Book review: ‘Second Chances: A Marine, His Dog and Finding Redemption’

How a Marine and his rescued dog found themselves part of a writing class and service dog program while volunteering at a Maine prison
By Sally Rosenthal

Second Chances: A Marine, His Dog and Finding Redemption by Craig Grossi. William Morrow, 2021. Hardcover, 304 pages, $25.99.

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When I read Craig & Fred, Craig Grossi’s tale of the obstacles he faced as a veteran returning from Afghanistan and how the puppy he rescued from the war zone gave him moral support, I thought it was one of the most powerful memoirs I had come across in a long time. Fast forward a few years and over a recent weekend I devoured the sequel, Second Chances: A Marine, His Dog and Finding Redemption. If Grossi’s first book was a standout, Second Chances is even more profound.

Having settled down with his girlfriend Nora and an ever-present canine companion named Fred in a small coastal Maine cottage, the author visited a maximum security prison to talk with inmates about his book. This encounter led him to teaching a writing class for the prison’s veterans and to becoming an observer of the men who trained puppies in the first phase of becoming service dogs for veterans dealing with physical and emotional trauma.

Second Chances follows the writing sessions and puppy training, as well as the growth and insight the inmates received. Facing many of the same emotional struggles as the veterans he taught, Grossi found himself moved by the healing power of prisoner-shared stories and the depth of their commitment to providing service dogs to fellow veterans on the outside. Although Grossi became friends with the inmates, he neither sugarcoats their crimes nor presents them as stereotypes. The message he offers readers is one of possible redemption for anyone able to choose it.

On a personal note, I would like to commend Grossi for his accurate and honest portrayal of how service dogs begin their complex training and the importance of their roles as working dogs. My late husband acquired a service dog, Pumpkin, from a program near our home. The ways Pumpkin changed his life were myriad and nothing short of miraculous. My second guide dog, Greta, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, spent her first year as part of a prison program. Grossi has a keen eye for detail and has explained admirably the world of service dog training.

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