Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: The Possibility Dogs, by Susannah Charlson

I read Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charlson more than two years ago, but it is the book that brought home for me what Search and Rescue really meant.

When I heard The Possibility Dogs was coming out, I didn't even need to know what it was about. I knew I would read it, and fully expected to enjoy it. I was correct on both counts.

The lead in is about a former fire fighter and his service dog, Haska. This encounter was also Charleson's introduction to the world of psychiatric service dogs, and perhaps service dogs to people with "invisible" disabilities.

The book is full of stories about people who forged partnership with their service dogs, interspersed with Charlson's own experiences in training her dogs, training a dog to be a service dog, and learning about the sorts of tasks these things involve. The dog on the cover, Jake Piper (Charleson has a penchant for dog names, to be sure), was found starving by her neighbor and given to Charleson as a tiny bag of bones pup who promptly became very sick. In more than one way, he ends up being a miracle dog: he survives, his temperament is flawless, and it would seem he's the perfect candidate to be her service dog, once the necessity arrives.

The Possibility Dogs also talks about selecting dogs in shelter environments for service work and for therapy work. In these instances, some of the dogs rescued are not physically able, and have some disabilities of their own. It's eye opening, to read about the way abandoned dogs will bounce back, health wise, and bear no ill will to people. One of the dogs is a senior, an indeterminate mix, blind and deaf, and he still excels at therapy dog work.  He is gentle, and self aware (and has ridiculously adorable ears).

Which brings me to the organization, Possibility Dogs. They are a non profit organization who evaluate and pull dogs from shelters for the purposes of service, emotional support and therapy work. They will also help individuals train said dogs so they might work together as a team. Their What We Do page is longer than that (8 points!) so I won't just reword it all here. However, it is worth noting that the organization does not accept owner surrenders, lest somebody read this review and thing Possibility Dogs is a place to send their dog. They will work with owner canine teams, so that you can pass an Access Test and such, for the purposes of making your dog a therapy dog. They will not, however, take your dog off your hands. There are also volunteer opportunities listed on their site, if you're keen to help and enjoy working with dogs.

But, to get back to the book, The Possibility Dogs did prove to be an enjoyable read for me. It was different from Scent of the Missing in that the story didn't follow Charlson specifically throughout. Obviously, Search and Rescue missions were not really included in the course of it either. What Charlson does include is the price one pays to do that kind of work, and the emotional toll that it might take, which is, I think, a valuable lesson. She includes the struggles people go through, and how they might fit together as a family. She includes the fantastic emotional power of connection that dogs have with us, and reminds us (without necessarily using these words) how lucky we are to share our lives with these animals.

It was a good read, and I do highly recommend it, if any of the topics I listed above interest you at all (which they probably do, if you're here!) Both The Possibility Dogs and Scent of the Missing are available in hardcover, audiobook, and for Kindle. Scent of the Missing is also in paperback. And don't forget, you can check your local library!


  1. Great reviews!! I'm gonna tell Ma abouts it and have her puts it on her new Kindle!!! (she has to fill it up ya know! BOL)
    Ruby ♥

    1. Filling a kindle is a lot of work! I'm always glad to help :D

  2. I've had this book sitting on my nightstand for weeks but just haven't gotten to it yet. Thanks for the thorough review - you've inspired me to bump it to the top of my pile!

  3. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I loved Scent of the Missing, and now I have another one to add to my ever growing wish list. :-)