Journalist Fischer embraces her anguished past to champion underdogs both human and canine.
The title is misleading: The author did rescue several dogs belonging to an abusive neighbor, but that’s not the main focus of her debut memoir. In 1955, the Fischer family moved from the Bay Area to a suburban house with a pool in sunny San Fernando Valley. On the surface, everything seemed idyllic, until Mary’s maternal grandmother, diagnosed with stomach cancer, moved in with the family. When Mary’s mother succumbed to grief after Nanna’s death, her husband committed her to the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. She would remain there, receiving multiple electroshock treatments, for the next decade. Her daughters would see her only twice during that time. Within months, their father sent Mary and her older sister, Kate, to the Ramona Convent boarding school, where they, too, would spend nearly a decade. Both girls suffered greatly from the stigma of having a “crazy” mother and from their removal from home. Later, they were allowed to live with their father while attending an all-girls Catholic high school. Out of these dysfunctional beginnings grew the author’s interest in righting wrongs. After floundering for a few years, she wrote a few stories for the local paper and moved to New York City to work as a freelancer. Four years later, she returned to Los Angeles for her big break. It was 1984, and the McMartin preschool molestation story had just made headlines. The McMartins were mostly vilified in the press, but Fischer was one of the very few journalists who questioned the bizarre accusations. After researching the story for months, she published her doubts in Los Angeles magazine. The thoughtful piece generated national attention and helped turn public perception in favor of the McMartins, who were finally—after years—acquitted. But during this time of professional blossoming, both of Mary’s parents died, and she completely severed ties with her sister.
A remarkable look at the injustices of the mental health and judicial systems.