What I’m Reading: 84 Paws: A Life with Old Labs

I’ve read another book by a fellow Writers of Chantilly author, this one titled 84 Paws: A Life with Old Labs, by Barbara Travis Osgood. This one is a memoir about Barbara’s life with mental illness, and her life with a series of rescued Labrador Retrievers (twenty-one in total), and how adopting the dogs over the past twenty years or so has helped her overcome depression and despair to achieve a measure of peace in her life.

Each chapter tells the story of one of the dogs, often with a lesson Barbara learned from the dog about living her own life. One of my favorite chapters was about Hope, a female chocolate lab who had been a backyard breeder until her owners had no use for her anymore. When Barbara adopted her, she expected to find a defeated dog, ground down by the difficulties of bearing litter after litter, like many other abused breeders she had seen. But Hope was not that dog–Hope bore herself upright, with dignity, and instantly became the leader among the four dogs at Barbara’s house. The other dogs instinctively knew to let Hope have her way in eating first, hopping up on the best spot on the bed, or any other doggy privilege. Hope never growled or bared her teeth, but when a younger rescue dog came temporarily to the house and tried to go first in the food line, Hope had him flipped on his back before he knew what was happening. In Hope, Barbara saw a model of perseverance for dealing with her own problems.

There are plenty of other dogs too–Raleigh, the ambassador, who made friends with everybody on their walks, including a homeless man who slept on a bench near a local shopping center; playful Buddy, who despite his advanced age and a history of neglect involved everyone in chases and games; curious Molly, another backyard breeder who has to know about everything going on and refuses to let her past burden her present.

This is an easy book to recommend to nearly everybody. In fact, I left the book lying on a table in my house one day, and with no prompting at all, my son and daughter started reading it and trading it back and forth to each other to compare notes on their favorite dogs. (That’s one reason I’m only reviewing it now despite having bought it when Barbara published it last spring–it keeps disappearing in my daughter’s room so she can read it!) The beautifully simple prose is complemented by one or more pictures of the dog in question in each chapter, with a gallery of dog photos at the end. It can be read beginning to end, or flipped through for a chapter here and there with equal satisfaction. And as much as the dogs have been a salve for Barbara, I think reading her wise stories of them may also prove a salve for a reader in need of healing, or at least a pick-me-up after a bad day.

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