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A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher Hardcover – May 16, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (May 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487200
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487200
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Halpern realized that Pransky, part yellow Lab and part poodle, was so smart and energetic that she was bored in spite of the pleasures of her leash-free Vermont life. As her daughter left for college, Halpern herself feels the need for a new adventure. So she plunges into the rigorous training required for Pransky to become a certified therapy dog. When they begin visiting a nursing home each week, Pransky proves to be a dog of phenomenal empathy, affection, and patience. An immersion writer—Halpern participated in neurological studies for her last book, Can’t Remember What I Forgot (2008)—she is skilled in the art of combining vivid in-the-moment storytelling with thoughtful analysis. She warmly and incisively portrays the people they meet and contemplates the vagaries of memory, the inevitability of loss, and persevering joy. A deeply ethical thinker with a bright sense of humor, Halpern uses the seven virtues as organizing principles, subtly shaping her engrossing account to reveal fresh and provocative aspects of restraint, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope, love, and charity as she addresses the complexities of infirmity, dementia, and death; animal intelligence; and how doing good benefits all involved. The result is a profoundly affecting and edifying chronicle brimming with practical wisdom and things “that were so unexpected they seemed miraculous.” --Donna Seaman


I loved the book. When writing about pets and infirm and elderly people, the temptation to get sappy and sentimental may be great, but Halpern never succumbs. I found myself choking back tears… There are small and great triumphs… and there are many laughs as well… It is a great gift for someone with Halpern’s mind to join with Pransky’s heart to shed light on some very dark places for the rest of us.” –The New York Times Book Review

Massively insightful… Consider it a meditation on morality, aging and friendship, as well as affirmation that, no matter our physical conditions or economic circumstances, ‘We are rich in life.’” –O Magazine (one of O’s Only Dog Books You’ll Ever Need to Own)

“This book delves far deeper into human nature than that old theme of 'we all love our dogs, don't we?'… her book is more about humanity and how wonderful, fulfilling and even surprising experiences can be had in the most unlikely of places Amen.” –USA Today (3 ½ / 4 starred rating)

“A terrific, bighearted book that anyone interested in the human-dog bond cannot fail to be delighted byHonest and touching, this book illuminates the lessons owners and dogs teach each other, as well as the transformative nature of acts of kindness—and not just for the recipient. Thoughtful, inspiring, and often joyous, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is, at heart, about nothing less than what it is to be human, hopefully with a good dog by your side.” –Modern Dog

[Fills] readers with goodness and stories of the near-miraculous relationship between pups and people. Hers is a quiet, Zen-like book packed with philosophy, theology, and a dog. It’s more reflective, more spiritual than other dog books, and it will make you look at your canine kids with a little more wonder.” –Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune

Heartwarmingintellectual, thoughtful and deeply perceptive… Halpern is a gifted writer who effortlessly weaves philosophy, theology, psychology and neuroscience into gently humorous, vividly descriptive storytellingA Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is an unexpectedly profound and informative read, even as it entertains and, yes, warms the heart.” –Seven Days

“Skilled in the art of combining vivid in-the-moment storytelling with thoughtful analysis… [Halpern is] a deeply ethical thinker with a bright sense of humor… A profoundly affecting and edifying chronicle brimming with practical wisdom.” –Booklist (starred review)

Halpern’s love of life and openness to its infinite possibilities shine through in this powerful and engaging account… Time and again, anecdotes bolster her contention that in places where ‘life is in the balance,’ it is possible to get to the essentials about human nature.” –Publishers Weekly

Witty and compassionate… readers will take away the knowledge that we are each given one life and we had best not squander how we live it.” –Kirkus

“It proved more challenging than she had anticipated to teach Pransky, accustomed to roving through meadows unleashed, to ignore everything from food to wheelchairs to other dogs and interact politely with people who were ill, fragile, sometimes uprooted and often demented… But Pransky and her human succeeded, and Ms. Halpern’s new book tells about their adventures—an appropriate word… perceptive and unsentimental.” –The New York Times, "The New Old Age" blog

“A therapy dog opens many doors of deeper human communication. All people interesting in improving the lives of others should read this insightful book.” –Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human

Affectionate and deeply affecting, written with a light hand and a keen eye, this is a wonderful story of great things—namely, love, life, human kindness, and dogs.” –Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend and The Orchid Thief

“A joyous and moving account of how seemingly small gifts of kindness can make a profound difference. And not to the recipient alone.” –Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, People of the Book, and Caleb’s Crossing

"This is a gem of a book, a beautiful, wise, and big-hearted story about companionship and the true nature of virtue." –Diane Ackerman, author of One Hundred Names for Love

