Rescuing Sprite - Book Review

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 3/18/08
By: Gail T. Fisher

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had the book Rescuing Sprite, by Mark Levin on my bedside table, and I would let you know my thoughts after reading it. A quick read (although I’m not a fast reader), I finished this book a few weeks ago. I haven’t written my review prior to this, because I needed to decompress before tackling this column. I think I’m ready.
In the nearly 15 years I’ve been writing this column, I have addressed the topic of the death of a pet just three times. Each of those columns results in more letters and emails than all other topics combined. I read everything (and respond to most) that readers take the time to write, which is why – knowing I’ll get profoundly heart-wrenching letters – I hesitate, despite its importance, to revisit this topic. It isn’t that I don’t want such letters; it’s that each evokes my own pain.

Years ago I lost a young, two-and-a-half-year-old English Mastiff I had had since her birth. One morning, Solo (so-named because she was a singleton puppy) didn’t greet me as she had nearly every day of her life. She didn’t rise up on her hind legs to gently rest her forelegs on my shoulders and give me a big, good-morning kiss. She didn’t run to the door with her entire body vibrating happily in anticipation of a romp in the woods. So started the last two weeks of her far-too-short life.

It took literally years before I could drive by the veterinary hospital where she died without crying. Merely being on that road caused me to revisit my biggest regret – that Solo died without me; that I was not with her when she lost her fight for life. My beautiful Solo died without me stroking and talking to her in her final moments. My voice was not the last thing she heard whispering to her telling her how important she was to me, how much I love and appreciate her; how much I will miss her.

As painful as writing this paragraph has been (and likely as painful as it is to read for those who “get it”), so is Rescuing Sprite.

Part of my healing process after Solo’s death was to write about her – to note as many of the little things that made her special as I could, knowing that the day would come that I wouldn’t recall them anymore. I didn’t want Solo’s short life to be forgotten, and writing about it was both necessary and cathartic. Those notes and memories were private, part of my grieving. Looking back on it, it may have been my way of trying to communicate with the spirit of my special Solo, to tell her in death what I so desperately regretted not saying in life.

Just as this process was for me, perhaps this is why readers write such moving letters expressing their grief, paying tribute to a special pet, a dog of their heart, possibly assuaging regrets and guilt. Rescuing Sprite was all of these – but mostly, it was one man’s expression of his very private feelings, his journal.
I wanted to love this book. I didn’t. I think what I missed most was finding Sprite. The subtitle of Rescuing Sprite is “A Dog Lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish.” This book was far too short on joy and long on anguish.

Levin writes that Sprite was special, and I don’t doubt that. But I never got a sense of his specialness. I couldn’t feel what it was that made Sprite more a dog of his heart than other dogs had been. I wanted him to put into words what makes that special dog stand out as one we miss above others, one we long for years beyond “normal” grief (if there is such a thing).

Rather than a tribute to Sprite, this book was more a chronicle of the author’s raw grief, ambivalence, guilt and depression. While I could identify with his emotions, reading about them was oppressive more than cathartic. Rescuing Sprite reads like a depressing, self-indulgent journal rather than a tribute to a great dog and his legacy.

I have no quarrel with Mark Levin for expressing as he clearly needed to, his profound emotions about his loss. Writing about it is one thing; publishing it another. Its appearance on Best Seller lists speaks more to Levin’s status as a radio personality, and to the prominent friends he credits with having helped him through his darkest times. Much like being selected by Oprah, being mentioned by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity provides an imprimatur and exposure beyond the norm.

In contrast, I recently read Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richard, the story of the special relationship she shared with a rescued, abused horse named Lay Me Down. Richards provides what is missing in Rescuing Sprite. She expressed beautifully the connection, the special bond she shared with Lay Me Down, describing the impact this horse had on her life and the commitment of a pet lover willing to do practically anything for just a few more months, weeks, or even hours with a beloved animal. And ultimately the painful process of deciding when and how to say good-bye. I felt Lay Me Down through Richard’s words as I was unable to feel Sprite.

Had I not read Chosen by a Horse I might not have so easily recognized what I missed in Rescuing Sprite. If you feel the need for a cathartic cry, either book will do, but I recommend Chosen by a Horse for so much more.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2008. All rights reserved.
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