Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
For the first time in my life, I didn't need to pretend, I didn't need to be tough: I only needed to be honest. "I have cerebral palsy. I walk funny and my balance is bad. I fall a lot. My hands shake, too. That means I'm not so good at carrying things. And if I drop stuff, sometimes it's hard to just bend down and get it."
I waited anxiously for the interviewer's response. She smiled. "It sounds like a service dog could be great for you."
So began Leigh Brill's journey toward independence and confidence, all thanks to a trained companion dog named Slugger. The struggling college student and the Labrador with a "a coat like sunshine" and a tail that never stopped wagging became an instant team. Together, they transformed a challenge into a triumph. Together, they inspired and educated everything they met. Now, Leigh honors her friend with the story of their life, together.
BOOK OF THE MONTH! "Not only did the product description and the picture of the adorable lab gracing the front cover compel me to pick up this book, but as soon as I started reading I knew I had found something special..... I felt an instant kinship with Leigh and Slugger as soon as I began reading their story that only intensified the more I read." -- The Blogger Girlz - Ella - THE INK SLINGERS
"There's no way you can read this book and not fall in love with Slugger!" -- Therese, Petsit USA Blog
"...a true testament how highly intelligent dogs are and how they're lifesavers...I assure you that you'll fall in love with Slugger." -- Diane Coyle, Night Owl Reviews
"...answered many of the questions I had about the [service] dogs...recommended for young readers and adults, especially dog lovers and those curious about what life with a service fog would be like." -- Cliff Garstang, Perpetual Folly
"More than just a memoir, A Dog Named Slugger shines a light on the growing Service Dog movement." -- Eileen Casey, Hamptons
"Slugger's story and Leigh's story will stay with youlong afterthe book has been read." -- Shelley the Book Snob
"I really enjoyed reading A Dog Named Slugger and recommend it highly. I was amazed to learn what a service dog could do..." -- Richard Lawry - An Arkies Musings
"An excellent read…" -- Doggies.com
"It's an enjoyable, informative read that I'm sure dog lovers will warm to. It's also an inspirational account for anyone with a disability or those caring for or working with people with disabilities. I loved the included photos and the interesting readers guide would make this a great book club read." -- The Eclectic Reader Blog
"inspiring true story… a role model for loyalty, dedication and friendship.” -- Ellz Readz Blog
"I'm recommending it, and recommending it strongly... Everyone knows about guide dogs for the blind, but other types of service dogs are still less well recognized and I hope that Slugger will help to change that. This book is certainly well suited for readers from twelve to a hundred and twelve." -- All Booked Up blog
"Filled with lighthearted moments and heartbreaking sadness, "A Dog Named Slugger” will touch the readers' hearts and make a lasting impression of this admirable woman and her canine partner." -- Sharon Gallager Chance, Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
"This was an incredible book...I can't say enough good things about it." -- Book Babe Blog
"Leigh Brill's story of her life with her service dog, Slugger, will inspire you...Dog Named Slugger is a story of the power of love." -- Lesa's Book Critique Blog
"Leigh Brill takes the reader on a heart-warming ride through life with a service dog in her touching new memoir A Dog Named Slugger." -- Brian Douglas, Knoxville Dog Health Examiner
"This touching memoir will warm the hearts of dog lovers everywhere...an unforgettable character." -- Booklist
I followed Vicki, mine and Slugger's teacher, into the building's cool basement. Several dozen folks awaited us there. A woman in a plaid skirt and crisp white blouse ushered us warmly to the front of the room.
She addressed her colleagues, "Okay, everyone, we'd like to get started. We're honored to have with us Vickie Polk and Leigh Brill from Caring Canine Companions of Virginia. They're going to be telling us a little bit about their lovely dogs.” She turned and smiled at the Labradors who were now lying quietly in heel position. "How beautiful! And so calm, too!”
Sensing appreciation in the woman's tone, Slugger flicked his tail twice. "Well you're welcome, gorgeous!” His admirer cooed. Laughter rippled through the audience as she settled into to an empty folding chair.
