Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog, the Making of a Super Athlete

With her golden eyes and short brown coat, Al is unlike most Newfoundland dogs not only in color. She’s also bigger than a bear cub at an equivalent age and able to pull two to three times her weight. Al is also exuberant, intelligent, and eager to please. But in her overwhelming enthusiasm, Al doesn’t always listen to commands.

In other words, does she have what it takes to be a water rescue dog?

Lynne Cox is an inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame who has set open-water swim records around the world including being the first to swim across the Bering Strait which she did in 43° F. water. Fascinated by watching videos of these dogs projecting themselves into the water to save people, flew all the way from her home in Long Beach, California to Lake Idroscalo in Italy to watch Al along with other Newfoundlands, Labradors, German shepherds, and golden retrievers undergo rigorous instruction at the Italian School of Rescue Dogs. Would Al be able to make it?

Cox, who obviously is tough as nails, admires the dedication and strength of these dog and recounts the training that makes them capable of jumping from helicopters and boats as well as swimming through heavy waves to rescue those in peril. All this is recounted in her fascinating new book “Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog, The Making of a Super Athlete.”

“I love dogs, I love swimming, I love Italy, and I love people working together to accomplish something,” says Cox about the impetus for her trip to Lake Idroscalo. But there was more than that.

In some ways, she says, it’s because both she and the dogs train and swim under the most challenging conditions. After all, she’s twice set the record for swimming the English Channel. The first time at age 14 and then when someone broke her record, she did it again the following year setting another record.

But the training the canines undergo is no harsh doggie bootcamp.

“I really appreciated the way the dogs were taught,” she says. “There was never a time when anyone yelled at the dogs or hit them. Both the owners and their dogs really love each other.”

A Terrified Puppy and a Life Re-Examined: The Lessons Love Teaches Us

A very anxious dog teaches a couple how love stretches our capacity for compassion and caring.

Edie first exhibited signs of severe anxiety at her first puppy social at the San Francisco SPCA. Unlike the previous two dogs Meredith May had owned, whom she describes as typical goofy, playful, curious, undaunted puppies from Golden Retriever Central Casting, Edie was absolutely terrified of the noise, the lights, the other dogs, the people — all the movement happening in a 360-degree circle around her.

“Her hyper-reactivity set off her fight-or-flight response, so that she ran from practically anything that moved — traffic, pedestrians, children, bicycles, motorcycles, garage doors, plastic bags floating on the wind,” said May, who writes about her experiences in her new book “Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to be Brave” (Park Row Books 2022; $24.99 Amazon price).

May, an award winning journalist and fifth generation beekeeper who lives in San Francisco with her wife Jenn, had her own issues. The daughter of a deeply depressed mother, she spent years without getting out of bed and sought refuge in reading, a favorite stuffed animal that she took to college, hiding in small spaces and raising bees.

But she and Jenn didn’t return the adorable puppy, who was only calm and happy when indoors and away from stimulation.

“What this meant for me and Jenn was that one of us had to be with her at all times, indoors, there to protect her,” said May. “Which brought our carefree lives to a standstill and shut us out of the vibrant San Francisco dog culture. Think: dog rooftop cocktail parties, Corgi-con at the beach, dog cafes, pet parades and dog hikes that we had enjoyed with our other dogs.”

Edie also added stress to their relationship in other ways as they kept trying to “fix” her, transforming her into the dog they wanted her to be.

”Jenn, who had never raised a puppy before, kept asking me when Edie would grow out of it, and I was foolishly trying every remedy possible to make that happen so we could have the dog that was going to deepen our relationship and bring us nonstop laughter and joy.”

This might have gone on for a long time, but May fortunately met a brilliant veterinarian who had experience with anxious dogs. The vet shared a story about a mother of an anxious child. To get the daughter ready to go snorkeling in Hawaii, the mother started by having her learn to wear a snorkel and then use it, first in the bathtub and then in the pool.

“Only then, after the baby steps, could the family go to Hawaii and snorkel without any meltdowns,” May said. “This vet’s simple story made me realize that Edie wasn’t here for my entertainment, she was here for me to be her protector. What I had been resisting this whole time was being pushed into a maternal role with Edie because deep down I didn’t think I’d ever make a good a mother to human or animal, because I’d been raised without my father in the home and by a mother who often complained openly about how motherhood shackled her. They say dogs come along at the precise moment you need to evolve in a certain way, and for me the therapeutic part of Edie is unearthing a buried maternal instinct and discovering that it’s not a subtraction of my life, but an enhancement to keep this dog alive and happy. The best thing in the world is when Edie runs to me when she’s scared. She no longer runs blindly in any direction — she knows I’m home base.”

What would you like readers to take away from your book besides a fascinating and heartfelt read, I asked May?

“I hope readers learn that all dogs are different, and all have deep emotions that need tending,” she said. “I did not know how to read canine body language until Edie forced me to research it, and now I cringe at all that I didn’t understand with my other two dogs. I hope readers sympathize with my mistakes in the story. It took a neurotic dog to teach me that I was neurotic about being perfect, about having control, and that I was the one who needed to change, not Edie.”

For more information about May and her virtual book signings, visit meredithamay.net.

Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family

          Melissa Shapiro could have said no when asked to foster a deaf, blind, and traumatized puppy. After all, Shapiro, a veterinarian with a busy practice already had six rescue dogs, a husband and three college-aged children in her home. She certainly didn’t have the time, energy, or room to take on a highly anxious  puppy who weighed less than two pound and whose pink color has earned him the name of Piglet.

