Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012: Maximum Shelf: Little Boy Blue

Barron's Educational Series: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

Barron's: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

Barron's Educational Series: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

Barron's Educational Series: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

Little Boy Blue: A Puppy's Rescue from Death Row and His Owner's Journey for Truth

by Kim Kavin

When Kim Kavin's beloved dog Floyd died in 2010 after 15 years of devoted companionship, she did what many dog lovers in the digital age would do. First, she grieved. Then, when she realized how lonely her other dog, Stella, seemed without Floyd, Kavin logged on to to search online profiles of adoptable rescue dogs in hopes of finding a new puppy to add to her family. An adorable brindled puppy with floppy ears and soulful eyes captured Kavin's heart. Although his location was given as Pennsylvania, a short journey from Kavin's home in New Jersey, she learned that he was actually one of a number of shelter dogs being transported from North Carolina to homes in New England. One five-page adoption application, one half-hour interview and $400 later, Kavin brought her puppy home, named him Blue, and expected to live happily ever after with him. However, she had one question: Why would such an adorable and loving puppy have such a hard time getting adopted that he had to cross several state lines to find a home?

When Kavin found a rash of tiny hairless spots beneath Blue's fur and a brief mention of ringworm--a highly contagious and obnoxiously itchy fungus that also causes athlete's foot--in Blue's paperwork, her veterinarian urged her to contact the rescue organization for more details. While the rescuer had no helpful information about the rash, which no vet had officially diagnosed, Kavin did pick up snippets of information that horrified her: that the rescuer had treated Blue's "ringworm" with bleach and Monistat, that Blue had also seemed to have coccidia and, most shockingly, that he came to the rescue from a pound with a 92% kill rate for dogs, a pound that euthanized dogs via gas chamber.

Alarm bells went off in Kavin's head. Not only did she find the rescuer's description of Blue's health history sketchy, she had never heard of gas chambers except in connection with genocide. Spurred on by journalistic curiosity and her desire to know her dog's origins, Kavin decided to go to the Carolinas and piece together Blue's history. What she saw shocked her. From shelters that kill 95% of the dogs that come through their doors to citizens who allow their dogs to breed continuously to a rescue worker with the home environment of an animal hoarder, Kavin had walked into a dog lover's most bewildering nightmare. However, within the madness, Kavin also found hope.

Drawing from interviews with animal control directors glad to tell their side of the story, dog rescue groups desperate to stop the flood of death in shelters across the country, a committed veterinarian who runs a discount spay/neuter practice out of an RV retrofitted to serve as an operating room and many others, Kavin takes readers on a tour that encompasses both sides of the animal overpopulation crisis. Along the way, she encounters a well-intentioned public with no idea their towns even have gassing pounds, finds shelters that have improved their images and adoption rates with simple changes, and, ultimately, faces a crisis of conscience over a group of dogs that are out of the shelter but not out of danger. Throughout her investigation, Kavin continually returns to thoughts of Blue, who grows into a happy, sweet-natured pet, her best comfort. She finds rays of light in the people who devote themselves to saving as many dogs as possible and educating the public on the benefits of spaying and neutering their companion animals; in a no-kill Massachusetts shelter that models what shelters could be in a better future; and in herself, as she joins a rescue network as a foster home, where dogs rescued from the pound can stay in safety until permanently adopted.

While sometimes heartrending due to the nature of the subject, Kavin's research also turns up unexpected moments of joy and clarity. If our society is educated about the conditions created by animal overpopulation, if we are proactive about controlling breeding both in the industry and in our own backyards, and if we give rescue dogs the chance to join our families, the situation can be reversed.

A well-researched blend of investigation and personal journey, Little Boy Blue is a heart-stopping exposé no animal-lover should miss. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Barron's Educational Series, $22.99, hardcover, 9780764165269, available now

Barron's Educational Series: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

Kim Kavin: For Love of Dogs

An award-winning journalist from Long Valley, N.J., Kim Kavin also opens her home and heart to foster dogs from Lulu's Rescue. With Blue and her 16th foster puppy romping in the background, Kavin took few moments to talk to us about her new book, Little Boy Blue, attending BookExpo America with Blue, and all things dog rescue.

