Monday, January 20, 2020

A Dog Year: The Story of a Maladjusted Therapist and the Homeless Shih Tzus That Rescued Her, by Allison Hilborn-Tatro (author),Cassandra Campbell (narrator)

Audible Original, January 2020

Allison Hilborn-Tatro was 32, a recovering alcoholic, a working therapist, and owner of a goldendoodle named Buddha when one of her neighbors, Catherine, comes by with the news that another neighbor, Dennis, has died. The three all frequented the same dog park, and Dennis's two shih tzus, Nikki and Coco, are now orphans. His sister-in-law who is local can't take two more dogs. His sister in Texas would, but Nikki is in poor health and would probably not survive the flight. The family doesn't want them to wind up in the pound, which would be scary for them, and where two elderly shih tzus wouldn't be adopted. Can Allison take them?

She says yes.

She's almost immediately convinced she's made a terrible mistake. These two ridiculous little purse dogs will disrupt her tightly controlled life. Yet, she can't let them go to the pound.

She'll just have to make sure they don't disrupt her tightly controlled life.

When she meets with the local family to take the dogs, their food, and their medications, she discovers that Coco is on medication for epilepsy. That includes Dennis's late wife's dilantin. She finds this disturbing, and she's right. Dilantin isn't used in canine medicine.

The dogs are overweight, and due to Dennis's illness and death, they haven't been groomed or walked in a couple of months. They use pee pads, something Allison is determined to cure them of since she has a securely fenced yard for them to use.

She is determined not to love these dogs. News flash: These are shih tzus. Shih tzus have two missions in life, letting you know that someone is at the door, and being loved. I have lots of complaints about shih tzus, but they're all about the breeding that has given them abnormally short skulls and flat faces. That's what's responsible for the "cute" snoring and snorting, which indicate real difficulty in breathing. Having breathing my difficulties myself, I don't find it cute; it makes me sad for the dog. But darn it, they are really good at the "you will love me" thing. If you are a normal human being, and also not badly allergic to dogs, once you become the focus of a shih tzus attention, you will fall in love with that dog. You can't help it.

Allison thinks of herself as much improved from her time as a recovering alcoholic. Her tight control of her orderly life is in fact that of a woman who has stopped the alcohol and drugs, but hasn't learned to trust herself. She's closed herself off from people and from life. Coco and Nikki do, in fact, completely disrupt her orderly life, and it terrifies her, and it's exactly what she needs.

She sets about getting the dogs clean, getting their ear infections cured, their medications adjusted to what's really appropriate for these little dogs. They need to lose weight, and she transitions them to a better diet. She makes the classic mistake of thinking that Coco and Nikki should understand her explanations that they need to keep their toys in the spare room she has designated as the dog room. They do learn to potty outside, because that's what Buddha does, and Allison makes sure they get out often enough during the day, and dogs are pretty good about conforming to Local Custom.

But they are not going to sleep or keep their toys in the dog room. They're going to sleep in Allison's room. End of discussion, really.

These dogs disrupt her schedule, make her do things she thought she couldn't, reconnect her with good people she's lost touch with, and open up her shut-down emotions.

The hard part of this story sadly includes one of the dogs dying of her illnesses. This is a warning for those of you for whom this is a dealbreaker: one of the dogs dies. It's extremely well-written, and heartbreaking, and it had me in tears, listening to that part.

And yet this is in the end an uplifting and hopeful story. Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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