Book Reviews


Hero Dogs by Wilma Melville with Paul Lobo,
c.2019, St. Martin’s Press, $28.99, 336 pages

They started as an idea from the ashes of disaster.

When Wilma Melville saw Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building on that spring morning in 1995, she was stunned. Debris was everywhere, which meant that odors were, too. Her search and rescue (SAR) dog, Murphy, was capable of finding any possible survivors. Melville recognized that America needed more SAR teams.

She vowed right then to train 168 SAR dogs, one for each Oklahoma Bombing victim.

It wouldn’t be as easy as picking out a puppy somewhere. 

Melville decided that her target trainees would be unwanted former strays and rescue dogs. The nature of SAR demanded that ideal candidates be younger, in top physical shape, and have an extremely high prey drive; those that didn’t make the cut would be adopted out or trained for other work. 

Following her instincts and led by her promises, Melville found her first three trainees, “a rejected guide dog, an abused stray, and a washed-out competition dog.” She took them to a co-visionary, a woman who was “something of a legend in dog-training circles,” and within months, Ana, Dusty and Harley passed their FEMA tests, followed by Zack and Billy, Abby and Ace, more handlers and more dogs. Melville’s brainchild, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) was ready for any emergency.

And that included September 11, 2001…

Your dog knows how to sit, shake-paws, and stay when told. He might even hunt or retrieve, but you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve read “Hero Dogs.”

And if dogs aren’t reason enough to want this book, there’s this: don’t be surprised if your emotions surface when you least expect it. Authors Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo tell a tale of despair that turns into the biggest success possible on many levels, but they do it in a way that gives readers the feeling that we’ve got a stake in the outcome. Melville and Lobo heighten suspense better than any novelist could.

And so, your search for something to read this weekend ends right here. It’s got action, adventure, and warm fur on four feet. For dog lovers or anybody who loves a heroic story, “Hero Dogs” is a winner.

Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog  by Dave Barry,
c.2019, Simon & Schuster, $26, 226 pages

When he married a second time, Dave Barry wanted to adopt another dog. He and his new wife had Sophie instead, a child who was an animal magnet. When Sophie became old enough to join her father in begging for a dog, Lucy entered the family.

Now at 11 years old, Lucy’s days are numbered. So, Barry says, are his, but as a 70-year-old human, his mortality bothers him more than Lucy’s does her. She is pretty happy-go-lucky. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from that.

“Make New Friends” is the first one Barry shares, one that Lucy finds easy. Barry prefers the other half of that lesson: “And Keep the Ones You Have.”

The second lesson is good: “Don’t Stop Having Fun,” even when getting old “sucks.” Dogs don’t have phones, so the third one’s simple: “Pay Attention to the People You Love. (Not later. Right Now.)  

Barry tries hard to practice the fourth lesson, “Let Go of Your Anger, Unless It’s Something Really Important, Which It Almost Never Is.”  

The fifth refers to beauty, the sixth lesson is about things, and the seventh lesson is a good reminder of what you learned from your parents long ago. Barry offers an eighth lesson from his heart.

Here’s fair warning: the book’s introduction may be a disappointment. It feels like the start of yet another Let-Me-Tell-You-About-My-Dog story, heavy on the “weewee” references. 

But then! Faster than a Border Collie at agility competition, everything turns. Barry shares a love letter for a dog, a frame for his hilarious thoughts, a missive that cradles the delightful abundance of off-topic topics that make his books so much fun to read.  

Barry lets readers in on his regrets, biggest peeves and missed opportunities. His humor pokes great fun, but it feels like it might be fragile, too, which gives it a sense of wistfulness. 

Is that because of an old dog? Or is it because of the book’s final chapter? You won’t know until you go fetch “Lessons from Lucy.”  And then… sit.  

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in Wisconsin with two pampered pooches and 13,000 books.