I love dogs. I love the role they’ve played in my life and family, and I love hearing stories about their selfless love, so when I was offered a review copy of Amy Sutherland’s new nonfiction book Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find them all Homes, I didn’t hesitate. Once I began reading, I realized the name sounded familiar, and so I looked at the author bio and confirmed that many years ago I read another of her in-depth nonfiction book Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America. Knowing this, I had even more confidence that I’d enjoy this book, since I wasn’t particularly a fan of cookoffs or recipe contests, and yet, the book was fascinating.
This is an interesting mix of biography and investigative storytelling and information. There is information about the shelter industry across America: how it’s changed over the years, what certain advocates are trying to do to make it better, and what volunteers and individuals can do. I have owned three shelter dogs, and I can’t imagine getting a dog any other way. The first one was an adult dog, and the next two were puppies. After reading the book, I think I might go with more adult dogs in the future. The numbers of dogs left in shelters for years are pretty overwhelming, but I loved finding out more about efforts to rehabilitate dogs who were previously considered un-adoptable.
In addition to the information aspect of the book, derived from Amy’s visits to various leading shelters, she shares information from her perspective as a volunteer. She shares about relationships she forms with the dogs she walks, earning the ability to handle the more difficult “red” dogs, and even fostering and eventually adopting those difficult dogs.
The biography element comes into play as Amy shares about the results that a very timid dog have on her marriage and psyche. As a shelter volunteer, could she possibly be one of those people who returns a dog because she’s not easy? She also relates stories of the dogs that made an impression on her. By learning about individual dogs, the face of the issue of overpopulation and extended shelter stays came to light in a personal way.
This book wasn’t overly sad, as one might think that a book about shelters and the inevitable euthanasia or abandoned dogs might be. Yes, there’s some of that, but the stories that warm the heart of dogs that learn to love and trust despite bad circumstances and people who are trying to make a difference are what I took away from this read.