The Possibility Dogs:
What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing

by Susannah Charleson



Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. ISBN 978-0-547-73493-4.
Reviewed by Martha Meacham
Posted on 06/27/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Animal Companions

If you read Susannah Charleson's first book, Scent of the Missing, you may have felt the foreshadowing of her new volume, The Possibility Dogs, when she introduced the reader to Jake Piper, her very special rescued dog. If you didn't read Scent of the Missing, you can catch up with that story after you read this new and compelling work.

With Jake Piper's adorable face on the cover of The Possibility Dogs, the author combines tales of dog-and-people partnerships with very important details of current laws regulating how dogs are assigned to assist people with disabilities. She provides serious discussion of the issues around visible and invisible handicaps and how a person with a service dog is treated in public. Equally important is the description of roles that each dog provides, whether therapy dog, medical assistance dog, service dog, psychiatric dog or emotional support dog. This book is relevant for the dog professional, dog lover, or anyone who has witnessed or experienced the healing qualities that relationships with dogs offer. For those who may benefit from a medically-necessary service dog, this book is a guide and resource.

Among the plethora of service dog tasks—from guide dogs for the blind to hearing assistance dogs for the deaf to mobility assistance dogs—the author particularly focuses on working dogs "that serve the human mind" and "answer human hurt...[to] tend all kinds of wounds." (p.23) Can any one of us say for sure what might trigger for us a life-altering event? For some it might be a serious traumatic injury, for others it might be bearing witness to a brutal scene. Whether experiencing horror and suffering during an event or witnessing the aftermath of disaster, all of us will find different ways of coping, or not. The miracle of certain trained and skilled dogs is that these relationships can raise people out of the mire after "critical incident stress."

The information regarding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the rigorous training required for any dog with a job to do in public is spot on. But what I like best about the book is the author.s storytelling. Charleson's lyrical writing appeals to me, as she weaves stories together with facts while evoking emotions. She describes the uncanny and innate sensitivities of dogs, that (when combined with training to reinforce behaviors), make them intervene to assist when needed and create an affinity with their human partners. She tells memorable stories of abandoned dogs without hope, who gain reprieve and give back with all their hearts to people who love them.

This book provides a service as it educates about the many roles dogs can play in healing humans with visible and invisible wounds. Susannah Charleson does this job by drawing upon heartfelt human emotions that cannot resist a pair of dark, soulful eyes, a wet black nose, and crazy-cocked ears.


Susannah Charleson is a professional writer whose heart has gone out to dogs and humans who need rescue. She is a commercial pilot and Search and Rescue handler with her dog, Puzzle. Her stories bring home the point that often it is the rescuer who is rescued by the furry critters we bring into our lives and homes. Visit her website.

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