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Book Review
Dog Adoption, by Joan Hustace Walker
Review by: Kate Connick, Sept. 2002

What could be handier than a little paperback that purports to be "A guide to choosing the perfect 'pre-owned' dog from breeders, Greyhound tracks, purebred rescue organizations and shelters?" As a great believer in acquiring second-hand, adult dogs, I looked forward to reading this book. Sadly, this book misses the mark terribly.

"Dog Adoption" is riddled with several problems. Although my paperback copy is marked at $12.95, the book has only 130 pages from cover to cover. The final 33 pages consist of a largely outdated appendix. Appendix A, for example, contains a listing of breed clubs and breed rescue groups, including contact information for their respective coordinators. Oddly, while the contact information includes full postal-mail addresses, it contains very few email addresses or website URLs. These contact people frequently change, and I suspect that much of this information is no longer accurate. To confirm this, I checked the AKC website for contact information (Club corresponding secretary) for 3 breeds (pug, Doberman, Welsh springer); none the book lists is current. It would have been better to omit that appendix, but the author probably included it as padding for the skimpy book.

The remaining 97 pages feel as if they were thrown together in a hurry and sent to press before ready. The text is littered with misspellings, including "purebread" (instead of "purebred"), "confirmation" (instead of "conformation"), and "unsprayed" (instead of "unspayed"). Words are sometimes used improperly, "infliction" in place of "affliction," or "grievance" in place of "grief." Sometimes the irst letter of a word is left off or wordsare runtogether, giving the impression that insufficient time and care was put into proofreading and editing this book. The overall effect is a book that is poorly organized, poorly proofread, sometimes irrelevant, and not particularly informative nor useful.

Rather than presenting a meaningful guide that can help someone choose a dog, this book really offers very little assistance to a potential pet owner. It "explains" various forms of acquiring an adult dog (very repetitively) by informing the reader that they'll have to fill out an application, submit to questioning and a home-visit, sign a contract, etc. It basically puts the reader on notice that they'll have to pass someone's scrutiny. But when it comes to actually choosing the dog, the author tells the reader to rely on the experience and judgment of the breeder or rescue group. What about a shelter adoption? "Take someone knowledgeable with you."

Most alarming is the chapter ostensibly on greyhound adoption. Rather than examining the virtues and pitfalls of greyhounds, per se, the author extols the virtues of the greyhound racing industry at great length. She even goes so far as to have a full page singing the praises of a specific kennel. She reasons that the greyhound racing industry cannot be cruel because the dogs "have been bred to want to run and chase." I suppose then, following her same logic, that pit fighting is not cruel, either. Had the author wanted to write a book specifically about greyhounds or racing, her dubious information and logic may have had a place. It seems forced and oddly out of place in this book, however. Rather than dealing meaningfully with issues that might present to a potential pet owner (e.g., aggression towards small-animals) she spends virtually all of her energy arguing the case for racing itself. In doing so, she loses a great deal of credibility.

Although I'm not hypersensitive when it comes to matters of political correctness, my eyebrows hit the ceiling when I read a quote attributed to a rescue person who placed a dog with a Cambodian family. The rescuer, "pauses, poignantly, 'We're pretty sure they ate the dog. So, you can sort of understand why we're cautious.'" Without further explanation of the case in question, this quote sounds awfully inflammatory to me. I'm asked to believe that abuses in greyhound racing are rare and unique, yet I'm supposed to believe that Cambodian folks who adopt dogs will eat them if not questioned thoroughly enough?

Or maybe rescue groups should refuse to adopt to Cambodian people altogether? The author does make an odd comment that private adoption groups can deny people dogs, while publicly funded dog pounds run the risk of being accused of discrimination. "In fact, depending on the community's anti-discrimination sensitivity, the pound employees may not be able to provide screening, counseling and/or placement services. The pound employee, in many instances, must release the dog to the 'adoptor,' regardless of whether this person will provide a good home or not) or risk being sued for discrimination." In addition to justifying the racing industry, I suppose this book is also aimed as justifying the sometimes elitist and irrational placement decisions that some rescue groups make.

Although it calls itself a "guide to choosing," the book is not written from a consumer perspective. It simply doesn't tell someone how to go about choosing an adult dog, aside from telling them to rely on the judgment of someone else who knows better than they do. The author continually tells the reader that they'll have to pass muster before being allowed to acquire a dog, but she does not explain to the reader how to scrutinize the source of the dog as thoroughly. She repeatedly (and naively?) insists that rescue groups have awesome knowledge and put extensive effort into screening dogs. While she alludes to the idea that not all rescue groups are equally competent and ethical, she doesn't put sufficient effort into explaining how one can tell the difference.

The author is not even consistent in what limited information she does offer. She claims on one page that a reputable breeder is "open about their pricing." Two pages later, she warns the reader never to ask the purchase price of the dog up front, to "rephrase it to: 'Do you have an idea as to about how much you might want," and not to have concerns "if the breeder is a little vague with his or her answer."

She also neglects to assist the reader in scrutinizing dogs themselves. While the author makes a good point in urging people not to adopt an aggressive dog, she fails to explain how someone might identify less obvious indicators of budding aggression. In explaining dominance aggression, for example, she says, "This form of aggression can be very subtle and difficult to detect at first. A dominant aggressive dog tries to maintain an 'alpha' or top dog ranking in its canine and human packs." She then suggests obedience classes for dominant aggressive dogs. Wait! The reader hasn't even acquired the dog yet and still has no idea what dominance looks like. Her exploration of the topic of temperament is similarly superficial, as it focuses almost exclusively on aggression and submissiveness. She urges readers to do their homework, although presumably they are attempting to do their homework by reading this book.

The author also fails to explore some of the most common and easily anticipated behavioral issues that one might encounter when acquiring a second-hand dog, for example separation anxiety.

The best information in the book, perhaps, is the general information in the first few chapters. This focuses on the benefits of an adult dog versus a puppy, whether or not one should own any dog at all, and the kind of dog traits to consider before choosing a particular type of dog. There is nothing in the organization, presentation, nor content of these chapters to make them particularly compelling.

The book suggests that an adult dog might be less work and stress than a puppy and recommends that one must examine one's lifestyle before adding any dog at all. Sound advice, but hardly inspired. The bottom line is that while the book does have some good thoughts hidden in it, there is really nothing new. It is not a useful guide, nor is it even a warm-fuzzy "feel good" book. The information in this book can be found in various internet articles in far better detail. I can't imagine anyone feeling better informed or better able to acquire a dog after reading this book.

Note: This book is out of print. You'll have to buy it used or find it at your local library. But why?

Dog Adoption by Joan Hustace Walker.
Published by ICS Books, 1996. ISBN: 1570340587

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