May 31, 2012
(++++) UNEXPECTED WORLDVIEWS
Dog Is My Copilot: Rescue Tales of Flying Dogs, Second Chances, and the Hero Who Might Live Next Door. By Patrick Regan. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
F My Life World Tour: Life’s Crappiest Moments from Around the Globe. By Maxime Valette, Guillaume Passaglia, and Didier Guedj. Perigee. $15.
There is nothing quite like the Pilots N Paws (PNP) organization, whose story is told in Dog Is My Copilot. The group brings animal rescuers together with pilots who donate their time and aircraft – and fuel costs – to fly dogs to parts of the United States where they are more likely to be adopted. These are dogs that would otherwise be killed in shelters, as are more than half of the eight million animals that go into shelters every year. The statistics on shelter killings are well known, but what really brings them home are stories like the 25 in Patrick Regan’s book – tales that stand for many, many more. Like the “Shelter Stories” segments of Patrick McDonnell’s comic strip, Mutts, Regan’s book quietly but fervently advocates the adoption of dogs and other animals while celebrating the quiet heroism of people (in this case, pilots and rescuers) who work hard to give canine companions what is literally a new lease (or perhaps leash) on life. Each chapter in Dog Is My Copilot opens with a map showing the route flown by the dog featured in that chapter, gives the total miles flown, and shows a picture of the dog. The chapters have uniformly positive outcomes, but the titles hint at some of the hardship endured by the dogs before their rescues: “Saving Christmas,” “Runt Triumphant,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Phoenix Rising.” Many of the stories are truly amazing. “Boxer, Undefeated” starts with a photo sent via E-mail – a photo that caused a rescuer to exclaim, “Oh, my God. Is he alive?” The dog had been starved very, very nearly to death, had a serious bone disease (originally misdiagnosed as cancer), and could recover only with extremely expensive treatments – and, thanks to sponsors and PNP, is still alive. Then there is “Out of New Orleans,” which involved 54 planes flying more than 10,000 miles to move 171 dogs across the country. The most unusual chapter here is “All Species Airways,” which points out that PNP pilot Jeff Bennett of Key West, Florida, “has earned a reputation for being up for just about anything,” having flown rescue missions for more than 500 animals – including not only dogs but also rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, iguanas, “a pot-bellied pig named Mo, and several large snakes.” The pictures in this chapter, which include ones showing a snake on the plane’s instrument console, a tortoise on the runway, and Bennett holding a chicken, are delightful – not only heartwarming in their way but also amusing. In the other chapters, emotion runs stronger, as in “Learning to Fly,” in which one rescuer says of another, “If it wasn’t for her, this story would have been a heartbreaker.” The comment stands for all the stories in Dog Is My Copilot: if not for the remarkable pilots and dedicated rescuers who together make PNP a reality – and the sponsors from all over the United States who help offset the costs of the operation and the animals’ continuing care – all these stories would be heartbreakers. They would also likely be untold – just statistics in the sorry tale of unwanted dogs abandoned at shelters to be killed when no one wants them and there is not enough room to keep them indefinitely. PNP rescues only a very small percentage of near-death dogs, but it shows just how high the human spirit can sometimes soar when the lives of our canine best friends are at stake.
Readers preferring something less heart-tugging and more oriented toward the funnybone – and a great deal less meaningful – may enjoy the (+++) F My Life World Tour, a gathering of snippets of unfortunate events from Asia, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America. These are “thank goodness it didn’t happen to me” occurrences, page after page after page, like this one from Poland: “Today, I was walking in the mountains. I started to trip, so I grabbed onto a fence to soften my fall. The fence was electric.” Or this, from the United Kingdom: “Today, my five-year-old sister informed me she had left me a present on my bed. She had tied a ribbon around a dead rat’s neck and propped it up on my pillow. The label says his name was Bert.” From the United States: “Today, while I was taking a shower, a dime fell on my foot. The only place it could have come from? One of my fat rolls.” From Kuwait: “Today, I was acting as Prince Charming for a five-year-old’s birthday party. After my scene at the ball, the narrator asked the kids, ‘Was the prince handsome?’ and they all replied with a chorus of ‘Nooooo!’” From Australia: “Today, I had my first appearance in court as an attorney. I called the prosecution ‘the prostitution.’” From South Africa: “Today, while I was in the shower, my roommates thought it would be really funny if they threw my cat in with me. The doctor who gave me the stitches also thought so.” You get the idea: short descriptions – sent in, of course, to a Web site – of embarrassing events that happened (or allegedly happened) to people on the day of submission. Some of these are funny, many are scurrilous, and plenty of them strain the bounds of credulity, although of course they could have happened. Although many readers will presumably turn to the book for its scatological elements, of which there are plenty, the funniest items are usually the wry ones: “Today, an astrology website informed me that, according to my name and birth date, my lucky day will be February 30. This explains a lot.” Unfortunately, there is far too little of this sort of thing and far too much intended for easy laughs at other people’s expense. A little of this goes a long way. The book, however, contains not a little but quite a lot.