Short but powerful story for older middle-grade readers about a service dog and her handler by educator and coiner of the term “faction” (fiction based on fact) Ward (Letters Home, 2004).
On her second birthday, yellow Labrador retriever Maddie was awarded to Tom Ward, a Marine Corps veteran with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Trained as a service dog since she was 5 weeks old, Maddie spent an additional two weeks training with Tom before they traveled to his home in North Carolina. The story details the ways Maddie assists Tom—opening the kitchen drawers and refrigerator, picking up things he has dropped, sensing when he is tired or cold, etc.—while also providing guidelines for young children on how to behave around a service dog. Through photographs and text (sometimes told from Maddie’s point of view), the reader learns that a service dog should never be approached or touched when working with a handler unless the handler gives permission. Some information on the progression of ALS also emerges in the story. As fitting for a children’s book, the story not only shows how Maddie helps Tom, but provides a glimpse into their life together—going to the beach, dining out, playing ball, and having a late afternoon snack. The author—Tom’s spouse—also provides information on the service organization that provided them with Maddie as well as other useful links. While the text is well-written and provides important, heartfelt information, the photographs elevate this work. More than words possibly could, they convey the close relationship shared by Tom and Maddie. In addition, seeing Maddie in action clarifies how she provides various services to Tom. The only way the book falters is in Maddie’s canine commentary, which might amuse kids but jar an adult reader.
Affecting, insightful, and informative account of a lovely service dog and her handler.