Friday, September 17, 2010

What a Difference a Dog Makes

Publisher's Summary. Our dogs come into our lives as “just the family pet,” but before we know it they become drinking buddies and fuzzy shrinks, playmates and Cheerios-munching vacuum cleaners, alarm clocks and sleeping partners. And, in their mys­terious and muttish ways, our dogs become our teachers.

When Dana Jennings and his son were both seriously ill—Dana with prostate cancer and his son with liver failure—their twelve-year-old miniature poodle Bijou became even more than a pet and teacher. She became a healing presence in their lives. After all, when you’re recovering from radical surgery and your life is uncertain, there’s no better medicine than a twenty-three-pound pooch who lives by the motto that it’s always best to play, even when you’re old and creaky, even when you’re sick and frightened.

In telling Bijou’s tale in all of its funny, touching, and neurotic glory, Jennings is telling the story of every dog that has ever blessed our lives. The perfect gift for animal lovers, What a Difference a Dog Makes is a narrative ode to our canine guardian angels.

Review. Sometimes after a particularly long and tiring workday all I can think about is the greeting I will get when I arrive home: two rushing 100 pounds plus (yes, they're on a diet) of ecstatic, full frenzy, Labrador Retrievers with tails thumping and jaws loaded with gifts (usually with a rawhide or a fluffy) dancing in circles as if they haven't seen me in months. And I start to smile. I smile even if there is an accident that other dear family members have "missed" (read left for me to clean up). I smile even if my dear "puppy" (i.e. nearly four year old) Ashley has destroyed yet another pair of shoes, remote controller or other valuable. In short, my "girls" Maggie and Ashley's very presence in my life enhances it in immeasurable ways and allows me to forgive them almost any indiscretion.

Hence, it should come as no surprise that nearly any book that slaps a furry face on the cover has me from the get go. Thus, Dana Jennings's What a Difference a Dog Makes with the adorable Bijou de Minuit (Jewel of Midnight), a miniature poodle, on the cover, immediately captured my interest. Jennings wrote the book as tribute to Bijou who comforted him during his bout with cancer and during his son's liver failure. As the author confesses:

"We invite our dogs into our lives as 'just the family pet,' but often they end up being canine candles that blaze and shine, illuminating our lives. My family's furry candle is a miniature poodle named Bijou de Minuit . . . and over the years she has taught us countless lessons about life, love and healing."

I liked What a Difference a Dog Makes best when the author described how Bijou's presence aided him through his recovery from cancer. For instance, Jennings states: "As I lay on my post-op sickbed, Bijou taught me that the one best moment is the one we occupy right now . . . and now . . . and now -- and while we're here, could you scratch my ears just a bit . . . ." Unfortunately, the book is not soley about Bijou-the-nurse. The memoir also includes tales such as, Bijou's snaring a dead bird in her jaws; her penchant for socks; and her prowess at snatching baking morsels from the kitchen floor. While I have no doubt that these antics were cute when witnessed first hand, but as engaging literary fodder they miss the mark. Also, the book sometimes veers off into the author's experiences with other pets (guinea pigs, lizards and cats). Again while these stories are mildly interesting they tend to take the book off in another direction. Thus, while I enjoyed What a Difference a Dog Makes I did find my pleasure rose and fell depending on the story.

What a Difference a Dog Makes is an enjoyable, although mixed-bag, memoir that most dog lovers will enjoy.

Publisher: Doubleday (November 2, 2010), 176 pages.
Advance review copy provided courtesy of the publisher.


  1. Kim...This sounds great and what a loving tribute to your furry girls!

  2. I do think dogs can make a huge difference in our lives - too bad the book isn't as good as it could be.

  3. Cute book (even if I do love cats the best, go cats! :D)

  4. Always like seeing reviews about other dog books. My husband seems to be drawn to them!