Sometimes the difference between a good book and an excellent one is the author's personal touch. Larry Shook's The Puppy Report is a moving account of one man's disastrous experience in puppy raising and the lessons he learned as a result. The book serves as a tribute to his deceased dog and as a warning to others to avoid the mistakes that he himself had made.
Shook does not pretend to be a dog expert, but he admits having a lifelong and abiding love for dogs. The initial chapter of his book poignantly describes his experience with Tugger, an Irish Terrier puppy that he had welcomed into his home and family. He poetically describes the dog's zest for life in such a way that the reader can genuinely feel the love he had for his dog. And tragically, the reader can also feel his pain when Shook is forced to euthanize the dog at age three, after Tugger has attacked a toddler. This is probably every dog owner's worst nightmare.
Being an investigative reporter by profession, Shook not only engaged in self-reflection but began to examine the dog world itself with a critical eye. The remainder of the book explores both ethics and practical concerns when it comes to dog breeding and puppy selection. In some respects, this book should be required reading for anyone acquiring a puppy, as Shook tackles hot issues like puppy mills, AKC priorities, heritability of health and temperament, training methods and more.
The overall effect is, perhaps, overstated and alarmist, but Shook gets away with it for two reasons. One, his personal experience makes this all very real for him and thereby gives him credibility with the reader. And two, he isn't drawing conclusions himself as much as presenting information that he had accumulated in his investigation. He liberally quotes others and often presents multiple viewpoints in true reporter style. He raises the issues and asks readers to do their own pondering.
The weakest part of the book is its age. Shook cites many statistics that are outdated by now, 11 years after the book's publication. Nonetheless, the reader gets the point that dog bites are rampant, health problems widespread, and ethics often skewed by financial pressures and ego issues. One could quibble over details, but the general thesis is sound, and the reader walks away from the book with the sobering conclusion that one must put thought and effort into acquiring a puppy.
Shook stresses that any puppy is a product of its particular breed, its individual genetics, and the way in which it is raised. This is a timeless observation. The trick, which he elaborates on, is finding the truth about particular breeds, finding breeders who care enough about cultivating outstanding genetic material, and then nurturing and shaping the resulting puppy into the dog one desires. One can't disagree with the general truth to that.
Although this book is no longer in print, it is still worth reading if you do find a copy. You'll have to buy it used or look for it at your local library.
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