Book review: ‘Sit, Stay, Heal’

The cover of the book, 'Sit Stay Heal'
When she is diagnosed with cancer, a veterinary oncologist draws strength and wisdom from her canine patients.
By Sally Rosenthal

Sit, Stay, Heal: What Dogs Can Teach Us About Living Well by Renee Alsarraf. HarperOne, 2023. Hardcover, 256 pages, $27.99.

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Cancer was part of veterinary oncologist Renee Alsarraf’s everyday routine. Working as a cancer specialist in a 24-hour animal hospital, she was no stranger to the disease that brought animal patients and their human families to her exam room in search of hope and miracles. As familiar as Alsarraf was with cancer, however, she wasn’t prepared for the ways her own cancer diagnosis and treatment would turn her personal and professional lives upside down. How could she have been?

Fortunately, the author had a supportive family and circle of friends. But, as she details in Sit, Stay, Heal: What Dogs Can Teach Us About Living Well, she also had a multitude of animal patients ready to share their innate wisdom about what to do when faced with a cancer journey.

In this beautifully written book, Alsarraf devotes chapters to terminally ill canines and the individuals who bring them to the hospital hoping that treatment will buy a little more time together.

From the terminally ill psychiatrist who appears for his beloved dog’s chemotherapy to the distraught family who plead for a cure for the spunky mutt who had saved all of them in a house fire, the tales — while emotionally charged — are not all gloom and doom. The loving bond, the joy that many dogs display, and the dawning of what is truly essential in life make a deep impression on the author.

Interspersed with the dogs’ stories are Alsarraf’s own cancer medical interventions and how her disease changed the family dynamics among her husband, teenage son, and herself. As her profession had taught her, losing one’s hair to chemotherapy was nothing compared to losing one’s life to a disease with the odds in its favor.

Perhaps the most moving part of Sit, Stay, Heal is the author’s account of her family boxer Newton’s battle with cancer. Without giving anything away, I can say that Newton’s life story meshes perfectly with those of Alsarraf’s patients. Although Alsarraf opted to focus on dogs in this book, I hope we will read tales of cats and other species in future books by an author who chose to open her heart, listen to her patients, and share her wisdom with readers.

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