Solo: The Adorable Demon

Solo with his duckie

When What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren was first published in 2013, I read the many reviews with wonderment. Each reviewer interpreted and described Solo’s character, sometimes with bewildering portrayals. I penciled various versions of a blog post about Solo but always ended up shelving the undertaking.  Stories of redemption are most moving when the starting point is as dire as can possibly be. So – I accepted that, to be of the most interest, people would interpret Solo’s adolescent character as terrifying.

It wasn’t. He wasn’t. Solo was an unruly, full-of-himself adolescent working breed male who pushed the limits and once trained for a job, he matured into an awesome dog. A dog who applied himself splendidly to his training and service. He was a good dog and good friend to his humans and even to his eventual new puppy friend who joined the household later in his life. Redemption at its finest!

With the publication of the Young Reader’s Edition of What the Dog Knows, I looked forward to the new crop of reviews believing these would be of a friendlier nature. After all, the book was geared toward young people and had lots of pictures and illustrations of appealing dogs! After reading this edition, I was pleased with the in-depth information that young readers would glean from the book. I sensed many young readers would connect with Solo’s story as they themselves are working out relationships with their peers and likely feeling some of the similar conflicts that Solo displayed. Knowing that an adolescent dog could find meaning and accomplishment with a job well done could motivate some adolescent human to aspire for similar.

One day as I meandered through online notices and reviews of the young reader’s edition, I checked Goodreads. There, a reviewer with a side bar full of accolades, published the review I have displayed at the end of this post.

I read this review with astonishment that Vita, Solo’s mom had produced “over 20 litters”. This was news to me! This would be news to veterinary theriogenologists! (Veterinarians who specialize in the study of reproduction) Of course, this wasn’t true. Vita had one litter: Solo’s litter of one pup. Vita lived a long and happy life after her one litter of one pup with a dear friend who had had 3 of our dogs over our many years of friendship.

When doing the math required for producing “over 20 litters” in the average life span of 10-13 years for a German Shepherd dog, I was surprised that any adult human would consider this possible, let alone a self-described librarian at a medical library. Methinks, this person should have enrolled in fewer library science courses and more basic biology classes!

For simplicity’s sake, lets consider that a bitch’s first estrus would be at 6 months of age. My females typically didn’t begin their first estrus until 12 months but, as I say, for simplicity’s sake, let’s place it at 6 months. Also, for simplicity, we’ll assume an estrus cycle every 6 months. With this scenario, if Vita had a litter every single estrus cycle from her first estrus, she would have to be at least 10.5 years old when she whelped Solo! The reviewer states that she understood the “poor momma” to be young. Ha! Time to get those little gray cells working, I’d say! Ten and a half years of age in a breed that typically lives to 10-13 can’t be considered young.

I hope that readers of this review had their little gray cells working because they would have understood this proposed scenario was an impossibility. There is a lesson here, though. When a person’s biases are so entrenched that they interpret, however incorrectly, the words in front of them to rationalize their own prejudices, almost anything – however preposterous – is possible: even a ‘young’ 10.5-year-old German Shepherd female whelping “over 20 litters”!  Additionally according to this reviewer, there was no mention of giving ‘poor momma’ a rest. Did this reviewer believe that Vita would carry-on at 11, 12 or even 13 years of age popping out litters of puppies? Where’s the Guinness Book of World Records when you need them?? I’ve got to write to them!

Service dogs are being trained and utilized in ever expanding ways. Dogs’ wide-ranging abilities will ensure that humans will need service dogs for a long time to come. It seems there is hardly a thing that a dog can’t do! There is a reason why organizations develop their own breeding programs or rely on other’s well-developed breeding programs to source their dogs from. Genes are tricky little devils.  Science is understanding genetics more all the time but generations of carefully monitored breeding dogs remain the most reliable source for service dogs. Organizations who supply service dogs don’t have the time or resources to raise and train dogs of unknown and potentially unreliable health and behavior.  Dogs from shelters and rescues are also a good source for various kinds of service work and trainers are evaluating and training rescue dogs more and more. That’s all good! Sourcing dogs from breeding programs and rescues/shelters is not mutually exclusive. There is enough work for all.

This reviewer’s ignorance of basic canine reproduction along with her prejudices against purebred and purpose-bred dogs make this review a dubious source for judging one’s reading choices.

For ease of reading, here is the review copied/pasted. I have highlighted parts of the review to point out the offending misrepresentation.

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren is currently scheduled for release on October 8 2019.  In this young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller, Cat Warren and her canine companion, Solo, teach readers that the nose knows no bounds when it comes to working together, being persistent, and helping others. Solo has a fine nose and knows how to use it, but he’s only one of many thousands of scent-detection dogs all over the United States. That’s a group that includes cadaver dogs, tracking, trailing, and apprehension dogs; dogs that can locate unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers; and even dogs that can find drowning victims more than two hundred feet below the surface of a lake. All these dogs love to use their noses. They think their job is simply the best, most interesting game they’ve ever played! What good working dogs can do may seem magical or mysterious, but What the Dog Knows shows the science, the rigorous training, and the skilled handling that underlie these amazing abilities.

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition is a book that interested me on a scientific standpoint, but I have to admit that the very beginning made me very sad. Solo was not a rescue- rather from a breeder. His poor mother had already had over 20 litters and no mention was made of letting the poor momma rest after having this litter of one- although letter she is referred to as young.. I am not saying that all breeders are necessarily bad, this one is labeled as a reputable breeder and the descriptions of some of the things she did for the dogs sounded wonderful, but my heart broke for the momma dog- and for the dogs losing their lives in shelters every year.  The authors description of what she wanted from a dog also sounded like it could have been fulfilled by many different types of dog- aside from the bonus idea of winning in the obedience ring. I also found the expectations she had for the new puppy to be a bit selfish and naive. I will get off my soap box now and get on with the rest of the book.

Once I got past that initial set up, I found the research into the science of olfactory nerves, the history of cadaver dogs, and  the training methods to be very interesting. I found the informational parts of the book to be thoughtful, well researched, and accessible. Reading about working dogs, how they work and train, and why they are good at what they do was engaging and interesting. It was only when the book verged into the author’s wants and issues that I would catch myself skimming instead of reading.  I think it is more because of our difference in opinion on why and how add an animal into a family, rather than anything else. It is a personality conflict, which does say something about how well she infused the story with her own voice and personality- which is something not everyone can do well. I would have liked to see some further information in the endpages- suggestions for further reading, resources for those interested in training or working with dogs, and so on. 

What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition is an well researched book, and would be a good read for middle grade and older readers that are interesting in working dogs and everything about them.”