Book Review: ‘Anatomy of a Heartbreak’

By Blake Baxter (@bbax2)

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Throughout time, countless stories have been told about the relationship between man and “man’s best friend,” — and in a variety of mediums. Literature has given us heartfelt classics like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Because of Winn-Dixie and most recently, Garth Stein’s 2008 instant classic, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Film has given us adaptations to most of the timeless novels and children books, as well as numerous original camp classics about people or families that are fatefully paired with a dog that wreaks havoc in their lives in some, moderately amusing to outright humorous, way. Inevitably, the humans and the dogs end up bonding and finding that their bond enriches each other’s lives. (I should mention that I’m very familiar with these types of movies. There was a period of time in my life, roughly sometime between the ages of six and eight, when I devoured every movie about dogs that I could find. I would ride my bike to the video store and check out every VHS in which a dog was featured. Air Bud, Turner and Hooch, K-9, Benji, Shiloh, Beethoven I-IV, the quality didn’t matter to me at that age; as long as there was a dog in it, I considered it a good movie.)

Many of these stories, sadly, end in heartbreak. 56-year old spoiler alert: Old Yeller gets shot … Skip dies and so does Marley. But nearly all of them live long, happy lives, filled with joys, adventures and memories that the owners will cling to long after they’re gone. However, virtually none of them seem doomed from the start. On the contrary, the majority of them are so vibrant, strong and dependable that you have a hard time imagining them not living forever, even abused underdogs like Shiloh. However, Anatomy of a Heartbreak: The Story of a Puppy with Parvo by Jim Rodgers and Shelbi Rodgers is the heartbreaking true story of a puppy that, unfortunately, was doomed almost from the start.

Jim Rodgers is an animal-loving English teacher who lives in the suburbs of Chicago. He has written a handful of books about a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to: how to survive college, the challenges of aging gracefully and the life and times of a majestic companion. This is his second book about a dog, but this one is far from a Marley and Me-like tale. This one was inspired by recent events that happened to his daughter and co-author, Shelbi Rodgers and her boyfriend, Kolton Hammond.

Shelbi Rodgers, who was a student of Eureka College at the time, was just as much of a dog lover as her father. During her senior year, she and Kolton decided to buy a puppy to have as their own. Together, the excited couple located a family of breeders 400 miles away and eagerly purchased an English Matsiff from them. Anticipation mounted as they counted the days until they could claim their $800 prized companion. During the eight-week waiting period, the breeders occasionally assured Shelbi and Kolton that the puppy was happy and healthy. However, when they went to finally pick up the puppy, whom they named Bane, they learned that he had just been just been administered shots for the Parvovirus. Dogs are supposed to get these shots by the time that they are six weeks old. The breeder, however, had been neglecting to do so, supposedly due to complications in her personal life. Lo and behold, Bane got very sick during the ride home.

The couple hoped that all of the vomiting (and diarrhea) was a side-effect of the shots and not signs of a life-threatening illness, but when they took the poor guy to the veterinarian, they found that he had indeed contracted Parvo.

In Jim’s own words: “Parvo is a highly contagious disease that occurs most commonly in puppies 6 to 20 weeks of age. It attacks cells that reproduce rapidly like those that line the gastrointestinal tract. It usually kills the villi that line the puppy’s stomach and causes symptoms like severe vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.”

Shelbi, as well as her father, knew that the condition had a high probability to be fatal and they knew that they had a choice to make. They could either give up and euthanize the puppy, or choose to fight for his life, knowing that he didn’t have the best of chances. It would also cost a lot of money that the young couple didn’t have, but they believed that Bane’s was a life worth saving and selected the latter. Jim wholeheartedly agreed and generously offered to back his daughter and her boyfriend, both financially and emotionally.

And so, an emotional journey filled with heartbreak, sacrifice and determination began. An Anatomy of a Heartbreak, vividly details their courageous mission to save Bane’s life, while also outlining the red flags that that they missed along the way. Together, Jim and Shelbi alternate perspectives on the events as they ensued. Shelbi provides a compelling first hand account of the trials that she and Kolton faced during the fight. Every day was an exhausting, but admirable marathon that consisted of Shelbi and Kolton providing care for a depressingly emaciated creature that was in tremendous pain, all the while dealing with the unavoidable pressures of everyday life. Jim passionately describes what it was like to be the one providing support for his loved ones who were so desperately trying to save a life.

The book also delves into the subsequent legal battle that occurred once the family decided to bring the breeders that duped them to justice. While it is a tale that is undoubtedly sad, it is also a plea for fair and humane puppy lemon laws that hold ignorant, neglecting and deceitful breeders responsible for their misdeeds. I’m sure that it was very painful for the Rodgers’ to recount their agonizing story, but it is evident that they are aiming to spread knowledge and, with that knowledge, hopefully change. At times, the book’s descriptions are a little grisly and are certainly not fun to visualize. But what’s important isn’t always pleasant. And, while this story may not always be pleasant, every detail is important to understanding its overarching message.

(You can buy Anatomy of a Heartbreak: The Story of a Puppy with Parvo here.)

Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College FixThe Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday. 

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