Bookworm: ‘Doctor Dogs’ and ‘Kid Activists’

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends are Becoming Our Best Medicine”

  • By Maria Goodavage
  • c. 2019, Dutton
  • $28, $37.00 Canada; 353 pages

Nobody smiles like your dog does. It’s the best thing: you run out for nine hours or for just a second, it’s all the same to him. He’s happy to see you come back whenever, he wiggles, he brings you toys, he chortles, and then there’s that smile. No matter what happened to your day, your dog is the best part of it and in “Doctor Dogs” by Maria Goodavage, you’ll see that she may be best for your health, too.

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Your Rover is a champion sniffer.

Everything he sees gets inspected, smelled, and smelled again. It’s all interesting to him because his little nose has “up to three hundred million” olfactory receptors, as compared to your puny six million receptors. You might smell a swimming pool, says Goodavage, but a dog could “sniff out a teaspoon of a chemical in a million gallons of water … ”

“Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends are Becoming Our Best Medicine” by Maria Goodavage.

For centuries, humans have known about those warm, wet noses and we’ve put them to work in hunting prey, contraband, and missing people. Relatively recently, science has also expanded a dog’s nose job into something that can enhance a life or save one.   

Diabetic-alert dogs, for example, can smell when their owners’ glucose levels are either too high or too low, with a minimum 80 percent accuracy. Dogs are taught to signal the problem to the patient, thus avoiding illness, coma, or even death; some have figured out by themselves to rouse parents or caregivers if the diabetic doesn’t respond.

Knowing that their owners are about to face crisis, seizure-alert dogs are trained to warn for what’s coming. This gives sufferers a chance to find a safe place to sit or lie down and ride out the seizure or fainting spell – sometimes, with the dog on their legs or lap. Dogs also offer comfort, once the seizure is over.

Research on cancer-scent dogs is ongoing, as is work with cardiac canines. Dogs offer mobility assistance for the handicapped, they can suss out deadly bacteria, and they help PTSD sufferers, the mentally ill, and autistic children.

The only problem? It’s one that’s all too familiar to dog lovers: “Dogs never live long enough.”

The memes say it best: We don’t deserve dogs. And if you’ve ever doubted that, then read “Doctor Dogs.”

Partly because of ancillary information gotten while writing other canine-based books, and partly due to a possible health issue of her own, author Maria Goodavage takes a good look here at a bunch of good boys (and girls), and it’s delightful – not only for the science behind what we’re only now learning, but because, well, dogs and dog tales and dog facts and the occasional cat. Reading it’s like sitting on a bench in a busy dog park: oh, the stories you’ll hear!  

By the way, don’t discount your own pooch; Goodavage says that family pets have been known to spontaneously alert for illness, so give Puppers a skritch and pay attention. She might be a muttly M.D. but even if not, read on. “Doctor Dogs” will leave you smiling.

“Kid Activists”

  • By Robin Stevenson, illustrations by Allison Steinfeld
  • c. 2019, Quirk Books
  • $13.95, $15.95 Canada; 224 pages

Someday, this world will be yours. You and other kids like you will be in charge of ensuring that the water’s clean, the air’s breathable, the land is healthy, and people are safe. Yeah, you might think you’re just a kid now but as you’ll see in “Kid Activists” by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld, every good change-maker had to start somewhere.

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What do you do when you see something that you think is wrong or unfair?  A lot of kids whine and do nothing else but if you’re the kind of person who takes the issue to an adult and tries to change things, you’re in good company: for much of history, everyday people have stood up for what they think is right.

“Kid Activists” by Robin Stevenson, illustrations by Allison Steinfeld.

Before that happened, though, every one of those people was a kid.

Take Dolores Fernandez, for instance.

Little Dolores was born in a tiny town in New Mexico, the granddaughter of immigrants. When she was a kid, her parents split but she kept in close touch with her father, who was a labor organizer and a politician. As a teenager, she noticed discrimination in her high school and she started paying attention to the world outside of school. These, and other injustices, spurred her to become an activist as an adult.

No doubt, you’ve heard about Rosa Parks and her refusal to move to a different seat on a bus back in 1955. Of course, Mrs. Parks was a child once, growing up right in the middle of racism and discrimination and she naturally didn’t understand it. But that was the way things were, until she got involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and she learned that with just one small, quiet action, change would come.

Helen Keller learned to communicate as a child and later inspired others with her social justice efforts. Six-year-old Ruby Bridges was instrumental in integrating schools in Louisiana. And Autumn Peltier still works to ensure that the world’s water is safe to drink and use.

On the national stage, protests are nothing new. Your child has likely grown up with them on the nightly news and has perhaps participated in a march or rally herself. In “Kid Activists,” author Robin Stevenson shows children that small starts like theirs can make big change.

In addition to the relevance of the tales here – 16 tales that show kids how activists were once just like them – this book offers a wide range of diversity, both economically and racially, in the profiles presented and in the names that will be familiar and new to the age group for which this book is intended. The stories also illustrate a wide variety of early influences and backgrounds, proving to kids that where they come from isn’t important when fixing something that is.   

Add artwork by Allison Steinfeld and you’ve got a magnet that will attract young leaders and make them want to read.  Give your 8-to-12-year-old “Kid Activists” today, and it could make a world of difference.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.