Now Vickie stood. "Thank you all for inviting us. I'm a trainer with Caring Canine Companions. This is Zack, my newest student.”
She gestured to the black Lab. Then she pointed toward me. "That's Leigh and her new service dog, Slugger. They've joined us today, so Leigh can see what it's like to be on this side of a presentation. The two of them have been working really hard finishing up their team training, and I'm happy to say they're turning into an impressive pair. Slugger does a great job helping Leigh deal with the challenges of her cerebral palsy.”
Vickie paused and beamed at me, but I was suddenly besieged by a wave of panic. Oh God, the voice in my head shrieked, I can't believe she just told a room full of strangers I have CP! Now I was afraid to look at the audience, afraid I'd find their faces pinched by morbid curiosity. I'd encountered such expressions all my life.
My CP was the great secret of my childhood. It was only spoken of when I was admitted to the University of Virginia Medical Center for multiple surgeries and post-op treatment.
There, my secret became a label—one that identified and defined me. Every time I passed through the hospital's heavy doors I felt my normal kid self fall away.
I became a case to be observed, managed, and ultimately fixed. White-coated medical students peered at my sleeping body even before I woke up in the mornings. They followed me around all day, discussing me the same way gawking zoo-goers talk about snakes or chimpanzees.
One afternoon when I was eight years old, I showed up for a physical therapy session and discovered a flock of medical students waiting there. They were scattered throughout the therapy room, but the moment my therapist, Andie, helped me onto a floor mat, they circled round me.
Andie told me she had to take a phone call in her office. "While I'm gone,” she said, "you can get started with your hamstring stretches. Those aren't too hard; you should be fine until I get back. These guys will keep you company in the meantime.” She gestured to the students, but when she disappeared, they just stood above me and whispered to each other. I couldn't make out what they were saying. They held cameras.
I decided this might be a good time for me to say something funny, like, "Ooh, what nice shins you have!” But I suddenly felt too nervous to be witty. I began my stretches.
A female student tapped the edge of the therapy mat with the toe of her stylish boot. "This is a CP case, right?”
Her voice was shrill and choppy, like the bawking of a chicken. From my spot on the floor I looked up and noticed her nose. It was long and pointy, beaklike. I silently dubbed this woman Chickenhead. I wished I had the guts to say, "Hey, Chickenhead, I'm a kid, not a case!”
I was still trying to find the nerve to say that, when Chickenhead squatted down. "I need a picture of that.” She pointed her camera at my hips. Clicked. I forced myself to ignore her and concentrate on my stretches.
Next, a bearded student leaned down. He was so close I got a nose-full of his cologne. "I've got to get this,” he said. He scrunched up his face, aimed his camera. Four clicks and he moved away.
The others followed suit. One by one they leaned in and took pictures of my body. They didn't tell me why they wanted those pictures. They didn't ask me if they could take them. They didn't even talk to me. Instead, they talked among themselves. A man with an olive complexion snapped a picture. Then he turned to Chickenhead. "Do you think she knows how bad her body is?”
I wanted to scream at the man then. I wanted to tell him, and Chickenhead, and all of them, "I'm not a freak!” But when I looked up, their scowling faces said otherwise.
As a child I learned to expect such expressions whenever people were told the name of my condition. Now, sitting in the cool church basement, I didn't want to see them again. Blushing fiercely, I stared at the floor.
An unexpected sound made me lift my gaze. It started softly, then erupted like raindrops in a summer shower. Applause. Looking out at the audience, I saw not grimaces but smiles. Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized: These people I didn't even know had just learned the greatest secret and shame of my childhood, my cerebral palsy. And yet they were clapping. They were clapping for me and my dog.
Sensing my emotion, Slugger wiggled closer and nuzzled my foot. Vickie continued with her presentation, but now I was only focused on the truth that whispered over and over in my mind like the lyrics of an old country song. Reaching down to stroke Slugger's fur, I shared that truth with him: I love you, I sure love you, my smelly, green-eared dog!