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Sometimes the world’s best therapists have fur and four legs.

From border collie Tasha, Barb’s previous furry therapist.

Embrace your inner border collie. [Image credit: Gary Larson, Far Side Comics]

Sit. Stay. Good readers…

Barb says the world needs to hear my life story. In my experience, the world has never been particularly interested in anything I barked. But I can always use the royalties for extra doggie biscuits and my retirement investment portfolio, so here goes.*

*[NOTE #1: Barb heard that Millie’s Book, Barbara Bush’s transcription of the life and times of First Dog Millie, made well over a million dollars while Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo has made over $4 million. So Barb thinks she could do the same with my story. (Of course, Barb also thinks she’s over five feet tall, a woman could be POTUS, and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer survived that last showdown with the forces of Hell. And she’s pretty sure there’s no such thing as calculus in the real world. So Barb’s credibility on…well, anything but calculus… is debatable.] 

My name is Tasha Taub and I came to live with the Taubs on Mother’s Day some years ago because Barb used to tell her family she wanted a dog. And not just any dog, but a border collie, one of the smartest and most trainable breeds on the planet. She got me.*

*[NOTE #2: Since then, Barb is more careful with her gift requests. She now tells her family she only wants presents weighed in carats, or requiring expensive add-on riders to their homeowners insurance.]

There’s a new Taub Family law that anyone who gives Barb a present which is currently breathing will immediately be named in her will as sole recipient of both The World’s Ugliest Grandfather Clock AND the Christmas Bears From Hell—a pair of tiny ornamental bears that Barb finds strangely adorable even though they’re dressed as clowns. Clowns! And one carries a little severed head for a purse. Clearly, years of intensive therapy lie ahead for any unlucky beneficiaries.

Of course, over the years, I’ve made a dogged attempt to train Barb, but it has been a thankless and unrewarding job. While still a puppy, I took her on hourly walks so she could admire the beauties of nature which inspired artists, writers, and philosophers to create timeless masterpieces. But did Barb spend this time in communion with nature, in refinement of the classical ideal, or in anything that didn’t involve a demand for me to ‘go here’? Let’s just compare our walks to those of other great writers:

BARB to Tasha: “Go here so I can get back to the presidential debates.”

SHAKESPEARE to his melancholy Great Dane: “Go thee here, where ladysmocks all silver-white, Do paint the meadows with delight…”

BARB to Tasha:”Go here and I’ll give you a biscuit.”

WORDSWORTH to his mutt, Coleridge: “Through primrose tufts, go here, in that green bower…”

BARB to Tasha:”Go here and I’ll give you a chew bone the size of Vermont.”

KEATS to his dachshund, Endymion: “Go here in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…”

BARB to Tasha: “Go here and I’ll get you your very own sheep.”

Tasha to Barb: “Nailed it!”

It’s not like I didn’t do my best to educate Barb. I taught her to walk while holding a leash, throw the ball, and give my ears a proper scratch. But I had to accept her limitations. She would just never be any good at the important stuff: garbage eating, crotch sniffing, privates licking, dung rolling…

As I outgrew puppyhood, I used our therapy sessions to encourage Barb to develop a dogmatic interest in aspects of world affairs:

  • The Homeless—should they really be kept in crates and euthanized if they aren’t microchipped and nobody claims them?
  • Civil Rights—are leash laws a violation?
  • and especially Reproductive Rights—First Dog Millie was a teen-aged single mother. Just saying… I don’t know where Millie stood on the Choice question. But I only went out one time with a traveling Golden Retriever, and Barb had me spayed. If I were Barb’s kids, I’d sure be nervous about dating.

Unfortunately, with maturity, has come a decidedly less svelte figure. Still, I thought the vet was barking up the wrong fire hydrant when he gave me some literature on “Obesity”. But one look at Barb, and I knew for whom those brochures were really meant. I pawed through the literature for relevant information to help Barb. “The most practical way of evaluating your pet is to check the fat over her rib cage.”

As it happens, I had a chance to check out Barb’s rib situation almost immediately. Because we lived in the Midwest and it wasn’t the afternoon they hold spring, we were were having a weather situation. It’s not that I was afraid of thunderstorms. I just felt it would be easier to protect Barb from them while she was holding a 60-pound hyperventilating stress-incontinent border collie. But as long as I was up there, I did a quick rib check. The results were, to say the least, alarming. 

“If you can feel fat between the skin and ribs or the ribs are difficult to feel, your pet is overweight. If the ribs cannot be felt, your pet is obese. In some pets, a large abdomen that hangs down or protrudes to the sides, indicates obesity.”

I did what dogs who get such bad news during thunderstorms do doo. While Barb cleaned it up, I decided to bone up on the suggested treatments for an overweight, politically obsessive pet.

  • Step 1: Evaluate the pet’s diet and activity level. For Barb, activity seemed to involve overconsumption of news coverage involving presidential candidates, permanent residence on the sofa during election years, and ice cream or (on particularly bad days and/or during presidential candidate debates) mojitos.
  • Step 2: Put the pet on the high-fiber, low-fat, less calorie-dense Political Diet. In Barb’s case, this meant blending shredded newspaper reports of presidential candidates’ speeches with a skim-milk latte. “Using this approach,” the brochures approved, “your pet can continue to consume approximately the same volume of politics as usual and achieve a comforting sense of fullness.”
  • Step 3: Be resolute. According to the brochures, home management of the Politics Diet would require the vigilant cooperation of every member of the family. A gentle “Down, Barb,” from the Hub was enough if she begged to watch News Hour. But if she fetched the paper and tried to read anything but the comics, he had to be firm: “Bad Barb. That’s a bad girl. No politics.” If she whined pathetically and looked at us with those big eyes, we had to swat her gently across the nose with the newspaper and remind her that it was for her own good.
  • Step 4: Be firm. “Dieters can be sneaky,” warned the literature. Barb tried to hide under the bedcovers with the portable TV tuned to PBS or the BBC. She would even stop total strangers in front of Baskin-Robbins, begging for their opinion of the President and/or a scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge.
  • Step 5: Seek professional assistance. If the above steps aren’t successful — for example, if your pet develops an unhealthy desire for elected office in the Parent-Teacher Association or even worse, local school board elections—you should seek help immediately.

