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A Dog Named Slugger    by Leigh Brill order for
Dog Named Slugger
by Leigh Brill
Order:  USA  Can
Bell Bridge, 2011 (2010)
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Dogs have historically helped people by guarding property, herding sheep, and assisting in hunting or retrieving game. They have proven themselves to be intelligent and have been bred for specific tasks, which today gives us a large variety of breeds that are talented in many ways other than the ever-important one of friendly companion. We love our pets, even as we have loved those guard-dogs, sheepdogs, and retrievers. Some years ago we realized that dogs could fulfill the invaluable service of leading the blind, and also that certain breeds could be better trained as seeing eye dogs than others. But, because of the expense of training seeing eye dogs, less expensive mixed breeds were sometimes used and showed great skill and intelligence as well. Not too many years ago, imaginative people began to train a new kind of helper dog that could provide assistance and companionship to people with physical challenges. A Dog Named Slugger tells the story of one such helper.

Leigh Brill was born with cerebral palsy. Although she had undergone many surgeries and much physical therapy during childhood and could walk without crutches, her gait was irregular, she fell easily, and when she dropped things (which happened all too often) it was difficult for her to pick them up again. While she's a graduate student at James Madison University in Virginia, a friend introduces her to another woman who uses crutches and has an assistance dog which has been provided to her without charge by a now-defunct organization called Caring Canine Companions. Leigh is astounded at what this dog is capable of doing and learns from her new acquaintance that the dog went through a rigorous training period before she got him, and that she had to train with the dog at first so she would know how to handle him. Leigh contacts the organization and begins the process of applying for a dog of her own.

Leigh explains the whole process of obtaining and training assistance dogs, as well as telling her own story before Slugger came into her life. Although Caring Canine Companions is no longer in existence, there are many other groups that train dogs to help 'elderly people and those with disabilities,' and these groups are usually free or charge a nominal fee. Having watched a television show about assistance dogs and encountered dogs being trained at the church that I attend, I was familiar with topic. But it is still interesting to read the whole story of one dog and the person he aided. As well as helping Leigh to stabilize her walking and bringing her items that she needed or dropped, Slugger became a dearly beloved pet and companion and gave Leigh a self-confidence she had lacked before. She went from being ashamed of her disability and trying to keep it hidden, to giving talks to groups of people, educating them about these wonderful dogs. I really enjoyed this book and was delighted to learn about how much trained helper dogs can contribute to people's lives.

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