Wednesday, 12 December 2018
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Book review: ‘Angels on a School Bus’

Book review: “Angels on a School Bus” by Dr. Roberta K. Ray.

This is supposed to be a review of a book I recently read, but there is no way one can comment on the literary genre of this writing.

It is not the book, its title or its author, but the absolutely amazing story itself that captures one’s attention. It is a story that makes one try to remember what they were doing when it happened.

In fall 2008 I was moving and did not read or hear about this incident.

Someone else was moving as well. A very troubled Colorado man, a hoarder from La Jara, began a trip to Alaska in a dilapidated school bus filled with over a hundred or more Siberian huskies and German and Belgian shepherds, many that were pregnant, with plans to sell them all as “sled dogs.”

But then something intervened that could only be ascribed to the hand of God. The bus broke down in just the right place: Butte, Mont. Among the mountains, cowboys and rural countryside there unfolded a remarkable and heartrending story.

After the man was arrested, the dogs were seized by the authorities – but then a community of local residents intervened to undertake “one of the largest and most difficult dog rescue operations in the United States.”

Dr. Roberta Ray, who recounts this remarkable story in her book “Angels on a School Bus,” was herself a rescue volunteer and person to several of the dogs she later adopted. She dedicates her book to the 120 heroic individuals who volunteered at Camp Husky, the well-named rescue center, and to financial contributors, businesses that donated space, equipment suppliers, people who helped find the dogs loving homes and to the angels on the school bus and their puppies who survived and then returned the love of their liberators and their forever families.

The most incredible part of this story is the immediate and well-organized rescue operation that was established, first in a deserted mine building and then a local warehouse with crates, bathing tubs, food, beds and plastic pallets that provided relief from cold floors, vet care and medicine. Each dog was groomed and given a personalized name to match their fur color and personality.

The author conducted more than 130 interviews and reviewed records and accounts of the rescue that had been carefully kept.

The dogs were in terrible condition: sick, dehydrated and malnourished. They had had little or no human contact, having been chained outside since birth, no socialization or familiarity with collars and leashes. They were terribly frightened and wanted to stay as close to their pack mates as possible.

The local animal services director and nearby animal shelters wanted to euthanize the dogs, mainly because they were large and looked like wolves and were considered, though incorrectly, hybrids.

However, after thousands of hours of tender care, training and a tremendous amount of patience, these dogs were given the opportunity to become beautiful, loving and very loyal companions. Months later in spring 2009, and when all the legal issues were resolved, these remarkable dogs were found homes with people of all ages and backgrounds, from the elderly to college students to small children.

When writing her version of what had happened, the author communicated with many of the adoptive owners. They recounted their own stories of incredibly well-behaved and loving dogs and how deeply they felt about their pets. Not a one reported any behavioral issues, only love and loyalty.

They told how their lives had been enriched by these playful, intelligent pets and the joy they brought to their homes. They also related stories of their humor and their miraculous ability to talk, not bark, but to speak understandable words, a characteristic of their breeds?

Not only was I deeply moved by this rescue, but I also was touched by the unique beauty and sensitivity of these dogs, with faces like I have never seen in an animal before. The photographs included in the book showed strikingly large furry dogs with the most extraordinary and angelic expressions of love, joy, sweetness, excitement, selflessness and kindness.

It has been 10 years this fall since this incredible rescue took place. It was such a moving and spiritual experience to read about it that I could only do a page or two at a time.

I was amazed how quickly and well organized the volunteers of the small town of Butte were. I was greatly impressed by their courage and dedication in hours of back-breaking care for each of the dogs. They all held a strong belief and faith in what they were doing.

After I finished reading, I was left with a feeling of regret that I had not been there to help and to meet these incredible dogs and volunteers.

The author ended her story by speaking of the oneness of all life. She says that the volunteers went well beyond impractical sentimentality in showing compassion for these dogs. At the same time, the resilience of the animals once well treated and loved was amazing.

Anatole France, 1921 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” By saving the dogs at Camp Husky, the volunteers received more than they gave. Their souls were awakened. They were touched by angels.

For photos of these elegant animals visit Facebook “camphusky2008ButteMontana.”

Mary Hay is a retired attorney, substitute teacher, volunteer and lover of animals, especially her own rescued husky mix, Una.


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