Wood carver, painter, print maker and carpenter, Stephen Huneck was a talented artist, his inspiration and passion coming from the dogs in his life. For those of you who don't have or have never had a dog to love, this review may be of little interest to you, but if you have ever been lucky enough to love a dog, keep reading. Huneck shared this love of dogs with children through his series of picture books featuring Sally, the black Labrador retriever. He shared his passion with adults through his creation of Dog Mountain, a park in Vermont dedicated to dogs and their owners that is also the home of the Dog Chapel. As the sign out front says, "Welcome All Creeds, All Breeds, No Dogmas Allowed."
Huneck built the chapel by hand and decorated most of the interior with his carvings and artwork. The remaining wall space is dedicated to notes and pictures left by dog owners. As Huneck writes in the introduction to Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven, "Since dogs are family members, too,I thought it would be wonderful if we could create a ritual space to help achieve closure and lessen the pain when we lose a beloved dog." And, while grieving for a lost dog is an aspect of the Dog Chapel, Huneck felt it was "equally important to celebrate the joy of living and the bond between dogs and their owners." To this end, he put in hiking trails, ponds and an agility course for dogs to play on and twice a year there are Dog Parties on Dog Mountain. For a moving look at what Huneck created on Dog Mountain, click the link to the radio program Here and Now. Reporters George Hicks and Susan Hagner visited Dog Mountain on the day of the memorial for Stephen Huneck and the story and photos are amazing.
My Dog's Brain was Huneck's first book and in it he illustrates the predicaments, pleasures, and appetites that make up a dog’s life, whether it’s sleeping on the couch, stealing a lick from an ice cream cone, or barking for no good reason. His dogcentric philosophy is sweet and simple, much like dogs themselves. His signature woodblock painting style is bright and folksy with a sense of humor. This characteristic style is carried out through all of Huneck's books, forming a loosely woven story. Where as The Dog Chapel featured the story of Huneck's recovery from illness and how he decided to erect the Dog Chapel, coupled with his paintings and thoughts, Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven is clearly a love letter to our canine companions. The gratitude, acceptance and graciousness that Huneck gained from his illness are evident on every page and dog lovers will bond with this book immediately. Really, you should think about buying two copies since these pictures would look great framed and hanging on walls throughout any home.
Now, I am going to take my two dogs, one of whom has been lying at my feet as I write, for a walk.