“Love is the Best Medicine”

By Dr. Nick Trout. Broadway Books. $23.99.

For more than three years, I have been searching for closure following the sudden and unexpected death of my Hurricane Katrina rescue Abbe, a corgi/sheltie.

“Love is the Best Medicine” was the perfect prescription. And this passionate volume may likely be the same for others still faced with that same emptiness.      

 My gritty little Abbe was a survivor, having been plucked from infested, dirty waters of Slidell, La., immediately following Hurricane Katrina with ear mites, a tightly matted coat and skin infections.  A few weeks later she was diagnosed with heartworm disease.  After being treated with two rounds of arsenic-based heartworm medications, she was finally given a clean bill of health, and my wife Mary and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. But several months later on a cold, clear November morning, she curled up beneath her favorite bush and died of congestive heart failure without any sign something might be wrong.

Time doesn’t always heal wounds. The loss of Abbe has continued to gnaw at both of us. But Trout’s engaging work about life’s lessons he learned from two incredible dogs and their owners is the perfect self-help, motivational message I have been seeking.

Trout’s empowering tale of two dogs features:

Helen, a 10-year-old cocker spaniel, found abandoned in a restaurant parking lot on a rainy night. Within minutes, a special bond is struck between her and her rescuers, Ben and Eileen. As weeks progress, this bedraggled street dog settles into a new loving home and faces one veterinary test after another, ultimately being diagnosed with cancer and facing short-term survival, after surgery by Trout.

Conversely, a vibrant, 14-year-old Miniature Pinscher named Cleo, suffering from several leg fractures, undergoes what Trout refers to as routine surgery, dies on the operating table from anesthesia problems, leaving her owner Sandi, her daughter, Sonja, and Trout devastated.

The aftermath of the two surgeries inexorably links both sets of owners with the troubled Trout in a powerful hybrid of sadness, sentiment and commitment.

Trout’s vivid characterizations deliver a torrent of emotions throughout, focusing on Sandi’s parting commitment to Cleo, via Trout, urging him to promise “to take Cleo’s spirit on a journey, to realize all the wonderful qualities she embodied and to pour all the skill, effort and talent you had intended for Cleo into the lives and health of other unfortunate animals.”

With Cleo as his self-described “clinical touchstone,” it becomes abundantly clear that if any animal needed divine guidance, it was Helen, your consummate underdog.

Trout feels a roll of optimism after removing Helen’s lung tumor, only to discover later in a pathology report a microscopic tumor had not been removed, prompting an oncologist to estimate     Helen ‘s life span to range from 4 months to a year.  (You’ll need to read this book to find out if Helen beat these odds.)

Did the overriding spirit of a deceased dog play a role in another’s extended survival? Was a secret benefactor working her magic from afar, Trout was left to wonder.

“Two women, two dogs, one life ending as another was allowed to begin. A painful symmetry between strangers whose lives unwittingly entwined to become a testament to the power of letting go and the possibility of a better future,” the author summarizes.  

 A philosophical Sandi adds, “So you see everything happens for a reason. Everything is connected. Cleo lived a wonderful life and even in death she reached out and changed lives.”

 And now I can let go of Abbe’s emotional leash, recognizing she, too, changed lives, and as Sandi says, “loss is a part of life, not an end of life.”