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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Mountaintop School for Dogs by Ellen Cooney

* The Mountaintop School for Dogs, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is scheduled to be released Aug. 5, 2014.

About the Book (from Sanctuary. Place of refuge. Training school. Command center for The Network. Home for strays and rescued dogs. Evie is stuck at The Inn, managed by the stern and mysterious Mrs. Auberchon, although she’s supposed to join a training program at The Sanctuary. That’s what she signed up for—never mind that she lied and doesn’t know the first thing about animals except what she’s learned from a breed guide, from the notes someone keeps leaving, and from videos online, like one that asks: Please can more people be nicer to dogs? Once up on the mountain with staffers, volunteers, and her dog students, Evie takes notes on the new things she’s learning. Alpha. Forgiveness. Play. Rehabilitation. Like the racing greyhound who refuses to move, the golden retriever who returns every time he’s adopted, and the rottweiler who’s a hopeless candidate for search-and-rescue, Evie came from a troubled past. She writes: “Rescue. Best. Verb. Ever.” As she creates her own training manual, she may even write an entry on herself. A worthy shelf-mate to books by Garth Stein and Carolyn Parkhurst, this is a brilliantly engaging novel about finding fellow animals who may bring you a deeper sense of home, healing, and the power of inventing a future.

"Abandon. To Turn away on purpose from someone you were supposed to never turn away from. Bad verb. Bad word. Bad everything." (page 43)

My Thoughts: 
     As a dog owner, I could easily relate to this book. Dogs often teach us more than we teach them. They follow our commands in order to receive a desired response but soon they command us with a simple tilt of their head and a gazing stare. I have a five-year-old Sheltie and love her abundantly, however, she tests my patience daily. But once you allow a pet into your home and heart, you are forever changed. 
     The Mountaintop School for Dogs is a story about second chances for all living creatures. The reader is introduced to a variety of characters, some four legged, that are searching for their place in life, a place to call home. When Evie arrives at The Inn and the School, she is lonely and lost. Recovering from past mistakes, she quickly discovers that her own existence isn't that different from the dogs that she encounters. She too is searching for acceptance and finds a kindred spirit in Mrs. Auberchon, The Inn's keeper. Their relationship takes a while to develop just as it takes Evie's students a while to warm up to her. There is a need to assess the expectations and intentions of another before you can reach a level of comfort.
     Evie quickly learns that her inexperience as a dog trainer has left her ill equipped to handle the challenges that arise for rescue missions. I can't even watch the ASPCA commercials. You know the ones- cue the Sarah McLachlin tune in the background....heartbreaking. 
"Because sometimes you don't call it abuse when it's happening to you, even if you're doing it to yourself. You just call it 'my life'." (Page 262)
     The dogs at the school are is a stage of readjustment. They have been rescued from situations of neglect, abuse, or abandonment from those that initially cared for them. Evie is readjusting as well, realizing that you can't run away from your past but you can control your present. She is a strong lead character that the reader cheers on as she improves in the training and care of the canine students, creating a rescue for herself with each achievement, and finding joy in the smallest of progress. Although at a different stage in life, Mrs. Auberchon confronts her own fears and misgivings as she allows herself to be more accepting of others and a new way of life.
"She ran hot water on the label until it loosened enough to peel off. The bottle was too attractive to throw away. It didn't have to come to its end. It could have another life, perhaps as a vase, perhaps as a candleholder, bright wax dripping down its sides, hardening, lasting, staying. She filled the sink with sudsy water and stuck it in there to soak." (Page 143)
     I thought this passage was a beautiful analogy of how we humans, just like our recycling projects, can be transformed. Sometimes all we need is a little trust and self acceptance. The Mountaintop School for Dogs is a wonderful story for reminding us of the importance of compassion and the impact of a second chance for all living creatures.

* I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from Houghton Mifflin. The reading recommendation is entirely my own.

Happy Reading,

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