I have always loved dogs. As a little girl, I put my stuffed poodle toy under my pillow at night for the poodle fairy to come and replace it with a real poodle. It wasn’t until I was thirty-five that I finally got to have a real live dog of my own. Since then I’ve had more than twenty-five dogs, hiking pals and teachers, all of them over fifty pounds and all of them rescues. If anyone were to write the story of my life, it would really be the story of my dogs. Naturally, I was eager to read Cara Sue Achterberg’s book about her experiences with her first fifty foster dogs, Another Good Dog.
This is a book, first and foremost, for someone who likes dogs. While it definitely advocates for rescuing dogs if at all possible (and, regrettably, it is. not always possible), it is a narrative about all that Achterberg learned opening her home to her first fifty fosters. The lessons are manifold — but strikingly simple. Kindness and consistency are two of the most dependable tools in an animal rescuer’s repertoire. Patience and space provide the most timid, fractious and terrified dogs a chance to unwind the damage in their hearts and reach out to people. There’s no standard dog (or person!) and it’s possible to be surprised in beautiful ways.
As I “met” all of Achterberg’s foster dogs, for me the most moving story is that of a big, white dog known as Momma Bear, a rescue from Iraq. Based on Achterberg’s description of Momma Bear’s behavior, I suspect she might be an Akbash dog, a livestock guardian dog from Turkey. I have an Akbash dog and everything Achterberg wrote I’ve seen in my own gentle, loving, passionate, dedicated, brave companion.
She was a large dog, as big as a small bear, but never seemed to be in the way. Her watchful eyes missed nothing and it was rare to see her truly sleeping. Somehow she managed to stay out from under my feet even as she followed me everywhere, like my large, protective shadow. (125)
Momma Bear’s story is heart-rending, but beautiful and inspiring. Achterberg tells it with clarity and factual sweetness that tugs at the heart-strings without melodrama. As she — and her children, especially her youngest son, Ian — grow to love this marvelous being, so does the reader. A window opens into the hard world of street dogs in a war torn country resulting in an elegant plea for peace.
Some of the dogs Achterberg fosters are conundrums, but Achterberg has the patience to let the dogs find their niche and reveal their natures. This is especially true of a female dog named Hadley who was so fearful that Achterberg describes her as “scuttling between safety zones.” Little by little this frightened being opens up, plays with toys, follows Achterberg outside, wags her tail. But, to everyone’s surprise, it’s only when a litter of puppies arrives that Hadley finds her world. She LOVES the puppies. In the fullness of time, Achterberg is able to write, “It had become clear that for all her fear and trembling, Hadley loved people.” Between Achterberg’s patience, the love of the family, and the litter of puppies, a scared little being blossomed into a loving, adoptable companion.
Achterberg’s energetic prose and humor kept me engaged, and I am so happy to have met all of these wonderful dogs. Achterberg speaks clearly to the motives behind fostering dogs but never sermonizes about pet over-population or any of the other issues that are tangential to animal rescue. I suspect she knows that the effort of one single human toward the good won’t fix everything, but it will fix something, and that something is everything to dogs like Momma Bear, Hadley, Chunky Alabaster, Chism and Charm and Carla the wonder-dog who almost made Achterberg a “foster fail.”
To learn more about Cara’s fostering and rescue efforts, enjoy her stories and lovely writing, visit her blog, Another Good Dog
Her book will be released on August 7.