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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Hand-Me-Down Canines, Unite! Secondhand Dogs by Carolyn Crimi

"It's a new dog day. Miss Lottie, who adopts homeless dogs, has driven the whole pack to the park, a thing she only does when there was a new dog to join the pack."

"It'll be great," said Tank, the big bulldog. "It always is."

But Gus, the titular leader of the pack, is not so sure. So far, for a group of one-time strangers, they get along pretty well. Tank is a trustworthy bulldog backup, with some weighty muscle behind him if needed. Roo is smart but a bit flighty, observant but still unsure of herself, and the latest inductee, pug puppy Moon Pie, is enthusiastic about everything and anything. But Gus is a mature dog whose been around the block a few times, and he is wise enough to see the problems of heading the pack, especially when he sees the new dog, Decker, sitting up very straight and still on the leash, giving nothing away as the pack looks him over.

But when they get to Miss Lottie's house, Decker is already on the make, taking over, as Miss Lottie praises him and talks about how much he is like her childhood pet Mr. Beans, and he watches craftily as Moon Pie cajoles tidbits from Miss Lottie.

"Humans are such suckers," he says. He knew Miss Lottie would be easy.

And before the pack knows it, he climbs into the back of Miss Lottie's van, subordinating Gus' position, and when they are back to her house, he gets all the best food and the special place in Miss Lottie's big bed, previously held by little Moon Pie. Gus tries to smooth over his treatment, but the cat named Ghost has Decker's number already.

And the next day, the whole teamwork of the pack is in shambles as Decker has his way with them, and when Gus tries to assert his leadership, Decker bites his own foot to make Miss Lottie believe Gus is guilty. By the end of the day, Gus is in disgrace; Moon Pie is out of the big bed: and the other dogs are quarreling with each other over which side to take. And to make it worse, Moon Pie is made to share his food with Decker, who lays it out to him cruelly:

"YOU, MOON PIE, ARE THE WEAKEST, SMALLEST SILLIEST MEMBER OF THE PACK. YOU ARE LOWER THAN THE CAT!"

"I AM THE TOP DOG NOW."

But Decker is not done with his takeover. He convinces Moon Pie that his former owner, Miss Gertie, is still alive and is searching for him, and then hints that there is a hole in the fence hidden behind some bushes, a good place to escape and find his way back to Gertie's big bed and popcorn. Overnight, the wishy-washy Roo follows Moon Pie into the alley behind Miss Lottie's house--despite the scary scent of coyote there.

But despite her distrust of the dogs, Ghost the cat has it all figured out and finally tells Tank about Decker's plan to take over Miss Lottie's house as the only pet. It's up to Tank to convince Gus to take back his job as leader of the pack. At last, Tank and Gus slip out and brave the outside world, coyotes and all, to try to rescue the lost little Moon Pie and recover and rebuild the family of Miss Lottie and the whole pack.

It's finally all for one and one for all, when the showdown with both coyote and Decker comes, in Carolyn Crimi's latest middle grade novel, Secondhand Dogs (Balzer and Bray, 2021). Gus sees even the fear behind both Decker and indeed even the young coyote, as he retakes his place as leader, stronger and wiser, in an exciting animal tale for middle readers told by veteran author Carolyn Crimi with understanding and insight into both human and animal nature.

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