Book review: ‘Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog’

Cover of the book, "Tales of Al"
A world-class swimmer shares her fascination with a Newfoundland puppy and her training as one of Italy’s water rescue dogs.
By Sally Rosenthal

Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog by Lynne Cox. Knopf, 2022. Hardcover, 224 pages, $27.

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It isn’t difficult to understand author Lynne Cox’s fascination with Italy’s corps of water rescue canines. A renowned open-water swimmer and first-class athlete, Cox’s introduction to water rescue dogs came about by chance when she saw a video of an expertly trained Newfoundland leap from a helicopter into the sea below to save a swimmer in peril.

From this internet encounter, Cox, a life-long dog lover, connected with trainers at an elite water rescue school. In particular, she met and followed the progress of Al, a Newfoundland who, after a few behavioral setbacks, graduated from the training program and began her highly skilled work.

One of the aspects of Al’s training and work that Cox highlights in her narrative is the joy Al finds in her rescue work. As a guide dog handler, I am always heartened when working dogs are presented in realistic fashion; a dog must show willingness and pride to engage in any type of meaningful occupation.

While Cox’s story of Al is the focus of the book, the author also shares memories of beloved dogs, from childhood to her adult life, who kept her company as she learned to swim and honed her professional skill. Anyone wanting to know more about how dogs learn — and encourage their humans — will find answers in Cox’s remarkable book.

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