As part of my preparation for a writing club I taught last year about rescue animals, I read some of the pet books I’ve collected over the years, and am delighted to have found Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret among them. This brief book of just over one hundred pages contains eight true stories mostly about dogs that came from The Humane Society in Washington State where Kehret has long volunteered. Shelter Dogs was an inspiring and educational read that I was sorry to have end.
Two days of my writing club focused on how animals help humans. For that reason, I appreciated that half of Kehret’s stories featured dogs in need who ended up benefiting their owner: A dog with kennel cough becomes a sports champion; A large exuberant stray gets trained to become a service dog; An abandoned puppy saves an hearing-impaired mother and her child from a house fire; A pregnant dog whose family gives her up gets matched, through Paroled Pets, with a gentleman who can no longer work or drive due to seizures. Foremost, Kehret’ stories provide me with entertaining examples of heroic dogs, because of how she creates fast-moving plots. Indirectly, because of how her plots show how the working dogs learned needed skills and then put them into action, Kehret’s stories also educated me about the diverse uses of dogs.
Two days of my writing club focused on how humans help animals. Two of Kehret’s stories not only fit this description, but both illustrate another aspect of Kehret’s fine writing ability, which is choosing to focus on a few pivotal moments. Take for example, the story of Kirby, which is also my favorite in the book. For a long time, Kirby lived happily with his elderly owner. Then his owner got taken to the hospital and Kirby got left behind. For six days. This abandonment left Kirby fearful of all people, so much that he growled and snapped at anyone who came near him. A kind veterinarian technician made a special effort to help him but, when nothing worked, it seemed Kirby might need to get euthanized. Kirby’s story pulls on my heart-strings, not just because of how sad it is, but also because Kehret took the time to develop the problem, the conflict, and the resolution.
Besides simply sharing stories, Kehret also provides factual inserts. For instance, after a story about a dog who becomes a movie story, Kehret explains why and how the American Humane Association monitors the use of animals in entertainment. As with this story, some inserts relate to the subject. Others seem like more just random facts. In all cases, inserts are between one to two pages, and always contain useful information about dog care. Other perks include a photograph of the profiled dog, often with the owner, and biographical information about the author and the photographer.
Shelter Dogs is on par with other collections of animal stories I’ve read. In addition, I can see Shelter Dogs, which made me both smile and cry, inspiring young people to write their pet stories. For those students of mine who prefer research, I can see them instead creating pet guide books. Apparently, Peg Kehret grew up wanting to become both a veterinarian and an author. Although she never became the former, I can see how books like this draw on both of these wishes, and readers are the beneficiaries. My only remaining question is: When will she be writing about other shelter animals?