Somedays, when I thought of giving up on Barb’s therapy, I would tell myself, “She’s had a good run.” If worse came to worst on election day, there were only three things left to try. 

  1. We could make the old girl comfortable with a tub of Chunky Monkey and a Sex and the City marathon.
  2. We could put her out of her misery by isolating her in a place that knows no politics, like New Zealand, or that bathroom in the basement that nobody ever uses (because it’s a bathroom in the basement).
  3. We could distract her with the promise of a vacation.* 

*[WARNING TO BARB’S FUTURE THERAPISTS: to see why you should NEVER choose number three unless you have a ridiculously large amount of paid up life insurance and a high tolerance for vomit, watch for our upcoming book, O My Dog! by Peri Taub, PTWP (Pandemic Therapist With Paws) —as typed by her person Barb Taub, whose opposable thumbs might as well be useful for something besides opening dog food…] 

Meanwhile, Kassandra Lamb has a fantastic new story starring an immensely-talented young border collie therapist named Dolly. You could read Barb’s review below, but really: there’s a border collie, so how could it be anything other than terrific?


To Bark or Not to Bark: A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery (The Marcia Banks and Buddy Mysteries Book 12)

  • GenreContemporary Cozy Mystery
  • Author: Kassandra Lamb
  • Blurb


Service dog trainer Marcia Banks-Haines tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house, while training the recipient of her latest dog.

The border collie, Dolly has been trained to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed in a bombed-out building. But the phantom attackers in his psyche become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his master bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.

Was it suicide or murder? Marcia can’t see her client as a killer, but the local sheriff can.

Then the Marine reports hearing his ex calling for him to join her on the other side of the grave. Is his house really haunted, or is he hallucinating?

Bottom line: Marcia has lost a client to suicide before. She’s not going to lose another!

My Review: 5 out of 5 stars

Marcia Banks-Haines has a problem. It’s not that people mispronounce her name (it’s “Mar-SEE-a” and never “Mar-sha”). She’s no longer that Yankee divorcee trying to fit into a quirky little Florida town, now that she’s an accepted member of the community. She’s not avoiding marriage or children either, now that she’s married to police detective Will and they have a baby on the way. And it’s certainly not that she’s still struggling to build her service-dog training business, because despite some tough times during the pandemic, she’s not only established her business, but she and Will are also setting up their own private detective agency.

No, the real problem is that people keep dying everywhere she goes. As soon as she gets a smart, adorable service dog ready to provide love and support to a new client, someone gets murdered. And Marcia, her service training dog Buddy, and her family and friends get involved. But with a baby on the way, a new career starting, and so much of her earlier life-trauma now resolved, Marcia is more convinced than ever that dangerous investigations are just what she, her dogs, and her family do not need.

That certainty lasts until she’s putting her crazy-smart new trainee service dog, a border collie named Dolly, through her paces in preparation for turning her over to her new owner, an agoraphobic Marine. Already uncomfortable at being caught in the awkward triangle between her client, his ex-wife, and her new fiance,  Marcia is horrified to look through the window of a locked room and spot a body.

This is a classic locked-room mystery, and author Kassandra Lamb doesn’t let us down. The essence of the true locked-room is just that: a seemingly impossible crime. As both Marcia and her new client are suspects, we explore the possible solutions.

  • In a classic locked room mystery, these might include a patsy trapped in the room with the victim, and thus immediately suspect. Although neither Marcia nor her client were actually in the locked room, they were in the house and the local sheriff treats them as suspects.
  • Another common trope is that the victim isn’t really dead, and the first one into the locked room actually uses the confusion to complete the murder. Neither Marcia nor her client Herb know the cause of death because they didn’t enter the room, nor did they see the actual entry when the police arrive to find what looks like suicide.
  • Sometimes the murderer has actually done the crime at a different time and/or place, and sets things up to make it look like it happened in the locked room. This can include falsified sound effects to make it seem a gun has gone off or the time-honored smashed clock or watch to confuse the time of death. Or it could be that the victim doesn’t realize they have received a fatal wound or poison, and proceeds to lock themselves into the room before succumbing.
  • And of course, there may be a secret entry to the room which only the murderer knows about.

I’m not going to tell you which combination of the above was used here, except to say that I was sure I knew the murderer right up to the point where the actual killer (and my error) were revealed. As always with Kassandra Lamb’s mysteries, the solution is character-driven, and involves the author’s own expertise as a psychotherapist to highlight the motivations, flaws, and strengths of the characters. But it is satisfying to see the ways Marcia has grown and developed over the course of the Buddy mysteries. It’s still full of humor, local color, and a satisfying support cast. But it’s also a chance for Marcia to show how much she has changed from the fragile young woman we first met in Book 1 to this strong, confident, and protective woman.

I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a clever, humorous, occasionally terrifying, but always character-driven series. Each book can be read on its own, but will be so much more entertaining if you follow the series. After all, strong women, adorable dogs, danger, romance, humor, and mystery—what’s not to love?