I learned about this book from Abby Zidle at the Romance Writers of Australia conference, and when I heard about the story, I immediately thought of Sassy Outwater, who loved it so much she had to review it.
World, meet Daisy, the dog you never knew you needed. But you so do. And meet Sharron Kahn Luttrell, the intrepid mother of two who took it upon herself to raise Daisy. When you get sick of politics, celebrity gossip, war and crime, when you’ve had enough of the dark side and need to remember there’s good and love in this world and it can be found in the strangest places right alongside the bad, then pick this book up. It, like the dog who graces its pages, teaches lessons that remind us that we as humans are really not all that bad. Especially when we’re reaching out to help one another–preferably with a dog treat in hand.
Dogs break barriers, in us, around us, and for us. You do not need to be a dog person, an animal person, a disabled person, or anything but a curious person to enjoy this book and gain the service of a service dog. We all need service dogs. And not for the reasons you might think.
Sharron decided to make it her business to take a puppy from fat, wriggly and curious peeing and pooping chew-monster to obedient, talented professional. Not an easy feat. Daisy leads Sharron and family on a series of encounters and adventures that will totally blow your mind. Wait until you read what Daisy has to learn to get her service dog credentials. It’s like Navy SEAL training… for dogs. Luttrell captures the pressure, pride, heartache and happiness that goes along with raising a service dog, and all the while, the writing just keeps you hungry for more. Her voice is rich, warm, easy-to-read but smart and a little on the emotional side, in a great way. I disagreed with her thought process at times, found myself nodding emphatically and grinning knowingly at others. Once in a while, her writing would induce me to reach down and stroke the service dog lying at my feet, waiting patiently for his walk which was an hour late because I couldn’t drag myself away from the book.
During the week, Daisy stays with her prison inmate trainer, Keith, learning new commands, studying hard for her future job as a service dog to a person with a disability. Daisy was made to please, which excludes her from becoming a Guide Dog to a blind person, since those dogs need to have a mile-wide independent streak. She is learning commands to assist someone in a wheelchair, with autism, balance problems, or some other disability requiring her assistance. But living in prison won’t quite be enough education for Miss Daisy. She needs socialization and exposure to the outside world. Daisy needs to learn about other dogs, and trees, and streams, children and trains and escalators. Along comes Sharron, willing to open her heart, home and family to Daisy on weekends for fourteen months of mayhem and miracles.
But a funny thing happens on the way to the finish line. Daisy trains all the humans around her as much as they train her. Raising and training a service dog takes an incredible amount of time, dedication, love, patience and stubborn determination. Partnering closely with an animal who cannot speak in her own right but still gets her message across brings Sharron face to face with her own communication limitations. Slowly, Sharron begins to find new opportunities to rethink her place in the world. Service dogs learn to express their emotions, thoughts, ideas and opinions to their disabled partners. Daisy’s need to learn how to do this drags the best and worst out of her handler, rearranges it all, and stitches things back together with some additions that words can’t describe. At least my words can’t. Luttrell does justice to an incredible bond eloquently and with deft touches that make this book a fascinating, enjoyable and poignantly inside look into the service dog’s education. The author never tap dances around awkward subjects; she barrels right up to them with infectious enthusiasm and honesty. From her struggles to parent her two children, to her marriage, and even the ever-changing landscape of her own mind and self-image, Luttrell holds nothing back and lets the reader into all facets of her life during her year-and-a-half with Daisy.
My life has been changed irrevocably by dogs. I’m totally blind due to cancer. I’m currently partnered with my second Guide Dog, Kodak. Soon, Kodak will retire and I will receive a new dog. Over the years, I’ve tried to express to my dogs’ puppy raisers just what they’ve done by raising and training these dogs, then selflessly letting them go so that I can have a partner at my side. I’ve failed. Miserably. Kodak does so many jobs I can’t explain them all to you. I wish I could. I wish you could come lift his harness handle in your hand and walk with him through a subway station or across a traffic-choked street. I wish with all my heart that you could feel him guide you safely through the front door after another long day of travel. Tired but proud, he stands patiently while his harness is removed, his tail lashing human legs, furniture, walls, anything within range. When he’s crossing a street, he’s happy. He’s alert, watchful and constantly on the look out for drivers to outsmart or bicycles to play keep-away with. When he senses sorrow, he offers love and gentle kindness. When there’s playtime, he’s first on scene. When a moment gets too heavy, he’s the first to fart in a tense work meeting or snore in a conference room. He’s always got a wag for strangers and a pair of big puppy eyes for awestruck children. Wherever he goes, he’s working for someone, not just me. My dog brings so much to so many, and it’s because of puppy raisers like Sharron that service dogs can go out and make their miracles for people like me and you.
People are drawn like magnets to service dogs. And for a long time, how our dogs go from normal dogs strolling through parks with doting human owners to service dogs prancing through an airport with a human in tow has been a mystery to many. Luttrell’s book at last opens a door wide and casts light on how human and dog minds learn to merge and think as one. When my dog and I are in the thick of a tough or dangerous situation, there’s no time to stop and talk it out. We must know each other, communicate without words and with only our knowledge of one another, and do it instantly. Sharron is training dogs to do that. How does it happen? A little bit of dog training, a little love, lots of kibble and something no one has quite scientifically explained, that power of a dog to see right through any façade we humans barricade behind. I’m not disabled to Kodak. There’s nothing WRONG with me. He just gets rewarded and loved for helping me. Everyone needs his help and love; no one is excluded from the Kodak trap. Once you fall in, you never get out. You adore him for life. Dogs have an uncanny ability to love without judgment or criticism. But that love, when coupled with learning, is one of the best things to happen to humans. Trust me, my life runs on it.
There’s an incredible amount of hard work that goes into making a service dog, and most of it may surprise you. There’s funny, there’s snot-cry, there’s mistakes and smartass wit. There’s shame and guilt and prison life and disability perception. There are puppies. Did I mention the puppies? Lots and lots of puppies. If that doesn’t get you reading, nothing I say will help. If, like Sharron and I, you suffer from canine deficit disorder, go get this book and then go get a puppy to train. You’ll want one after this. If you can’t ask yourself for a puppy for Christmas, after reading this book, you will surely look with different eyes the next time you see a dog in your grocery store or a person with a disability sitting with a dog under her feet having lunch at a Romantic Times Convention. Just remember, ask before you pet, and yes, please ask. As in, neither the human nor the dog will bite you. We want our dogs to work their magic for you as much as they do for us and this book proves it. Enjoy.