NebraskaIcebergs's Reviews > A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life

A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler
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Dec 04, 2010

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bookshelves: first-reads
Read from November 21 to December 04, 2010

In November, I received an advanced reader copy of "A Small Furry Prayer" by Stephen Kotler, which I thought would be "yet another dog book". The good news is I liked the middle section about the dogs and their rescue. The bad news is I felt confused by the early chapters, wherein Kotler presents a jumble of details how one choice after another that led to his involvement in dog rescue. I cared even less for the sections, interspersed throughout and predominant in the final chapters, where Kotler analyzes reasons why people have relationships with dogs and why some become dog rescuers. These musings might help make "A Small Furry Prayer" stand apart from its genre, but this animal lover quite frankly desired "yet another dog book".

In other dog books, I have also liked reading about the author's journey from reluctance to commitment. If Kotler had better narrated his journey, I might have cared equally about his own story. Kotler's journey is however written in such a circular fashion that I frequently felt lost and frustrated. In chapter one, he outlines the negatives about Chimayo (the town where he and his wife will establish a rescue), tells how he and his wife lose their rental house, and shares a story of an animal rescue. In the second chapter, he talks more about his wife, their rental, and their plans for a dog rescue. In the third, he outlines their financial difficulties, muses about altruism, and introduces one of their rescue dogs. In each chapter Kotler revisits the original events, without ever providing a clear timeline. Even after having finished the book, I could not provide a linear narration of his journey. Shouldn't an author make more sense of his world for readers?

In the middle chapters that I liked, I met a bull terrier named Otis who needed constant human contact. On a drive to California, he was supposed to sleep in a makeshift bed in the back of the truck, but smashed a box, a stereo, and a cactus that were in his way of his favorite spot at Kotler's feet. I also met Gidget who weighed less than two pounds and looked as if someone had dipped those pounds into a vat of boiling oil. Her coat had been destroyed by mange and her eyes bulged, yet she often had the urge to dance. And when she did, she moved her paws up and down and looked like a marionette.

Although Otis likes human contact, he didn't like to be touched by dogs. One late stormy afternoon, Gidget sprinted towards Otis. Could any dog be that dumb? Gidget apparently could. She not only sprinted towards Otis, but also stepped onto his thigh. Otis's eyes shot open. He growled and his fur rose. Gidget ignored the signals and climbed to the middle of Otis's back, spun a tight circle, and laid down for a nap. Kotler continued the tale by stating, "Otis connects the dots. Gidget has to be crazy to be on his back, and if she's crazy, then the normal rules don't apply … Over the next few weeks, the entire pack began to follow Otis's lead. Gidget was now allowed to sleep on anyone."

The subtitle for Kotler's book is "Dog Rescue and The Meaning of Life". While I enjoyed reading about how loss impacts pet owners and even learning how our first pet rescue organizations were started, I tired of all the studies. To name a few: altruism, endorphins, origins of mankind's relationship with dogs and wolves, and the difference between play and fight. Don't get me wrong. I do appreciate research, but in its place, in those books whose purpose is to present scientific explorations. In contrast, the studies here seem to represent a need to convince readers to care for dogs and support animal rescue. Whether Kotler is trying to convince readers that he is sane for his choices or whether he is trying to convince them to donate to pet rescue, I am still unsure. What I do know is that every time I read about yet another study, I felt pulled away the real focus of the book: the dogs.

Yes, I know, dog stories pull on our heart strings. The examples that I gave should demonstrate however that this book is not cotton candy. Yes, it includes silly and sweet stories, but it also details the dreadful and disgusting ways that people treat canine companions. You will feel disappointed in our fellow man—even outright mad. "A Small Furry Prayer" is not easy to read but is a must-read. Kotler is brutally honest about the dismal state of the dogs that his wife and he rescued, the months of hardship involved with rehabilitating them, and their eventual realization that dog rescue is a game of death. By this term he means that despite the dogs that defied the odds, such as Pony whose rehabilitation required weeks of talking to her forty minutes daily as she hid in a closet, sooner or later one of their dogs would not survive. Yet at the close of his book, he is still involved in animal rescue. And the tales of the dogs rescued by the Kotlers should move all of us to fight for better care of our canine companions.

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