Wonder Dogs – Maureen Maurer’s memoir about the business of training assistance dogs and True Stories of Extraordinary Assistance Dogs.
Wonder Dogs is both a memoir and a business book, which might make a reader think the book is going to cover some part of dog breeding, until the words above the title, True Stories of Extraordinary Assistance Dogs are read.
Readers may not be as familiar with the training of Assistance Dogs as with Guide Dogs. Wonder Dogs is a book that makes me wish I was still working as a bookseller. I could sell the heck out of Maureen Maurer’s story of how she and her husband created Assistance Dogs of Hawaii.
As a child, Maurer suffered from asthma and allergies. The author spent days out of school (and some in hospital) as a result of her asthma. Luckily, she was a great reader. She loved animals, especially dogs, and prayed that someday she’d be able to talk to animals like Dr. Doolittle. While still a child, an incident occurred between herself and a mistreated German Shepard who was chained inside a yard that she would pass on her way to school. It was both a frightening and learning experience that embedded a deep-seeded wish to have and train a dog of her own. It is what she prayed for more than anything else.
Maureen’s prayers were answered when her mother presented her with a toy poodle puppy, a breed with hypoallergic hair. Maureen, still just a kid, enrolled in a dog training class and began to realize that she actually could talk to dogs. She and her poodle excelled in the class and her next step was to offer dog training classes to neighbors with dogs. She then carried a dream of one day training dogs to help people with handicaps.
Fast-forward, now, to college in the northwest, then meeting the man she marries, and their move to a life in Hawaii. Her husband is a talented engineer and she, a successful CPA. Fast-forward once more to the author’s 39th birthday as she awaits the results of a tumor biopsy. The waiting seems forever, giving her time to reflect on her life and the possibility it may not be a long one, and her dream of training assistance dogs might never happen. When the results come back that the tumor is benign, Maurer sells her CPA business, and with her husband’s wholehearted support, the nonprofit Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is launched.
Each of the next fourteen chapters tells of one dog and the person that dog is trained to help. And with each dog, the reader learns a bit more about the building of a nonprofit company, from the physical needs of where the training will take place, to how they obtain the dogs they train, what breed is best, and why.
The program the author and her husband develop kept me on the edge of my reading chair. Mauer’s initial list of “musts and must-nots” still brings a smile to this reader as I remember that the author must become as adaptable as the dogs she trains. Applicants and dogs must be a good match for each other before the real training begins. Even before that takes place, the training for the dogs begins as puppies in foster families, then eventually back to the formal training facility. Dogs are trained to respond to handicap-specific cues, not orders. I am still amazed at what these remarkable animals are capable of learning. One dog is trained to respond to hand signs, another to open doors and shut off lights, another to respond to smells and other body triggers indicating a medical emergency. The list of what the dogs are capable of learning is astounding.
Wonder Dogs tells of Maureen Maurer’s introducing the scientific world to canine health benefits beyond a “feel good” effect on patients. I said “yes” to reviewing Wonder Dogs because of my own profound hearing loss, I’ve often thought how great it would be to have a dog tell me when someone knocks on my door, or, when my hearing aids are charging, to alert me to a smoke detector, or phone call. There are still things today’s technology can’t solve, at least, so far.
Most of all, I recommend this book not only to those who might know of someone who could use an assistance dog, but also folks who already have a dog. After reading Wonder Dogs, I will never think of “having a dog” as meaning “owning a dog.” The next time you are out and see an assistance dog in-training, it will be hard not to stop and ask the trainer at least a few questions.
Wonder Dogs is uplifting, educational, heartwarming, and such a great read. – Sunny Solomon
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