A Dog Named Slugger Readers' Guide
Overall: Would you consider A Dog Named Slugger more of a ‘dog story’ or one of the author’s personal growth? In your opinion, did the historical stories, where the author recalled scenes from childhood, add to the story as a whole, or were you more drawn to the immediate relationship between Leigh and Slugger?
1. What new insights did A Dog Named Slugger provide about the physical, emotional, and social impact of living with cerebral palsy? What did you learn about service dog partnership that you didn’t know before?
2. In the beginning of the book, Leigh visits the doctor for stress fractures in her feet. She writes, "The silver-haired specialist told me not to worry. He said I was so beautiful that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a nice man to take care of me.” What does this suggest about the physician’s opinion of his patient? What do you think motivated him to see her in this way? In this scene, the author goes on to write, "I bristled. What does a nice man have to do with the pain in my feet? I thought. And who says I can’t take care of myself?” How do you think the interaction between the patient and physician might have changed if Leigh had voiced her thoughts?
3. When Leigh meets Anne Cooper and her service dog, Caesar, she is able to let go of her usual denial and be truthful about needing help. How is this positive experience repeated with others as the story unfolds?
4. The author writes, "As a child I’d been taught to keep my CP a secret. I didn’t talk about it or even say its name.” Compare the lack of physical control experienced by the character with the emotional control she had to exert to accomplish this.
5 .How is Sylvia’s input regarding Leigh’s disability different from the input she receives from those in the medical field? From others in her life? How does this difference influence Leigh’s sense of self? How does it influence her relationships with others?
6. The author writes, "Sylvia understood that some gifts must change hands in order to change a life.” What does this mean to you? How does the gift of Slugger continue to change Leigh’s life and the lives of others?
7. Discuss the rewards and challenges of raising and training a service dog and then letting it go. Is this something you could do? When have you seen the life-changing power of sacrifice in your own life?
8. Leigh says, "For so long, keeping up with others had been my definition of grace.” What do you think this means? How does Slugger enable Leigh to eventually re-define grace for herself? What is your own definition of grace? Has this changed in your life? What inspired that change?
9.Slugger’s trainer advises Leigh not to expect her new partner to act like a person or a machine since he is neither. What specific dog traits make Leigh’s initial training with Slugger especially challenging? Which canine tendencies make it rewarding?
10. During their first ‘lunch date’ together, Slugger shows Leigh that the purest devotion can pass from one heart to another without a sound. Discuss the impact that devotion has on Leigh’s life and her sense of self. Have you experienced similar devotion in your own life?
11. It took Slugger two years and countless hours of training to become a service dog. What lessons did Leigh have to learn in order to work with him effectively? About the dog? About herself? About working as a team?
12.The author often mentions not being able to control her own body. How does Slugger offer her a sense of control physically, emotionally, socially? How does Leigh’s changed perception of her autonomy influence other people’s responses to her?
13. How do Leigh’s medical experiences as a child create a fear of ridicule that she feels as a young adult? How does her partnership with Slugger enable her to gradually overcome this?
14. The author writes: "As a child, I was never sure of myself; instead I’d been convinced of my own weirdness. I’d been told that because of my disability I had to be not only tough, but also better than other people. This, I’d believed, was my redemption, a chance to make amends for my weirdness. When I was little, I was a dynamo of compensation. I made straight A’s. I made jokes. I earned a reputation as one of the best-behaved kids in my school.” How does this drive for perfection shape Leigh’s training and eventual partnership with Slugger? How does Slugger gradually change Leigh’s belief that she has to be ‘better’ than others?
15. Leigh recounts a situation at graduate school when she is preparing to go down a set of stairs with Slugger’s assistance. "My dog looked up at me. His brown eyes sparkled with a sure and simple message, "Take hold.” How does the Labrador inspire his partner to learn to ‘take hold’ of other aspects of her life?
16.What message is Leigh given about her sexuality as she grows up? Do you think this reflects a societal attitude about disability and sexuality? How is this attitude evident in the author’s college experience with another disabled student, Joe? Do you think a similar attitude exists in society today?
17. A Dog Named Slugger highlights many instances where the author faces biased attitudes regarding her physical disability. How are these instances similar to the cultural bias she discovers in forming a relationship with Pranav, a man from India? How are they different?
18.Slugger enables personal growth for Leigh by encouraging her independence, assertiveness, and sense of control. What benefits does the dog eventually bring to Pranav, and to the relationship that develops between him and the author? Do you consider a pet part of your own family? What rewards and difficulties does this bring to your life?
19. Which of Slugger’s attributes makes it possible for him to positively influence the clients with mental disabilities with whom Leigh works? Have you ever experienced a unique bond or sense of healing from an animal unlike what you experience with other people?
20. When working at Ronald McDonald House, the author writes that Slugger’s message to cancer patients is: "You are more than pain, more than worry, more than cancer. You are you. And you are good.” How does he share this same message with Leigh? Compare this message with those Leigh encountered growing up.
21.Do you believe Leigh’s experience of employment discrimination is rare, or do individuals with disabilities continue to face barriers to employment today?
22. Near the end of the legal battle over Leigh’s right to be accompanied by Slugger in the workplace, she wonders if it has all been worth it. What do you think? What choice would you make if you found yourself in that situation?
23. Leigh says her friend Carol has Milkbones in her lemonade because she’s made something positive out of her struggle and gone on to help others with disabilities get service dogs. How does Leigh learn to do this in her own life? Have you faced challenges and responded to them in ways that were positive for you and/or for other people?
24. How might Leigh’s decision not to ask Slugger to work while in pain have been influenced by her early experiences denying and ignoring her own physical pain? Can you identify with the inclination to give loved ones a level of care we may deny ourselves?
25. How does the decision to bring a second service dog, Kenda, into their lives effect Leigh, Slugger, and Pranav? Can you relate to the joys and challenges of this decision?
26. How does Leigh’s final goodbye to Slugger in the veterinarian’s office demonstrate the strength of their bond? How is Slugger’s strength evident? What strength does Leigh show? Have you ever had to decide if or when to put a beloved pet to sleep? What factors guided your decision?
28. Leigh’s final words to Slugger are, "Thank you, dear Slugger, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” What do you think she is thanking him for?
29. On the morning after Slugger’s death, Leigh sees a rainbow across his empty bed. She writes, "Perhaps it was merely the product of a beam of sunlight shining coincidentally through the glass panel of the front door. Perhaps it was something more.” What do you think?