By Terri Schlichenmeyer
These days, you sleep pretty well at night. Oh, sure, there are things that could keep you awake. Mostly, though, you’re tucked into bed when darkness comes and you close your eyes, knowing you’re safe. The reason is because you trust the men and women who sacrifice to keep this country secure. Also, you’ve got your dog nearby and he’s always on alert.
And sometimes, as you’ll see in the new book “Sergeant Rex” by Mike Dowling, it’s a little of both.
Growing up in the San Francisco area, the fourth of six children, Mike Dowling says there were always animals around.
Cats, hamsters, even a snake were big parts of his life but dogs were closest to his heart. Dowling spent long hours playing with his four-footed siblings, and he even raised a guide dog. But though he lived an undeniably great life, Dowling says he lost his way on the path to college, and he struggled.
Finally, at the ripe old age of 22, he joined the Marines and, once the decision was made, Dowling couldn’t wait to get started on his military career. To speed the process, he entered without guaranteed placement, despite that friends advised against it.
It was the luckiest decision he ever made.
Dowling was training as an MP when he learned of the K9 corps, an elite group of handlers and highly trained dogs. Everyone, he was told, wanted to work in the K9 program. Few were accepted, and Dowling would make sure he was one of them.
And that was when he met Rex.
It took a long time to earn the German Shepherd’s trust; in fact, Dowling was even bitten once. But as he learned to listen to his dog and Rex learned to rely on his handler, it became obvious that the “Rex and Dowling show” was a solid team.
Dowling became eager to be deployed. He and his fellow K9 soldiers talked often about it. Then in 2004, in an area of Iraq called the Triangle of Death, Mike Dowling finally got his wish.
Are you one of those people who likes to take a book to bed? Me, too, but this was one I should’ve left elsewhere. “Sergeant Rex” is too exciting to read before lights out.
But while stories of war are a big part of “Sergeant Rex,” that’s not the only focus: Dowling shares tales of a warrior, but his dog is clearly the hero here. Dowling leads readers down dirt roads where danger was a toenail away, but he makes us trust his dog. He explains how K9 teams do their job, and the care that goes into keeping four-footed soldiers in top shape. And then Dowling charms the socks off us by repeatedly, fervently hoping that he never lets his partner down.
If you’re in the mood for a brutal book with a heartwarming core, “Sergeant Rex” is the one to seek, seek, seek. Just keep it out of the bedroom, or you’ll never be able to sleep.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with two dogs and more than 9,500 books.