A big jumpy dog who’s “hard to handle,” a scared little dog who snarls and snaps at everyone, a blind dog who hasn’t been house-trained all have come to the shelter. What is going to happen to these abandoned animals? Must they be euthanized? Or can they be adopted and live happily ever after? Award-winning author Peg Kehret tells the true stories of eight amazing shelter dogs and how they have changed the lives of the caring, courageous people who love them.
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects appropriate for children’s book clubs, literature circles, and classroom discussions. It focuses on reading comprehension and would be appropriate for reluctant readers and students who need to prepare for standardized tests. In addition, it considers the themes of the book which are animal care, heroes, volunteering and hope.
What inspired the book Shelter Dogs?
I have volunteered for animal welfare groups for more than thirty years. During this time I’ve heard countless reports of dogs who had been adopted from shelters and had gone on to accomplish extraordinary feats. I finally decided to write a book about some of them.
Did you do a lot of research to prepare for writing this book? What types of sources did you use?
Many of the stories came from the Seattle/King County Humane Society, where I was a volunteer. The staff there helped me find dogs to include in my book, and that agency gets a portion of my royalties from Shelter Dogs.
I had hoped to find a dog who had rescued his/her family from a fire but nobody knew of a case where that had happened. I started calling the non-emergency phone numbers for all of the fire stations in my area, asking if anyone knew of such a dog. My call to the Redmond, Washington, fire station paid off. A firefighter returned my call and told me about Ivan. Of course, my first question was, “Where did the family get this dog?” He didn’t know, but I soon learned that Ivan had been adopted from the county animal shelter so he qualified for my book.
Do you enjoy writing non-fiction as much as fiction?
Nonfiction is easier for me but I enjoy fiction more. I like to be able to make up events and people. With nonfiction, you have to stick to the facts.
Did you get to meet any of the dogs featured in the book? Which story is your favorite? Why?
I met all of the dogs except Ivan. He and his family had moved to Kansas so I wasn’t able to meet him or to interview his people in person. I did it on the phone and by e-mail. A photographer in Kansas took the photo.
There’s no way I could choose a favorite story. Each dog is unique and wonderful, as are the people who adopted them. Zorro and Megan became good friends and we still keep in touch. Zorro now has a new career as a therapy dog at a children’s hospital.
My favorite book store event happened when this book was published. Island Books, in Mercer Island, Washington, hosted a reading for Shelter Dogs and they invited all of the dogs from the book! Most were able to attend. There were baskets of dog treats and plenty of opportunities for petting and picture taking. Part of the proceeds from sales that night went to the Humane Society. I don’t know who had the most fun, the dogs or the people. I loved it!
Why do you think people and dogs are so close?
Dogs offer us companionship, laughter, unconditional love, and loyalty. It is satisfying to make an emotional connection with a creature of another species, and to communicate without human language.
I think rescued dogs are eternally grateful for the kindness they receive, and they repay it a hundred times over. My current dog, Lucy, weighs only eight pounds but I know she would defend me with her life, if necessary. She had been badly abused when I got her and is still distrustful of strangers but she is a true friend to me.
Questions to consider:
What strikes did Zorro have against his adoption?
Why do some people need to bring animals to a shelter?
What game did Zorro learn to play? How did it change his and his owner’s life?
What do the foster parents do? When are they needed? Could you ever take on this responsibility? Why or why not?
Why do they use hand signals when training animals for acting? What types of commands do they learn?
What is the hardest part of being an animal actor?
What had happened to Kirby?
What had they decided was the best option?
What one word finally saved him? Was he adopted? By who?
Why was Susan unsure at first whether Joey would make a good dog for her?
What types of tasks could Joey do for Susan?
What did you learn about service dogs?
What happened to Jessica that made her afraid of dogs? Would you ever want a dog if this had happened to you? Why or why not?
How do they think Danny might’ve become afraid of strangers? What clues did they have to come to this conclusion?
What types of commands must a dog learn for obedience training? What do the four “H’s” stand for?
What type of situation had Tyler and Tipper been in before they were brought to the shelter?
What was the cause of Tyler’s eye problem? Was it resolved? How?
What do herder dogs like to do? Why?
Why did Taj and her family decide to adopt a dog?
Explain what steps Ivan took to save his family.
How was he recognized for his heroism? What makes a hero?
What does the PPPP stand for? What do they do?
Can dogs be trained to predict seizures? What alerts them?
What types of things did Bridgette have to learn as a service dog? How does she behave differently when she’s with Cliff than when she’s with Carol?
Why are so many more puppies born than there are homes for in America? How can you help?
What have you learned about shelter dogs that you didn’t know before? Has this book inspired you to any new actions?
Brainstorm a list of facts you learned while reading the book. What was the most interesting thing you know now?
Which story was your favorite? Why?
How do dogs help people? How do people help dogs?
Write your own story about an animal that no one wanted that found a happy home. Use the book Shelter Dogs as a model for your work.
Research the typical costs of animal care each year for a pet. How much is vet care, food, vaccinations and licenses? If you were responsible for these costs how much would you have to babysit, cut grass or pet sit to afford them?
Canine Companions for Independence: http://www.caninecompanions.org/facts_faqs.html Prison Pet Partnership Program:
http://www.prisonpetpartnership.org/ Pet Finder- helps match homeless animals with needy humans:
This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading specialist and author of the poetry collection Sketches from a Spy Tree. Visit her website and find dozens of other guides to children’s literature.