Dogtown:Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption

by Stefan Bechtel, National Geographic Books, $26

DogTownCoverInspiring and invigorating best capture this 290-page volume of compelling vignettes at Best Friends’ Dogtown “campus” in remote Kanab, Utah, elevation 5,000 feet.

The four-legged residents come from the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, Puerto Rico and across the U.S., plus the homes and backyards of animal hoarders and fighting operations, including 22 from Michael Vick’s infamous kennels in Virginia.

Bechtel, the author of nine nonfiction books, paints an engaging portrait of hope, heartbreak and happiness at the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Dogtown provides a home for approximately 500 dogs and has a staff of 60 dedicated to their care 24/7 year-round. The incredible operation is funded by donors nationwide and attracts volunteers worldwide who come to help with myriad chores for days or weeks at a time.

From Georgia, a toothless pit bull (her teeth were pulled at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels so she could be bred), to Mister Bones, a skinny, scared stray picked up off the streets of Puerto Rico (that was a Dogtown resident 13 years), Bechtel captures the passion and commitment of the Dogtown staff on one memorable case after another that most shelters would have been forced to give up on for lack of funding, staffing and adoption prospects.

That’s beautifully reflected by Dogtown manager Michelle Besmehn, when cradling between her legs a near-dead Dalmatian mix puppy named Tuffy (who had been savagely attacked by other dogs) during a horrific hoarding rescue near Gabbs, Nev., she says, “For me it was important for him to know that someone cared whether he made it or not. I think that what struck me about him was the way he looked at me. You know here was a little dog who had been injured, basically left for dead and his eyes were actually pretty clear and he still wanted to try. His little tail wagged, and – I don’t know – I felt like had a lot of drive to live.”

John Garcia, who helped rehabilitate Georgia, the former Vick pit bull, has a special spot in his heart for the breed, including his own Spikey Doo, one of his first experiences with “truly negative behavior.” In the process, he cites patience, love and understanding as the key traits needed to help rehabilitate most of the cases brought to Dogtown.

Packed with fresh insight, practical solutions and a whole lotta love, Bechtel’s moving portraits beautifully capture vivid slices of life from highly provocative to incredibly passionate. Upon finishing each moving chapter, I found myself taking a deep breath and offering the dedicated Dogtown staff and donors nationwide a heart-felt thank you.