Wednesday, August 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Book Reviews

Tales of special dogs guaranteed to melt hearts

Special to The Seattle Times

How many times have you finished a book but simply could not let go? Months later, it lingers as though you just put it down yesterday.

Through 30 years of reviewing pet books, I can't remember one that has left such a lasting impression as Randy Grim's "Miracle Dog: How Quentin Survived the Gas Chamber to Speak for Animals on Death Row" (Alpine Books, $19.95).

"I feel like Quentin lived for a reason," Grim said. "He made a pact with the other dogs, or the dog God, and said, 'If I live, I'll go and change things.' "

The author, whose last name characterizes the future of many of the underdogs he rescues, is founder and president of Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

Quentin, a basenji mix, may not have the star power of Lassie, Rin Tin-Tin or Benji, but his legacy may be greater.

Quentin came from a low-income, blue-collar area of South St. Louis. When his owners relinquished the dog — named Cain at the time — he was emaciated and not sterilized.

"His owners behaved as if they were exchanging a defective Christmas gift," says Grim. "They paid no attention to him as they filled out the necessary paper forms that signed away their legal rights to Cain and gave the OK for his execution. They didn't say goodbye or give Cain a kiss or hug."

Cain was no different than the other four dogs in his cell. His days were numbered — on one hand.

Grim's absorbing portrait of what awaits each dog and how their death sentence is carried out is both a gripping and a philosophical wake-up call for putting a stop to this barbaric system.

Once inside the shelter's gas chamber, there had been no survivors in 15 years. But as others perished alongside him, Cain was still standing after 15 minutes. He had somehow cheated death. But now what?

At that point, the operator of the chamber called Grim. "Please take him," she pleaded. "I don't have the heart to put him back in there ... he really wants to live."

Since then, Grim and book-tour signings have made Quentin the poster dog for fighting the gas-chamber deaths of thousands of shelter animals.

Grim's stylized earthiness and the glittering hard edge of this briskly paced volume will stay with you. I guarantee it.

"Hachiko Waits" by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Machiyo Kodaira (Henry Holt and Co., $15.95).

Inspired by the true story of an Akita who waited at a Tokyo train station for 10 years for his dead master, this novel is for all ages.

Hachiko always accompanied his master, Professor Ueno, to the station every morning and returned every afternoon shortly before 3 p.m. awaiting his return. But one day, the professor didn't return. He died at work of a heart attack.

Others befriended the animal, including a 5-year-old boy named Yasuo, who talked his family into adopting the dog. But Hachiko would have none of it and fled a day later, returning to his post at the station each afternoon in hopes his master would return.

For the remainder of his life, Hachiko was fed and cared for daily by the station master and Yasuo. After a newspaper article detailed the remarkable Akita's story, the dog became a Japanese icon, with people seeking him out at the station.

While this compelling narrative of his embattled spirit is packed with a roller-coaster of emotions, it concludes on an upbeat note for Yasuo, his longtime caretaker and No. 1 admirer.

At a time when loyalty and devotion aren't commonplace, Newman captures both traits in a Japanese fashion of subtlety and simplicity that transcends all nationalities.

"Star Pet: How to Make Your Pet a Star," by Bash Dibra with Kitty Brown (Pocket Books, $15).

Yearning to get your dog or cat into show biz? This tells you what it takes.

Bash Dibra, a noted New York trainer whose desire to become a dog trainer began in a post-World War II Yugoslavian internment camp with a guard dog, details his early days in the business. The account profiles the three animals — a German shepherd, a timber wolf and a Tibetan terrier — that influenced his training and business successes.

Dibra discusses nine inner drives the dog derives from the wolf and how they relate to its potential as a performer, then details training techniques for dogs and cats, plus managing and marketing tips.

Dibra is convincing that with proper training, branding (establishing your pet's professional identity) and relentless commitment, you can get your pet's paw in the door of a local or national studio.

"Getting Lucky: How One Special Dog Found Love and a Second Chance at Angel's Gate," by Susan Marino with Denise Flaim (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $18.95).

Every creature that ventures into Marino's one-of-a-kind residential hospice for animals has its own story, but Lucky's transcends them all.

Marino left a six-figure job as a nurse and her marriage to answer a calling: treating and nourishing with love and commitment dozens of cast-off pets in her home on 1.3 acres in New York state.

"Getting Lucky" is an unvarnished portrayal of one woman's dedication to letting her critically ill "patients" live their lives in peace and dignity.

Lucky, 12, came to Angel's Gate on a Christmas Eve, emaciated, battered and arthritic, after having been tied to a tree in his owner's yard most of his life.

Marino's first thoughts were that he would be around only a few weeks. He fooled her — he survived 15 months, thanks to the dedication of Marino and a volunteer named Ann, who was there virtually every day to care for the dog.

Lucky could have died of a broken heart as readily as a broken body. But these two women gave him the will to open his eyes for another day.

"Lucky," Marino says, "was a living, breathing lesson in the power of faith. Lucky's faith that human hands would one day show him love instead of pain, that if he only gave some more, he would get it back in kind, was beautiful testimony to the healing power of love."

"Kindred Spirit, Kindred Care: Making Health Decision on Behalf of Our Animal Companions" by Dr. Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya (New World Library, $13.95).

This thought-provoking resource tackles the basics of pet ownership and care from a veterinarian's perspective.

Chapters address choosing a veterinarian, assessing the patient, understanding the diagnosis and options, financial obligations, spiritual nature of animals, making a decision and dealing with life-and-death treatment options.

The author is candid and does not advocate either Western or Eastern treatment. "The choices that work for you and your animal companion may differ from the choices that work for me and my animal companion," she says. "My goal is to help you realize and think through the options available to you and your animal companion and to help you make well-reasoned decisions."

Nakaya succeeds, with a poignant, careful presentation, infused with spirit and confidence.

Ranny Green:

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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