“Rescuing Penny Jane” by Amy Sutherland details the crime of having homeless dogs, and of those stuck in shelters. Any dog lover will go through a range of emotions as Sutherland recounts anecdotes about dozens of dogs, observations about the practices of various animal shelters, as well as interviews with their operators and animal behaviorists.
“The primary reason I wrote my book is to give people an understanding of how the shelter world works,” Sutherland said. “I want them to beware of pet stores that will put dogs down when they are no longer puppies. In today’s world there are virtual pet stores on-line.
“People should really meet a dog in person before getting one. An advantage of a shelter is that the volunteers and workers can explain what the dog is like. We understand what will work and not work for people’s needs. The primary reason for going to a shelter or rescue is to give a homeless dog a home. We need more people to get involved and become engaged so more dogs find homes.”
Penny Jane was a shelter dog adopted by Amy and her husband. For the first two years she was a fearful and an undersocialized dog that has now morphed into a shy, content canine.
The book is not just about Penny Jane, but other dogs as well. There is Brody, a jumpy-mouthy dog, Harmony, a dog whose elbows were rejiggered and Bridget, a dog almost put down for her aggressive behavior.
“Brody’s owner said he was a biter, but that did not jive with anything we knew about him,” the author said. “I brought him home as a behavior foster to observe him. It turned out that he was not biting, but mouthing, just an over excited form of play. He, like most mouthy dogs, overcame the behavior in a stable home.”
Beyond the dog stories, the author tells of her experiences as a volunteer, providing a foster home and her decision to adopt. One of the saddest parts of the book is her recollections of those who decide to rid themselves of their furry companion by leaving them on the street or bringing them to a shelter.
She cautions people about those who “will no longer keep their dog. I have changed my outlook after volunteering and doing the research for this book. Some people have their back up against the wall. For example, a single mother with three kids that must move into a housing complex that will not allow dogs.”
As with U.S. military dogs that were euthanized at the end of each war, so were many shelter animals. “Robby’s Law” was passed after the Vietnam War to prevent euthanization of four-legged warriors. Sutherland tells of those, like Rick Avanzino, who fought to change the euthanasia rates in civilian settings, specifically shelters.
Often called the father of the no-kill movement he believes that within his lifetime every animal in the U.S. will have a home.
The book explains that today “shelter dogs have become popular, even a status symbol … people proudly introduce their mutts as rescues, almost as if they were a sought after breed.”
In explaining the term, Sutherland wants readers to understand, “A ‘no-kill’ shelter is one where 90 percent of the animals leave alive. This takes into account that some dogs do need to be put down.
“Many shelters will not take in certain dogs because they don’t want to be in the position to have to put a dog down. For example, they will not take in hopeless medical cases or dogs that are very challenging behaviorally.”
What is heart wrenching is the discussion about older dogs. Unlike military dogs that are often adopted at about 9 years of age, many senior dogs are not as popular. Older dogs have a harder time getting adopted. Rudy is an example of the perfectly behaved dog, but his crime is his age, 10-years-old.
Even those who already own a dog can learn something. Sutherland gives a shout out to Patricia McConnell, who teaches owners how to get along with their dogs through positive training methods instead of swats and collar jerks. Amy even tweeted a link to how to find a good trainer, and to make sure owners do their homework, because not all are created equal.
The beginning of the book touches on what happens to people after losing a dog. There are those who will never get another dog, some who will get one right away and those who will wait. Feelings of being heart broken, too loyal, too needy and companionship all come into play.“I consider having a dog a fairy tale friendship, which is why I wrote in the book, ‘the beauty of dogs is that you can look into their eyes endlessly … they never grow up. They are always our children,’” she said. “My goal is to always have a dog. It’s a form of attachment of having an elemental bond, the camaraderie, and having them greet you after you arrive home.”
A quote in the book, “I don’t know how you do it,” hammers home the point that there are very special people out there like Amy, whether volunteering at an animal shelter, fostering animals at home or providing a home to a needy dog.
“I agree volunteering can be hard on your heart,” Sutherland said. “The overriding feeling is that I am helping these dogs through a tough phase. It is not easy but you get used to it. I saw what I could do and was willing to do for a dog.”
This is a great book for any animal lover. The stories told will illicit emotions from happiness to sadness. But readers will also learn about shelters, dog training, and the absolute need for dogs to be rescued.