A Dog Named Slugger
Bell Bridge Books, 2010
Bell Bridge Books, 2010
I suppose I’ve always been curious about service dogs. From an early age I was aware of seeing-eye dogs, the animals that help guide the blind. They’ve been around since at least the mid-16th Century (according to Wikipedia), but the use of service dogs by people with other disabilities is a relatively new phenomenon. No doubt because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures access to public places by people with disabilities and explicitly protects the right of access with service animals, they’ve become much more common.
So I see them from time to time, but didn’t know much about them. As a dog lover, I welcomed the opportunity to take a look at Leigh Brill’s 2010 book, A Dog Named Slugger, about her long partnership with her service dog. It’s a charming story and answered many of the questions I had about the dogs—how do they behave when they’re “off duty”; what’s proper etiquette for a stranger’s interaction with the dogs; how often do people with disabilities encounter access problems with their dogs. The book is also written in plain language that will appeal to readers of all ages.
Leigh Brill has congenital cerebral palsy. Growing up, she tried to hide her condition and was embarrassed by it. But as she grew older and became more independent—going to college, working—hiding it was no longer an option. One day she met someone on her college campus who had a service dog, and that meeting changed her life. It wasn’t long before she applied to get one of her own and that led her to Slugger, a young yellow lab who had undergone service dog training. They were a perfect match and clicked almost immediately. Slugger could do things that I can’t imagine my own lab doing (because he hasn’t been properly trained): closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving dropped items, barking on command to call for help, sticking close by to provide support when his partner is walking, and much more.
Over the years, Brill and Slugger worked closely together, even as their lives changed. Brill, who has a Masters degree, began working in a community mental health center and also got married. Eventually she moved to a new home and a new job in a new city. But Slugger stayed with her through it all. The two of them frequently visited schools and gave demonstrations of how they interacted and what Slugger did to help Brill deal with her limitations.
One of the messages of the books is that a service dog is a working dog, but he’s also a dog. When his work clothes come off (he wears a harness and pack for carrying things), he’s off duty and just a dog. He likes to play and fetch and do all the things that dogs normally like to do. But when the uniform goes on, he’s all business and his concentration is focused on the needs of his partner.
If you happen to be a dog lover, you’ll probably get emotional, as I did, toward the end of the book when Slugger is helping to train his successor, Kenda, and is allowed to retire. Although the moment when Brill has to say goodbye to Slugger is heart-wrenching, we know that they both lived enriched lives thanks to their partnership.
This is a very fast read, recommended for young readers and adults, especially dog lovers and those curious about what life with a service dog would be like.
The author's website is www.LeighBrill.com .