“Pure Gold: Adventures with Six Golden Retrievers”

By Holli Pfau. Glad Dog Press. $24.95.

What would a dog-oriented memoir be without a celebration of life and a mix of gut-wrenching heartbreak?

Pfau’s invigorating narrative takes you on a sometimes bumpy emotional ride from the bedsides of terminally-ill patients in an animal-assisted pilot program in a Pasadena, Calif., hospital to American Kennel Club rally and agility competition challenges throughout the West, after she and her husband, Walter, move to 10-acre property in Durango, Colo.

The key characters are her golden rescues, Nikki, Bodie, Sophie, Tucker, Daisy and Chatter, each captured in a moving fashion of true grit and adventurous spirit, yet segueing naturally to the next’s arrival.

Describing Nikki, her smooth-tempered therapy partner, “Her outreach was warm and genuine, and she didn’t seem to be filling her own needs. Rather, she seemed to sense others’ interests and desires and make herself available to them. She was unlike any other dog I’d known. I began to understand the term ‘old soul,’ often applied to people and animals with a supernatural sense of the world, as if they’d lived before and brought prior knowledge with them via reincarnation.”

Nikki is the inspiration for Pfau to co-find a nationally recognized animal-assisted therapy program at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, where she worked as rehabilitation therapist, wrote a training manual and supervised 40 volunteers and their dogs.

She re-enforces throughout this earthy delivery the all-too-short stay dogs have in our lives, dramatizing the effect on our lives, even after they cross the proverbial Rainbow Bridge. Four of her six rescues leave a distinctive legacy and personality paw print, along with plenty of grief after their passing.

Because of their waning health and age, Sophie and Tucker are euthanized together, yet within weeks Pfau opens those “familiar doors in the rescue world, knowing our next golden was already out there, somewhere, waiting for us. Despite the constant ache in my heart and the physical fatigue that accompanies grief, I already longed to welcome a new golden heart to help heal mine.”

The fragility of life suddenly marches front and center for the author when she is hospitalized 13 days  in Colorado with a bleeding stomach tumor prompting  surgery. When a nurse, who directs the hospital’s TLC (Touch, Love and Compassion) program asks Pfau if she has guiding spirits that are a source of strength and comfort, she replies, “Absolutely! I call upon the spirits of four wonderful golden retrievers who were so important in my life, and they continue to be there for me from the other side.”

And when she eventually arrives home, her two current girls, Chatter and Daisy, she says, link her to “another level of the spiritual world and would nurture my return to health in a way nothing else could.”

In a friendly, first-person perspective, Pfau’s colorful, vibrant storytelling is seasoned heavily with fresh anecdotes of hope and heartbreak, along with plenty sparkling nuggets of wisdom any dog owner will find inspiring.

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