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The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances

Review

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances

What do a recovering drug addict, a lonely middle-aged woman, a bulky teenage boy, and an assortment of dogs of all shapes and sizes have in common? For one thing, they are all strays, rescues --- animals or people who need and deserve a second chance. For another, they all make their home at either the inn or the Sanctuary, high up on the mountain. The Sanctuary is where dogs are trained to learn how to adapt to normal society so they can be adopted out --- some as search-and-rescue dogs, others as therapy dogs, and many as family pets.

Evie is a 24-year-old college graduate who has left her drug rehabilitation program without completing it. She lied on her application to become a dog trainer at the Sanctuary as she has absolutely no experience with dogs, other than what she has read about them in her many books. Mrs. Auberchon is the reclusive innkeeper as well as the warden of the Sanctuary. Giant George is the young boy who needed a place to stay and fit right in with the other misfits, both canine and human.

"Although a work of fiction, THE MOUNTAINTOP SCHOOL FOR DOGS AND OTHER SECOND CHANCES could easily be a memoir of a person who had reached the bottom and been given the opportunity to work and fight her way back to daylight."

Some dogs have to be rescued from fighting rings, breeding cages, and by sheer force by the dedicated Sanctuary volunteers and staff. Some are dumped from a moving vehicle, abandoned in empty apartments, left outside in all kinds of weather without food, water or shelter. If they could speak, the sad tales these rescued dogs would tell would give the listener nightmares.

But at the Sanctuary, the dogs are treated kindly, with unending patience and caring. They are given medical care, kept groomed, fed well, and given fresh air and exercise --- all but Alfie, a rescued greyhound who refuses to move, let alone run. He is curled up in a ball, almost mute, trying to block out everyone and everything.

Then there's dear old Boomer, an aging gentle golden retriever who acts as butler at the inn. He guides Evie where she needs to be, then flops down near the doorway and naps. Tasha is probably Evie's favorite. She is a Rottweiler, a huge dog who is badly in need of socialization. There is a dog who bites, one who is a diva, one who is afraid of sticks, one who refuses to be housetrained --- each has his or her own set of fears and anxieties to overcome. 

The Sanctuary is run by four older women who are ex-nuns. Their favorite rescues are the ones who had been tied up or chained. A large number of pit bulls have arrived and will require a lot of work to socialize them. Each dog's training depends on what is needed to restore him or her to as much of a normal life as possible.

While Evie, the trainee, is working with the dogs, the dogs, in turn, are working their own kind of therapy on her. Evie is learning to trust again, to be calm, and to use reason instead of emotion. She is getting unconditional love from the canines who are able to give it.

Although a work of fiction, THE MOUNTAINTOP SCHOOL FOR DOGS AND OTHER SECOND CHANCES could easily be a memoir of a person who had reached the bottom and been given the opportunity to work and fight her way back to daylight. That is how realistically author Ellen Cooney presents Evie. In the end, it is a book about hope, how there is always at least a ray of hope, and how each of us, canine or human, deserve a second chance.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on August 15, 2014

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances
by Ellen Cooney

  • Publication Date: August 5, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0544236157
  • ISBN-13: 9780544236158