Giving Paws, Martha L. Thompson, Self-Help: Personal Growth/Happiness
Stars: 4.5

I must confess at the outset that this book was sent to me by the author. She discovered my website a number of months before her book was released. As we both write about experiences with invisible/chronic illnesses and our service dogs, we quickly connected. Our online comments moved offline, and an email friendship was born. When Giving Paws was released in October, Martha asked if I would like a copy. I happily accepted her gift, complete with little Henry’s paw print as part of the author’s autograph. Please understand that even though this book was a gift, it was in no way in exchange for a review of any kind. Being a writer myself, I know how important reviews are. Martha won awards for her previous book, The Oxygen Mask Rule*, so I was eager to read her second offering. All opinions and comments in this review are my own, and I’m so happy they are favorable, as it really is terrible telling a fellow author—especially one you consider a friend—that you dislike her work.

I started reading under the impression that this book would be about Henry, Martha’s service dog, and their experiences together. That turned out to be only a fraction of the narrative. I think this book reads more like a memoir of Martha’s discovery of her love for animals, especially dogs, and her battle against both physical and mental illnesses. Martha tells her story in such an open and heartwarming way that I found myself racing through the pages to see how she managed to cope with her various struggles.

What impressed me the most about the book, and consequently about Martha since it’s her life and story, was the transparency and vulnerability with which she wrote. In the book, the author describes her battles with anorexia, anxiety, depression, Crohn’s disease, and immune deficiency. She also shared how rescuing and adopting dogs, meeting and marrying Don, and her job at the zoo kept her going, even as her health deteriorated. Eventually her cardiologist suggested a service dog to help alert her to changes in her heart rate, and to cope with the anxiety and depression.

Even though the book doesn’t necessarily center on Henry, Martha did an impressive job including her research to find out about service dogs in general, how one could help her, the relevant laws and expectations, and the training and testing procedures. She wrote about what could be very dry and dull information in a friendly and interesting way. This chapter should be required reading for everyone. People in need of service dogs will find accurate and useful material and references that will help set more realistic expectations. All people, especially dog lovers, need to read this to not only increase your amazement of what canine assistance can do, but to understand how even the most well meaning animal lovers can thwart, undermine, and upset working dogs. This is something I tend to rant about on my blog and social media. Martha simply shared the experiences in her kind and gentle way, trusting that people would learn and go forward doing better.

The third main thing I was impressed by is that even though the subject matter and the author’s struggles were severe, life and death in a few cases, and she was dealing with depression through much of the time recounted, the book is very upbeat and encouraging. Some memoirs seem to be published therapy journals, or drive the reader into temporary depression. Not Giving Paws. Martha tells her story very forthrightly, focusing on the events rather than her feelings about the events. The reader is allowed to assign emotion to the circumstances. I’m not convinced I could do as well, although I hope to one day tell my story so objectively. Kudos to Ms. Thompson for writing a book that allows readers to look at their own struggles and get strength and encouragement to fight them through the determination displayed and lessons learned.

In an effort to be fair and objective, I always try to find three things to point out that I don’t so much like about a book I’m reviewing. Honestly, I’m struggling to find even one legitimate complaint. So here’s the worst, in my humble and persnickety opinion…

  1. I couch this comment in the fact that I tend to read mystery, thrillers, and historical fiction rather than self-help, but although the writing was clear and easy to read, it was not the stuff of great literature. It read more like a new-friend telling her life story over a cup of coffee. Again, I think this is just personal preference, and might be exactly what some readers are looking for.
  2. Expectation and reality didn’t quite meet. I was really interested in learning so much more about the service dog, his daily routines, interactions with the public, as well as public perceptions and how the author handled that. Part of me was just a little disappointed that the majority of the book was about why the service dog was needed, other pets, etc. It was all good, and again, I enjoyed the book, but if you choose this book based on the cover art and title, it may not be exactly what you expect.
  3. There’s a typo/editing error in the last quarter of the book. (Y’all see how far I’m stretching to give you something negative?)

(Click here to get your copy from –> Giving Paws by Martha L. Thompson *)

Meanwhile, being a service dog partner myself, and one who trains both corporate and community groups on ADA compliance and SD etiquette, as well as advocating for those with invisible disabilities, and as the mother of one with mental illness and the wife of a Licensed Practical Counselor, I still learned a lot of new things. Big takeaways include much more understanding and empathy for those trying to work and live with mental illness. I never realized how exhausting it must be to constantly be evaluating what the situation feels like versus what it really is, or what people are actually saying versus what one’s inner voice is telling you they are saying. I now understand why students who I knew had diagnosed mental illnesses, would sometimes seem to pause when being asked a question for what seemed like an eternity to me. It was also very interesting to learn the different challenges that come with a small SD compared to what I deal with partnered with a big Black Lab. The rules are the same, but the implementation and perception is quite different. I will be sure to add this information to my future service dog/ADA compliance workshops. Additionally, I was intrigued to notice that even though my disabilities are different than Martha’s, we both find comfort in repetitive activities like knitting and walking the dogs, as well as having a desperate need to feel useful. Martha and I both fight our illnesses by volunteering and getting outside of ourselves as much as possible, even when we are technically occupationally disabled.

My final overall impression is that, although I don’t regularly read this genre and I might not have bought the book just from seeing it in a bookstore, I’m so very glad Martha reached out to me through my blog, and that months later offered me a copy of Giving Paws. I absolutely recommend this book to any reader who is living and interacting with other humans. If you live with chronic illness, you will find encouragement and inspiration. If you know people living with a disability, this will help you understand their world better. If you are interested in the process of getting and training a service dog, either for yourself or others, this book will show you the pros and cons of training and partnering with a SD. If you want to be a better citizen of the world, I think this book will help you realize that everyone is dealing with some challenge and will teach you to be a bit more patient and gracious with your fellow humans.

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