“A book about a dog that is ultimately a book about humanity… a beautiful, honest, joyful accounting of what matters.” –Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge and When Women Were Birds

Customer Reviews

Loved this book--was well written and full of great stories!
J. Armstrong
Since I love dogs and their ability to bring joy and comfort to people, I enjoyed reading of Pransky and Sue's many visits with the folks at the County Nursing Home.
Debra Yamanoha
Too much back story about the author and family; not enough about the amazing therapy dog, in my opinion...:o) Good book but not my favorite "dog story"...
judie fezekas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Jo Davis VINE VOICE on April 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a book that will appeal to many but I found myself struggling to finish it. From the description I thought this book would be about the adventures of a therapy dog working in a nursing home. This is actually a very small part of the book. The author, Sue Halpern, writes more about philosophy and religion than she does about her dog and the people they met. I was looking forward to learning the stories of the people that Pransky and Sue met and there was actually very little of that. I'm at the age where I don't care what others "think"... I care only about what they "do". There wasn't so much doing in this book as thinking so for me it was not a pleasure to read. For others it will be more enjoyable.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By S. R. Schnur VINE VOICE on April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is not as much a dog story as it is a philosophical book mulling over life, death, and debility. The author, Sue Halpern, had a dog who was a mixed Poodle and Lab named Pransky. When Ms Halpern's husband (author and lecturer Bill McKibbon) was away, their daughter was in college, and Ms Halpern was feeling the "empty nest," she decided to train her middle aged dog as a therapy dog. It was a good fit for her intelligent friendly dog.

Once the dog was certified, they regularly visited the nearby county nursing home in their home state of Vermont. The author describes her learning as well as the dog's. The dog was wonderful. Ms Halpern waxes philosophical in the book about end of life problems. This is no great tome, but a small slice of life. It is a pleasant read, and the dog does not die in the end. (While I don't normally give away the end of books, I need to wait until I am feeling particularly strong before reading a book where the dog dies in the end. So I am inclined to warn people.)
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on April 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Don't be misled by the cover and title, this is a book about serious subject matter.

The author feels somewhat less needed by her 16yo daughter, who appears to be the typical teenager and a husband who is traveling much more on business, so she decides to train her then 6yo female Labradoodle named Pransky, but commonly referred to as Pranny to become a therapy dog to give both the author and her dog more purpose in life.

The first part of the book is primarily about training the dog to be a therapy dog while the latter part is about trying to understand the seven so-called virtues four of which were espoused by Aristotle and Plato being PRUDENCE, JUSTICE, FORTITUDE, AND RESTRAINT to which some time later Saint Augustine later added the final three LOVE, HOPE, and FAITH.

The author wonders at one point if old age isn't much like middle age but only happens later in life, but then decides that there are too many things that are different for that to be accurate.

I liked some of the prose as it was simple by design yet poignant in feeling. Since I am reviewing from a pre-release book the page numbers may vary in the final edition.

1. "It's possible that death released her from a life of pain and that it was welcomed, but it is equally possible that death as a release was one of the stories that we tell ourselves to feel better when the alternative is feeling worse.' [p206] A point well put!
2. "When Fran lived there, Pranny knew it was Franny's room. Once Fran's clothes were emptied from the bureau and her pictures were removed from the wall all Pransky knew was that it wasn't" [p206]
Read more ›
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's probably not the author's fault. The book cover shows an adorable dog wearing a volunteer hat, the kind that was popular a long time ago. The title sounds like the first line of a joke. So I expected light-heared stories about a dog who becomes a therapy dog.

As other reviewers have observed, the book actually is quite serious. The author's style tends to be reflective, which some people will like and some will find a little slow. She begins to tell a story and then reflects on some philosophical point that takes her away.

On pages 112-113 the author realizes she's given up some of her assumptions about old age and about nursing homes. There's a significant difference between old age and middle age, she says. People have acknowledged their dependence before they move in.

Yet on page 171 the author says she has a hard time imagining herself as a resident of County, the home she visits, with all the horrors and indignities: stripped of all but a few possessions, dependent on other people for meals and care, sharing a room with a stranger.." Frankly it sounds like a prison to me, but the author commends the "fortitude" of the residents and drags out the cliche of "Old age is not for sissies."
I'm afraid my reaction was to wish devoutly for legislation broadening the scope of legally assisted suicide.

As other reviewers observed, it's not a dog book; it's a book about the author's response to a world of people struggling more or less successfully to maintain dignity in a place designed to destroy any pretense of respect for the elderly.

When it comes to books on growing older, nobody's done a better job than Susan Jacoby. When it comes to books on dogs, I wish this one had been a stronger addition to the list.
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