         But Shapiro said yes to the dog. And though it initially wasn’t easy she and her family didn’t give up. She recounts Piglet’s transformation from a fearful and reclusive animal into a happy, confident pooch with his own Facebook page and Instagram account in her just released book, Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family.

         “I am a very routine oriented person,” says Shapiro who lives in Connecticut. “My other dogs happily integrate into my daily schedule which makes having so many relatively easy. When Piglet arrived, he literally turned things upside down. He had no idea where he was or what to expect, so he screamed and carried on for hours a day.”

         And so to help Piglet adapt, Shapiro adapted as well, changing her schedule to accommodate Piglet’s needs. It was tough at first and the family, though dedicated to doing what was best for Piglet, worried just how much attention and accommodation he would continue to need as he got older. But like the Beatle song, “All You Need is Love,” the Shapiros  found that Piglet quickly responded  to lots of hugs, a predictable daily schedule, and their friendly pack of rescued canines.

         “The other dogs were very accommodating to Piglet,” says Shapiro. “They learned to play with him  gently, and they brought him into their playtime, being careful to include him when he lost track of where they were.”

         In three months, his screams had subsided as he became more and more comfortable with his new life. Videos on Piglet’s You Tube Channel happily playing with dogs at least twice his size. And his endearing, sweet personality has made Piglet a rock star with a large social media reach including 256,000 Instagram and 181,000 Facebook followers.

         “My initial idea when adopting Piglet was to raise awareness for rescued dogs and specifically disabled dogs and other animals,” says Shapiro. “Piglet’s Facebook page and then Instagram account were effective platforms for increasing exposure and fundraising for rescue organizations. Our Piglet Mindset™ educational program began early on so we had a dual purpose for our social media accounts. As the educational outreach grew and expanded, followers were eager to support our work with donations. Creating our nonprofit organization, Piglet International Inc., was the next step in growing Piglet Mindset and continuing to educate and advocate for dogs with disabilities.”

         Like many stars, Piglet loves having an audience and laps up being the center of attention. Because he needs all that plus almost constant physical affection, the family takes him almost everywhere they go.

Though that can be somewhat limiting, Shapiro says she doesn’t mind.

“He is a happy little dog,” she says. “He brings joy to everything he does, and he has a way of making sure we all join him and pause for a smile. Piglet has turned out to be a sweet, happy, and inspiring little dog for people all around the world. I have absolutely no regrets. It’s a lot of fun to be his mom.”

To learn more about Piglet, Piglet Mindset™ educational outreach, visit PigletMindset.org. Follow Piglet on Facebook at Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy, and Instagram- @pinkpigletpuppy

Piglet Virtual Events

What: Join Piglet and Melissa Shapiro at upcoming Zoom events. The events are free. To register, visit www.pigletthedog.com and go to the events page.

W. Bruce Cameron: A Dog’s Promise

W. Bruce Cameron continues the story of Bailey, now an angel dog, in his latest book, A Dog’s Promise.

            W. Bruce Cameron continues the story of Bailey, now an angel dog, in his latest book, A Dog’s Promise.

            “Bailey has been sent to a boy in a wheelchair whose family is really struggling with many issues and is being torn apart,” says Cameron, who’s other two books featuring Bailey are the bestsellers A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey. “Bailey’s mission to fulfill a promise to help these people out.”

            Cameron’s last two books have been made into movies starring Dennis Quaid, the scripts of which he and his wife, author and comedian Cathryn Michon, co-authored with several other writers. There’s little doubt that A Dog’s Promise will be too. But these wonderful heartwarming stories about Bailey (who is joined by another special dog name Lacey in this book) might never have been written if Cameron’s first writing dream had come true.

            “I started off thinking I’d write thrillers for adults,” he says. “I’d turn out one once a year just like Michael Connelly.”

            Bailey as a cop, government agent or spy?

            Luckily it didn’t happen that way. Instead, hoping to convince Michon, who was heartbroken over her loss of a beloved dog, to let them adopt another dog, Cameron spun a canine tale to tell her. She was so taken that she insisted he should turn his story into a book. That morphed into his A Dog’s Purpose series (there’s also a puppy’s purpose series as well). The two married and now have adopted what Cameron describes as a “mixed DNA” dog they named Tucker.

            “He’s sitting here right now as we’re talking,” says Cameron who is currently working on a Christmas novella about a dog and a new series, Lily’s to The Rescue starting in 2020. “He may be expecting me to cook for him.”

            Ah, a dog’s life.

            If writing all these books, many of which are New York Times and USA Today best sellers, seems to indicate a well-organized mind, Cameron disagrees.

            “My brain has always been a cluttered attic full of stories,” he says. “I was the kid who instead of paying attention in class, was writing stories.”

            But just as Bailey has a purpose, so does Cameron. One of the take-aways he’d like readers to get from his books is this: if people would adopt canine values—respect, love, support and caring—the world would be a much better place.

            “I think A Dog’s Promise is a story that can help us come together,” he says. “We build up all these barriers. But if you just follow the path of this dog or any dog, you can overcome what keeps us apart.”

Ifyougo:

What: W. Bruce Cameron presentation and book signing

When: Tuesday, October 15 at 7 p.m.

Where: Stevenson Hall in the Wentz Science Center on the campus of North Central College, 131 S. Loomis St., Napier, IL

Cost: A ticket for one person cost $32.00 ($34.59 w/service fee). Includes a copy of the new book with a personalized signing and photo. The ticket package for two is $42.00 ($45.09 w/service fee). Admits two people and includes one copy of the new book with a personalized signing and photo. To purchase tickets, brownpapertickets.com/event/4343095

FYI: (630) 355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

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