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Book Review: A Dog Named Slugger

A Dog Named Slugger
by Leigh Brill (Bell Bridge Books, April 2010,

Leigh Brill was born with cerebral palsy, and until she was in her twenties, she struggled every day to hide her handicaps as much as possible, to project an image of complete normalcy, and to be “twice as good” in order to be treated like everyone else. Then one day she has a chance meeting with a new classmate—a woman with a service dog trained to provide mobility assistance. After some exposure to what the boxer Caesar can do for Anne, Leigh accepts a brochure for Caring Canine Companions from her, and eventually talks herself into making that first phone call. Sylvia helps her to open up about the difficulties her cerebral palsy causes her and what she needs help with, and she fills out an application. After a wait of nine months, she is introduced to a yellow Lab named Slugger, and his trainer, Vickie Polk.

We follow Leigh and Slugger through their training and adjustment to each other, Leigh’s newly freed life with Slugger to assist her, and her first meeting with her future husband, Pranav. The new family comes together, and we follow their personal and professional progress. Slugger is dedicated and totally professional when his harness is on—and a typical goofball Lab when his harness is off. Slugger and Pranav develop their own relationship, parallel to and separate from the relationships they each have with Leigh.

We get flashbacks to Leigh’s childhood, which are sometimes enlightening and sometimes distracting, but the story of her life with Slugger and Pranav, her encounter with employment discrimination, and her own growth in turn into an advocate and tireless worker for service dogs and the freedom they bring to those who need them remains engaging and keeps moving forward. There’s a marvelous account of a presentation Leigh and Slugger give at a grade school, introducing children to service dogs, what they can do, and why you shouldn’t just run up and pet them. It is painfully clear that many of the children have never met a really well-trained dog of any kind, and they are astounded by how smart and how helpful a dog can be.

Since this is real life, and Slugger is a service dog, the time comes when he has to retire, and Leigh, Slugger, and Pranav all have to adjust to the introduction of a new service dog into their lives and home, a female yellow Lab named Kenda. One of the most touching sections of the book concerns Slugger’s aging, and the growth of the friendship between the two dogs, as Kenda starts to assist Slugger, too, such as when he wants to play fetch but has difficulty seeing where the toy was tossed.
This is a wonderful autobiography and an insight into the world of service dogs and those who rely on them.

Recommended.

Note: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley http://netgalley.com/

Reviewer Bio:

Lis and AddyLis is a librarian with an odd sense of humor, who finds excitement in helping people find the information they need, and in the varied corners of library work--reference, cataloging, circulation, resource development, reader's advisory. She reads voraciously and enjoys a wide variety of material--including, of course, fiction and non-fiction about dogs and cats. Addy, her Chinese Crested, is always happy to keep her company while reading, and occasionally tries to help write the reviews.

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