Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies

"Animals provide steady comfort in the midst of chaos," writes Dr. Aysha Akhtar in her moving--if occasionally enraging--second book, Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. "As with human bonds," she continues, "our love for animals can foster in us a sense of security and well-being." Akhtar, a physician and deputy director of the army's Traumatic Brain Injury Program, explores just how deep that love goes by speaking with a range of pet owners, including victims of domestic violence and homeless people. She concludes from these firsthand interviews as well as from expert studies that human relationships with animals can sometimes truly mean the difference between life and death. In one especially poignant chapter, she interviews a woman who was beaten by her partner. The dog would repeatedly jump between the man and the woman to protect her, ultimately receiving those blows instead.

Akhtar, who also writes frankly in the book about her own childhood abuse and the dog who saved her, explains that society's most vulnerable people would fare far better, both physically and psychologically, if we could offer more care for their pets. Fewer than 200 women's shelters in the United States, she writes, allow pets in their facilities. As a result, many women stay with their abusive partners. The homeless are also healthier and happier with their pets, but often lack access to medical care when their animals fall ill. Our Symphony with Animals is a timely and necessary book that sheds light on how far animals will go to help us, and how much better we need to treat them in return. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor