LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

A Soldier’s Best Friend: the canine heroes of Afghanistan

by Stephen Paul Stewart.

In A Soldier’s Best Friend, Stephen Paul Stewart provides an insight into the lives of police and military working-dogs, both present and past – focussing on the role of explosives-tracking dogs on tour with UK forces in Afghanistan. He includes details about their training, handlers, work, health care, and retirement.

Stewart obviously loves dogs – his enthusiasm and fascination for their work shines through – but his adjective- and adverb-laden writing style is gushing, and countless references to “doggy”-this and “doggy”-that, quickly got annoying. The editing is dire: there is a lot of repetition, often in consecutive sentences (e.g. “…a live camera mounted between his shoulders, specially adapted earphones to hear whispered commands…,” then in the next sentence, “…a live camera between his shoulders…” and two sentences later, “a small earbud…to allow his handler to give whispered commands…”); this was exasperating, and I lost count of the number of times I said, “Oh, FFS,” out loud. If I see one more reference to the devoted “bond” between dog and handler I might just scream. And Stewart’s descriptions of female interviewees (e.g.: “her slim figure… and well-tended hair”) border on the creepy.

The book did have a few gems (the section on training was good), but they were hard to filter. Read it if you love dogs, and want to hear about how wonderful they are, etc. (But if you want a more objective account of working dogs, I recommend What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren.)

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