Monday, November 25, 2019

Two Good Dogs, by Susan Wilson (author), Christina Delaine (narrator), Fred Berman (narrator), Rick Adamson (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781427291257, March 2017

Skye Mitchell has bought a small hotel, the Lakeview, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, and moved her daughter, Cody, there from Holyoke. It wasn't planned that way, but events so develop that they make the move almost immediately after Randy Mitchell, Cody's father and Skye's ex-husband, is shot dead in a back alley.

It's six months later, and the Lakeview has turned out to be a money pit. A money pit with real potential, but a money pit. Skye is barely making ends meet while repairs and upgrades proceed slowly. And Cody, previously an open and loving girl, has become cold and withdrawn and increasingly hostile. Is it just an especially awful case of teenager-hood? No. In fact, Cody is keeping a terrible secret she has no idea how to cope with, and doesn't dare share with her mother.

Then on a cold, rainy, awful night for driving, Adam March, a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, arrives in the Lakeview's reception area. He had planned to continue on to the Holiday Inn, where he had reservations, but the driving on the curving country roads in the storm is just too bad to make it worth the risk. The Lakeview has entirely too many empty rooms, but Adam has his dog Chance with him, a pit bull he describes as his "therapy dog." We'll come back to that description later. Now, no decent hotelier who can't be fired by someone higher up would refuse shelter to a person traveling with a well-behaved, quiet dog in a frightening storm like the one Adam arrives in, but Skye tries. She really, really tries. But it's obviously an inhumane thing  to do, and Adam is happy to accept the worst room in the nearly-empty hotel, and pay a $50 "cleaning fee" surcharge for it. Skye folds, because she needs the business.

You can probably tell I didn't start out liking Skye, although we are clearly supposed to. I did warm up to some over the course of the story, though.

The story is told in four voices: Skye, Cody, Adam, and Chance. Skye and Chance's sections are in first person; Cody and Adam's are in third person.

Adam is there to help get a fundraising plan started for the Art Center, the one good thing Cody has found in this area. She has no friends, all the kids in her class have been friends since first grade, and where she spends an awful lot of time working in the hotel as chambermaid and general dogsbody. But at the Art Center, the artists tolerate her and she's able, a little bit, to develop her art. Adam is a grieving widower, his wife dead only three months at the start of this book.

Over the next several months, Adam becomes a regular guest at the Lakeview, and gradually learns that Cody is spending far more time at the Art Center than her mother is aware of, and trading chores and posing for art lessons from the head of the center, Mosley Finch. Chance keeps his main focus on his own human, Adam, as is only appropriate, but he senses Cody's sadness and tries to comfort her, too. At school, Cody makes a sort-of friend called "Black Molly" (because she dresses in all black, all the time), who turns out to be bad news. Yet a kid who is being bullied by everyone that matters in school doesn't easily turn away even a poor choice of friend, especially when she doesn't feel she can open up to her mother. (Cody's high school experiences remind me all too much of my own in junior high. However, my parents were imperfect, they were a lot more available than Skye often is, and I didn't have a traumatic secret to keep. That may be what protected me from potential "friends" such as Molly.)

And then one day at the Art Center, Adam asks Cody to take Chance out for a potty break. Outside, Chance hears a dog in great distress. He runs off in that direction, and Cody follows.

They find a crack house, with an older boy unconscious from OD'ing, and a dog chained to the wall. Cody does the sensible thing, calling both 911 and Adam.

Everyone in this book has problems, and they all struggle with them. Chance and the dog in the crack house are both dogs who were previously fought. Adam and Mingo, the boy who  overdosed, but survived due to Cody and Chance's timely arrival, each rescued their dogs, and really ought to recognize their kindred spirits faster than they do. I like the character development, yes, even Skye, who does learn, and it's an involving and in the end satisfying story.

I said we'd talk about that description of Chance as a "therapy dog." That's the description most often used, though Adam sometimes refers to him as a service dog, and we're told that Chance has a service dog vest that he wears when Adam will be taking him to places where it's needed to avoid unnecessary hassles. "Therapy dog" and "service dog" don't mean the same thing. A therapy dog and its handler help other people. Often they visit hospitals, nursing homes, old age centers. Some participate in school or library programs for children with reading difficulties. Some are trained to participate in Animal Assisted Therapy with professional therapists to help their patients. Some are "comfort dogs" who are brought to people under stress, such as after a traumatic event.

Therapy dogs are wonderful dogs.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs, and don't have the public access rights of service dogs.

Service dogs are trained to help their handler, their person, cope with a variety of otherwise-disabling or dangerous problems. Guide dogs and mobility assistance dogs are service dogs. Dogs who alert to low or high blood sugar in diabetics are service dogs, as are hearing assistance dogs for the deaf. The dogs trained to assist returned combat veterans with PTSD are service dogs. Without going through every permutation of medical service dog, the kind most relevant here are the dogs trained to help people with significant emotional and psychiatric problems.

We're both told and shown over the course of this book that Chance helps Adam manage his rage and reactivity, so that he can function reasonably in public. He couldn't do his job without Chance to help keep him  balanced and functional, and Chance needs to be with him to do that.

Chance is a service dog. Federal law, specifically the ADA, guarantees the right of a disabled person to bring their service dog with them essentially everywhere. I've had my service dog with me in the hospital during hospital stays.

When Adam arrives at the Lakeview Hotel and Skye tried to deny him a room based on her No Pets policy, had Adam spoken up clearly and more precisely, saying that Chance was his service dog, she might have realized that the ADA meant she couldn't refuse him a room based on the dog. In a perfect world, I'd have recommended that he put Chance's service dog vest on, even though it's not legally required, because it tends to make life easier. It's all about clear communication, often. The fact that Wilson has Adam mostly refer to Chance as a therapy dog and never has him explain Chance's importance to his ability to function normally, really makes me wonder if she knows any of this.

It's perhaps also important to note that a service dog must behave appropriately. You can't be told to remove your service dog from the premises because someone else objects to the dog, but you can be required to remove your service dog if it behaves inappropriately. If it barks excessively, or harasses other people, or pees or poops in a place where it's not allowed. My first stop on getting out of the car with my service dog is a spot where she can potty before we go into any business--even Petco or Petsmart, which are equipped to cope with potty mistakes and won't freak and throw us out. It's just proper behavior, for any dog whom you bring in anywhere. If your dog can't handle this, your dog is not yet adequately trained to be a service dog.

At no point do we see chance doing anything inappropriate for a service dog.

Anyway, I did really enjoy this book, and you may enjoy it even more than I did, if the distinctions between therapy dogs and service dogs seem like minor details to you. (Which, admittedly, they probably do, if you aren't dependent on a service dog to be able to function normally!


I bought this audiobook.

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