A good friend of mine, who died several years ago from diabetes-related complications, once said to me, "Show me a dog lover, and I'll show you a good person." I'm sure there are many exceptions to this adage, but the principle it expresses couldn't be more applicable to my close friend Mark Levin, whose new book, "Rescuing Sprite," makes poignantly clear.
Mark was about to write a completely different book when the death of his dog, Sprite, turned his world upside down. Mark was devastated by Sprite's death and was forced to switch gears.
He said, "You'll probably think I'm crazy, but I feel compelled to write a book about Sprite now and need to put the other book on hold."
At first, I was stunned because I believed his other book needed to be written. I also couldn't imagine how he could fill a book's worth of pages with stories about a dog -- no matter how much I shared his love for canines.
It didn't take more than a few conversations with Mark to realize how important it was that he write this book, and I became immediately enthusiastic about the project. Given the depth and range of Mark's feelings and his immense popularity with his radio audience, I knew the book would be a huge success. Little did I know at the time just how powerful it would be.
The book is deeply moving on a number of levels and will enrich the lives of all who read it. Every dog lover in the world should have a copy of it. That said, I must tell you that the book is about so much more than one man's loving relationship with his dogs. Don't get me wrong. It's the best pet book I've ever read. But its themes are transcendent.
It is a primarily a love story between man and dog, but also between husband and wife, parents and children, family and neighbors, dog owners and caregivers, people and their communities, and dogs and other dogs in the family. It contains more life lessons in each chapter than any handful of similar books.
As you prepare to read it, understand that it will tap into your deepest emotions, stir your soul and provoke thoughtful reflection about the things -- and beings -- that matter most.
It is a story about joy and suffering, enrichment and loss, bewilderment and thanksgiving and selfless love. It is about affection, loyalty, empathy, companionship, intense reflection, self-doubt, tormenting guilt and finding peace with life's most difficult and agonizing experiences and decisions.
I am convinced that one of the main things that drew Mark so close to Sprite was their parallel paths: Mark had recently experienced and was still plagued by a life-threatening heart condition when Sprite entered his and his family's life. Unbeknownst to the Levins, Sprite was much older than they had thought and began manifesting major health problems almost from day one.
The Levins' heart wrenching realization that Sprite wouldn't have much more time on Earth, I believe, quickened their feelings for him and made them appreciate him and their other dog, Pepsi, that much more. This, coupled with Mark's own problems, caused Mark to deal more with his own mortality and to rearrange his own priorities, placing his family and friends above all other things. "No time on Earth is long enough to share with those we love or to prepare our hearts for good-bye." And, "Career and financial goals are important, material acquisitions are necessary, but taking stock in life's little pleasures is the most satisfying experience of all."
Sprite touched Mark in a way he'd never been touched before, and taught him more about life they he could adequately express. "Sprite touched my heart and opened my soul. I would swear he was an angel."
Mark describes how Sprite's handling of his own suffering -- his buoyant and unflagging spirit -- was inspirational and instructive to him. "He had such grace and dignity, despite all he had been through. I learned so much from him: about myself, about life, and about class." As much heartbreak as Mark and his family endured over Sprite for such a short 26 months, they wouldn't trade it for the world.
Mark emphasizes throughout the book his conviction that as much as human beings do for their dogs they get much more in return. "There is nothing like the loyalty and love dogs have for their families. Nothing." Brushing aside the suggestion that we are God's gift to dogs, he says, "In the end, we humans are the lucky ones."