By Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall. Outrun Press. $35 (full color, deluxe edition); $20 (black and white edition). Available online from www.outrunpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnes&noble.com.
Two littermates, two contrasting jobs in two starkly different environments make for a spirited and educational read accented with razor-sharp analysis and colorful anecdotes.
For Benjamin, noted New York author/dog trainer, this represents a major but more personalized departure from her dog-training and fictional crime-series volumes of the past.
Wall, a North Carolina border collie breeder/trainer, is the perfect writing partner to Benjamin here, since she selects Sky from her litter of six as a potential big-city service dog, a major departure from her litters’ customary herding roles on farms.
Benjamin, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, prefers border collies because of their ability to focus intensely on the job at hand, upbeat personality, strong work ethic with a human partner and intelligence. Sky’s job is to determine when Benjamin is in pain, where the pain is and what to do about it. Conversely, her sister May’s focus is managing livestock on a farm. In both cases, they learn not only from their dedicated owners but older dogs in the household.
The authors establish a comfort zone for the reader, smoothly segueing from a trip to a city gym to a sheep-herding trek in the field in their alternating chronological chapters featuring Benjamin’s illustrations and Wall’s photos.
Their insight and expertise on the border collies’ psychological growth provides the reader a solid grasp for understanding its incredible versatility and strong work ethic.
For instance, Wall says succinctly, “Simply being allowed to work is far and away the most important reward for them.”
“Border collies are . . . bred to be problem solvers. Many of them will try to understand the job you’re trying to do with the sheep instead of just concentrating on the individual steps. Once they can see the end point, or the purpose of the job, they can figure out how to help in their own way. “
Benjamin adds, “Often it seems they (dogs) can read our minds. Maybe they can see the pictures we form in our minds . . . This kind of conversation, understanding each other without a word, is the basis of friendship and training; for Sky, it is the foundation of her life as a service dog.”
The authors’ sharply-focused portrait of the border collies’ diverse role in their lives blends a breezy, unassuming charm with compassionate realism into an upbeat read of doggy dynamics.