The Dumpster Dogs book is the first in a series. It is about six dogs who have been abandoned by their respective humans. They find each other and take up residency under a group of dumpsters that have been left and forgotten in a clearing in a small town. They form a club that they call the Dumpster Dog Club. The dogs create rules of behavior and teach other how to beg for food so that they can survive. One of the most important rules is that the Dumpster Dogs do not associate with any dog who is attached to a human.
One day, Riley, the canine protagonist, follows a scent and finds himself following a very well-groomed dog, Sophie, and her human, Emily, who is the veterinarian for the community. Riley finds it impossible to stay away from Sophie and Emily. He walks to Sophie’s house every morning until he eventually meets Sophie who in turn introduces him to Emily. Riley begins spending his days with Sophie and he returns to his Dumpster Dog pals at night.
Initially, Riley judges Sophie to be a “prissy, spoiled” dog who has no knowledge of abuse and abandonment from humans. Once Sophie shares her history, Riley learns that dogs should never judge other dogs by how they look. Riley also has to tell his dumpster dog pals that he has broken the Dumpster Dog Rules. This story continues on to challenge human prejudices that are based on made-up stories about others that are not accurate. It is a metaphor for human behavior and how it is viewed through the eyes of the Dumpster Dogs. It challenges many of our cultural biases.
The vision for this series is to challenge some of our cultural mores by using the profound insight provided by the Dumpster Dogs. The books are appropriate for children and adults alike. They offer ways to question and think about what we are taught through cultural “traditions” in a fun and comedic way.
Midwest Book Review
Ann Colberson Schiebert
Andrew Benzie Books
Print: 978-1-950562-21-3 $9.95
Ebook: 978-1-950562-30-5 $4.99
Preteens and young adults in middle to high school grades who enjoy illustrated stories of friendship, adversity, and discovery will welcome both the story in Dumpster Dogs and Jack Varonin’s colorful illustrations. These bring to life the tale of dog Riley, who lives under a dumpster and believes himself to be independent and strong when he is actually lonely and lost.
Riley needs canine friends and even humans, but believes he needs nobody and has everything he needs to make him happy. Once, he had humans whom he loved, but they abandoned him. Now he has convinced himself that he doesn’t need human love—only the uncertain circle of five fellow Dumpster Dogs who, like himself, know how to live on their own and make their own destiny. They are now his ‘family.’
Riley’s life changes, though, when he meets Sophie and Emily and forms a bond with them against all the rules he and his friends have made for their lives: “He was amazed over the way his friends had excused his violation of the Dumpster Dog Club Rules! They were really, true friends, and he vowed he would never leave them behind if Emily invited him into her family.”
Will Riley risk everything he’s built for an uncertain sense of home? Ann Colberson Schiebert injects thought-provoking passages throughout her story that will give dog-centered kids pause for thought about more than family, animal rescue issues, or a sense of place: “He had been a Dumpster Dog for so long he had become accustomed to his lifestyle and his freedom. No one told him what to do, and he liked it that way. He glanced over at Sophie. Would losing all his friends be worth it? As if she could read his mind, Sophie looked over at him. In a whisper she said, “Riley, if you don’t take a risk, you will never know if your life could be different, will you? You will be stuck in the past.”
As Emily becomes involved with all the dogs and a Hatfields-and-McCoys style of conflict emerges, both Riley and Emily find their friendship tested, their ideas of home challenged, and their safety compromised in different ways.
It’s hard to easily peg the attraction of Dumpster Dogs. The illustrations would seem to make it a choice for advanced elementary to early middle grades, but the story line offers a complexity and satisfying insights that lend to its appeal to older readers.
Audiences not too ‘mature’ for a peppering of lovely illustrations, who are interested in relationships between dogs, people, and family, as well as underlying issues of animal rescue and an avowed animal hater’s perceptions of life, will find the subplots and issues of Dumpster Dogs makes for compelling, surprising reading.
More than “just a dog story,” this is a survey of life challenges and approaches to conflict resolution. It deserves a place on the reading lists of young people interested in more than just dogs.