How did you feel when you learned that gassing pounds exist in our country today?

It was a stunned-silence moment of disbelief. Later, after I learned more about it, my emotion changed to disgust. It's horrifying, absolutely horrifying, not just that the gas chambers existed, but that this puppy I adopted had been headed for one. People where I'm from don't have a general concept that this is going on. We are clueless about this.

What made you decide to go see the gassing pounds in the Carolinas for yourself?

I wanted to know where my dog was from. Most of Blue's playmates at the dog park are from the South. When you ask people, "What kind of dog is that?", they say, "It's a rescue dog from Tennessee, or Georgia, or North Carolina." They don't know the backstory. For me, there were glimmers: that Blue had a rash, that he'd had bleach put on his rash, and the gas chamber was also mentioned to me. I'm a naturally curious person.

My literary agent sits with a rescue dog at her side. I asked her, "Have you ever heard of this going on?" She said no, and we thought there was a story. It was partly personal and partly my instinct that the story needed to be ferreted out and told.

Tell us about your experiences with fostering rescue dogs.

It's gotten easier to give them up [to adopters] because I try to keep my eye on the big picture. In my house, there's this wonderful puppy, but in my mind's eye, I see all the dogs I met in shelters down South who, if I keep this pipeline open, might get out and get homes. I see it as a responsibility not to adopt because there's another dog who's going to get killed tomorrow if we don't keep the pipeline open.

Having foster puppies around is a great thing when you're sad or having a hard time. They just make you happy. I think it's been as rewarding for me as for them, and I'm going to keep doing it.

We hear Blue did a book signing with you at BookExpo America.

He did. I had never been to BookExpo America. It's at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. The place is an airport: it's huge! Blue had never been in a city. I talked to our long-time trainer Shelly Clawson. She told me to buy him a bed. I had it embroidered with "Little Boy Blue" and kept it around the house. I always put treats or bones in it, and Blue learned it was a happy place. We put his bed in the booth at BEA, and he sat and let literally a thousand people pet him.

We had two incidents where he got spooked. There was a woman in a motorized wheelchair, and Blue had never seen one. I said, "He's never seen one of those before. Would you help me teach him it's okay?" She gave him treats, and he let her pet him and kissed her hand.

There also was a man with a large walking cane in each hand and jerky body motions. Blue jumped back, and before I could say a word, the man threw his canes down and said, "I'm so sorry, Blue! I didn't mean to scare you." This man was standing in the middle of the room, and I didn't know what to do because he couldn't walk without his canes! But the way people reacted to Blue shows that people care about dogs, and those two moments made my day.

I have some book signings lined up for September, and a few of them want Blue to be there and will have adoptable rescue dogs there as well.

What message do you want people to take away from Little Boy Blue?

I'm a big believer that the first step toward creating change is education. You have to shine a light in the dark corners and show people what's going on. It was my great hope to make Little Boy Blue the kind of book that people would actually read. This topic can be off-putting. People might think it's a book full of sadness and horror, but it's not. You're coming along with me as I go on a journey, and you're learning about American life as it affects dogs today.

What can concerned individuals do to help with the world of rescue?

Number one, pass your copy of Little Boy Blue along. Educate, educate, educate.

Number two, if you have a dog, spay or neuter your dog. I was told again and again that the problem is not strays. It is people who have dogs and allow them to breed endlessly and hand over box after box of puppies like Blue into these shelters to be killed. It's insanity.

Number three, if you choose to bring a dog into your family, please consider adopting instead of paying to have more dogs bred. It makes no sense to me that we have a thriving dog breeding industry in this country at the same time that we're killing 14,000 animals a day in these shelters. If you're not ready to adopt permanently, consider fostering. It's a wonderful way to help the dogs who are trapped in the system, to learn more about rescue, and to learn more about dogs. --Jaclyn Fulwood

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