BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Shoot!: Chase R.’s Top Ten Reasons NOT to Move to the Country

Don't Shoot!: Chase R.'s Top Ten Reasons NOT to Move to the Country

For the YA set comes this quick-paced, surprisingly nuanced look at hunting and rural animal welfare issues. I wasn’t especially a fan of the “novel in e-mails” format of Don’t Shoot, but then again, I’m not an eighth grader.

The protagonist is a 14-year old named Chase, who has recently moved from urban Ohio to a rural part of the state. Early on, he notices his family’s values differ from his new neighbors’ in regards to animals. Not surprisingly, companion animals are among the first he notices.

It’s clear that Chase’s family considers their two dogs part of the household. They adopted their dogs from shelter in the city, and Chase still keeps in contact with a shelter worker via email. He describes the pet situation thusly:

I don’t think there’s anything like a shelter nearby, but there is an animal control person and a dog pound in the county seat. … He runs a picture of some adoptable dog in the Beaver Creek Beacon each week, but I don’t know how much good that does. From what I can tell, free puppies and free kittens signs are everywhere. You wouldn’t like it, Carolyne. Plenty of beagles and hunting dogs are kept outside in pens. I see dogs tied out by their doghouses—all day and night. There aren’t a lot of fences to keep dogs safe. The fields are full of cats, just having litter after litter.

So early on, we get a sense of Chase’s humane values, so it’s no surprise that he isn’t thrilled when he learns of his classmates’ behavior toward wildlife. Chase describes a conversation he had with another teenager, who had spotted a coyote earlier that morning:

He says, “Lord that animal was so beautiful, I only wish I’d had my gun with me.” Here he’s all amazed and inspired talking about this creature, and how the coyote was just gazing calmly back at him, and then…he’s sorry he didn’t blast the thing between the eyes? New law in the country: If it’s beautiful, shoot it. HUH?

coyote.jpg

Chase gets a taste of this firsthand when one of his dogs, Bonner, comes home with a bullet wound. He has been fired upon by persons unknown, and whether it was accidental or intentional is never discovered. Afterward Bonner becomes very fearful at the sound of gunfire and other loud, sudden noises. Chase is, of course, shocked and angered at the harm done to his dog. A discussion with his dad reveals some of the ways our law has failed companion animals. Not only is it perfectly legal to shoot a dog who is running livestock or threatening property, but

Dad said the court would only award you the “replacement cost” of the dog. Like the $45 we donated to the shelter for Bonner—45 bucks! That can’t be the way the law really works.

Chase delves further into the hunting issue. After examining the impressive and costly array of hunting gizmos available to stack the deck against the hunted animal, Chase muses, “OK, everybody, tell me why this is a sport.” I quite liked this line, which will ring true to all of us folks who live in deer huntin’ country:

Try having breakfast to the tune of something being shot. It makes me nauseated.

Like many 21st-century students, Chase then turns to the Internet to study the debate, and lists a fairly comprehensive list of arguments about hunting, both pro and con. Chase’s own beliefs are challenged when his family and friends disagree with his convictions, and he encounters a poor family that really does seem to rely upon the meat from the animals they shoot.

I was a bit fearful that this last revelation would steer Chase away from his beliefs, and things would come to a pat and disappointing ending. However, thankfully, he hangs onto his humane values while at the same time realizing that he can’t do much about hunting in his community other than posting his family’s copious property against it. Those hoping for more radical action may be a bit disappointed by this, but it’s far more realistic than all of those paperbacks that have children staging a sit-in and shutting down an entire industry.

One concern of mine is that Don’t Shoot plays into the argument that caring for animals is a “city slicker” issue for those who “don’t know about life in the country.” While indeed, it does sometimes take an outside to look at ingrained “traditions” with a fresh perspective, people who care about animals are present in rural areas just the same as they are in urban centers.

Another concern is that there is a smattering of language that may keep Don’t Shoot out of the hands of students under the junior high level.

(This review originally appeared at goodreads.com)

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