent coverage of epilepsy, I may pass on purchase. 

Laidlaw, Rob. The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them
2020 by Pajama Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

This short, well photo-illustrated book packs a lot of information into its pages! It covers the major topics of dog history, the needs of dogs, how to go about adopting a dog and getting along with it, and how to make a dog's life at home more comfortable. These are all great topics that middle grade readers should be keeping in mind before welcoming a pet into their home. I think that people tend to think "How will I like HAVING a dog" versus "How can I provide the best life FOR a dog?"

There are some excellent books that address the history or dogs and their behaviors, such as Horowitz Our Dogs, Ourselves ,  Albee's Dog Days and Keenan's Animals in the House (2007). I liked that this started with that history, but then covered other topics. There are lots of sidebars with bits of information such as "Why do dogs eat poop and roll in dead things?", "Separation anxiety", Avoiding fake rescues" that go along with the information in the chapters. There are also one page portraits of people who are involved in different philanthropic efforts for dogs, including some very young children. Photographs add interest to the pages. 

The book also includes a dog lover's pledge, further resources, and a glossary, which points out to me that I did not read closely enough and missed the New Guinea Singing Dog, on which there needs to be more information! There is also a gatefold center of a Jack Russell terrier with the parts of a dog highlighted. Not entirely sure I knew exactly what the withers were, so I learned several things reading this book! (Withers are the "bony high point between a dog's shoulder blades"!)

The Dog Patrol is a great book to hand young readers who are interested in learning more about adopting and dealing with dogs, and who want a good overview about protecting the best interests of man's best friend. 

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