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Saluting our canine companions

Quake Dogs: Heart-warming stories of Christchurch Dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock (Random House, $34.99)
Reviewed by Kelly Bold

imageYou know you’re in trouble when just reading the publisher’s blurb for a book makes you teary. But that’s how it was for me as I picked up my copy of Quake Dogs. We all know the devastating effects the Canterbury earthquakes had on the region’s human inhabitants, but what about our faithful four-pawed friends? Author Laura Sessions teamed up with photographer Craig Bullock to answer that question.

The first thing that struck me was just how truly beautiful this book is to look at. Each tale is accompanied by a number of gorgeous photos that capture each dog’s unique character and circumstances. Clearly Craig Bullock is not only a talented cameraman, but a dog lover too. I couldn’t help but marvel at his obvious patience to get the perfect shot and the joy he elicited from his furry subjects.

The book is beautiful in terms of content too. We meet tail-waggers from every walk of life and, as the book’s subtitle suggests, their stories really are heart-warming – and sometimes heart-wrenching too. There’s the heroism and the dedication to duty in the face of extreme danger from the search-and-rescue and victim-recovery dogs (complete with Kevlar booties to protect their feet) and their handlers. There’s Guinness, the pin-up pooch on the front cover who, as the unofficial mascot of the Student Volunteer Army, will be a familiar sight to many Cantabrians. There are pedigree pooches and bitches, young pups still nursing with their mums, and the canine equivalent of old-age pensioners. Then there are the everyday dogs who, like many people, found the constant fear of more quakes brought on appalling stress. Their owners did their utmost to bring their dogs peace and normality – even if that meant making the difficult decision to rehome them away from Christchurch.

In all there are 70 stories, which for space reasons does mean they are short and sweet. Sometimes they left me wanting to know more. Sometimes I got a wee lump in my throat reading about all that these dogs and their owners had been through. But it was a piece titled “The Unknown Dog” which undid me. Just a half page in length, it tells how a CBD evacuee named Liz saw a woman with a limping dog covered in dust. Liz asked the woman if the dog was alright.

“I don’t know,” she replied with a dazed expression. “It’s not my dog. I found him in a car that was crushed by one of the buildings.” It was then that Liz realised the woman was carrying a licence plate in her other hand. “The dog’s owner didn’t make it, so I took the numberplate off the car in the hope that when I get home, I can try to use the registration plate number to find the dog’s family.”

That act of compassion by a complete stranger towards a distressed and injured animal in the midst of all the terror and turmoil of that day moved me deeply. There are probably countless more untold stories like that. I love that animals mean so much to Kiwis that amidst the unimaginable horror of that day, we stopped and helped out our furry friends. I also love that proceeds from the sale of Quake Dogs go to the animal-rescue charity HUHA (Helping You Help Animals). And I love that a splendid book saluting our canine companions can be published in our country and will undoubtedly be seen shortly (and deservedly) at the top of the best-seller lists.