I picked up this book about three days after my sister and I made the decision, with the help of a wonderfully kind vet, to put down the 12-year-old spaniel mix we were fostering for a local rescue, Placing Paws. Taking on Hoppy happened suddenly in late May, and Hoppy’s story was far from happy. She was abandoned in a high kill shelter in Missouri after her owner died and came to Placing Paws with many issues—including a congenital deformity in her front leg that caused her to “hop” when she walked. When we took her on a year later, she was suffering mainly from old age—lots of osteoarthritis, very few teeth, and what I can only describe as a sort of doggy dementia. She would often get halfway through her food dish, wander off for a minute or two, and then toddle back into the room and keep eating. She couldn’t climb up or down stairs so had to be carried outside to do her business. To help her mobility, we covered our first-floor hardwood with cheap runner rugs from Home Depot. In her last month, we ended up putting down a ton of pee pads under the runners, to deal with her many accidents. Not exactly the stuff of Home and Garden.
She was a hard dog to read—only the faintest of tail wags the whole six months we had her and the complete opposite of our love hound, Polly, who I adopted from Placing Paws in 2009 and who tries to squeeze all 70 lab-mix-pounds of herself into your lap the moment you sit on the couch. We weren’t sure if this was because of past abuse, old age, or some combination. Still, Hoppy had her moments. I would be eating something unhealthily crunchy and suddenly look down to find her standing next to the couch and peering up at me, trying to influence me by the power of her mind: “Drop that potato chip.” It worked every time. Also, unlike Polly, who only barks at Segways and teens on skateboards, Hoppy would bark anytime someone new came in the door or even when someone familiar came down the stairs (see doggy dementia above). We were a mix of astonished, embarrassed, and impressed when she charged (well hobbled very quickly) at our plumber, Marco, and tried to take a chunk out of his calf. Luckily for us, Marco is a dog person and Hoppy only gummed him.
My sister and I took on Hoppy partly because we felt so grateful to Placing Paws for Polly (who truly is the best dog ever) and partly because, thanks to an addiction to Susie’s Senior Dogs on Facebook, we felt like someone should make her last few months or years (we had no idea) good ones. It was a lot harder, both emotionally and logistically, than I could have imagined yet I don’t regret saying yes. As my sister and I often said, “Hoppy is a pain in the ass, but she is our pain in the ass.” Needless to say, the decision to put her down was not an easy one but the “village” that helped us take care of her also helped us at this stage too. I’m not a big fan of the whole “rainbow bridge” idea, but I do hope that somewhere Hoppy is enjoying unlimited crunchy snacks, wall-to-wall carpeting, and ear rubs.
So, why did I just spend a lot of time talking about Hoppy and not this book? Well, partly because I found Rescued a bit of a mess. I can see what Peter Zheutlin was trying to do, use the story of his own experiences with two rescue dogs, Albie and Salina, as an organizational spring board for telling lots of other people’s stories and making an argument for adopting dogs from shelters and rescue organizations. Each of the stories that Zheutlin tells is interesting and compelling but the decision to spread them out over numerous chapters makes everything feel repetitive but, at the same time, like I needed a score card to keep track of all the rescuers and dogs. The lessons that Zheutlin suggests rescue dogs teach us are all ones that I agree with, including the chapter, “Lives Well Lived” that focused on end-of-life issues, which of course made me sob. Still, I kept wishing this book was better than it was.
I wanted to end this review by making some snappy comparison between reading this book and taking care of Hoppy, but the only thing I could come up with is that both experiences, though far from perfect, have made me more interested in fostering, more open to the lessons that dogs have to teach, and more adamant about #adoptdontshop.