Little Boy Blue

By Kim Kavin. Barron’s Educational Series. $22.99.

It helps to have a journalistic background when seeking out the truth off your home turf. And that’s exactly what confronted New Jersey author Kim Kavin after adopting a young boxer-hound mix named Blue, whose roots were in rural North Carolina.

Like many pet searches, Kavin’s begins on the Internet in 2010, connecting her to Petfinder, then the local Lulu’s Rescue, her link to adopting Blue, unbeknownst to her a suspected ring-worm carrier and who knows what else.

Blue, who narrowly and luckily avoids a date with the gas chamber, quickly becomes the love of her life and the trigger mechanism for an investigation aimed at finding the true story behind the dog’s breeding, rescue and foster care. The journey takes her far beyond that, opening up one door after another, testing her investigative bulldog tenacity.

Written with bluntness and candor, “Little Boy Blue” is a North-South story of cultural differences, priorities and frustration. The better Kavin gets to know Blue, the more she recognizes his background information simply doesn’t add up, prompting her to become preoccupied and even haunted “by what seemed to be a few more bread crumbs on a trail that begged to be following into Blue’s past.”

That trail leads her to a high-kill shelter in remote Person County, N.C., where 92 percent of the dogs meet their death in the gas chamber and interviews with many area animal-rescue agency officials, veterinarians and dog owners.

If you’re looking for an upbeat, sugar-coated travelogue, this isn’t it. Conversely, this travel writer creates a landscape that’s a natural metaphor for the struggles of health and welfare amidst a stark cultural contrast between North and South.

Blue, we quickly discover, dodges the fate of countless others that fall victim to space, time and budget, both personal and governmental. Many deaths, however, could be avoided simply by early pet sterilization, which isn’t a high priority in Blue’s original neck of the woods.

Kavin emphasizes “as with so many things in life, good and smart people seem to find one another and figure out a way how to best make a difference. “ That is best defined in this context, Kavin reflects, by walking into the Southern shelters, getting dogs like Blue out, and following up to make certain they receive appropriate care.

In that respect, Kavin details dedicated volunteers’ transport system between Southern shelters and Northern rescue groups, which miraculously united her and Blue. Yet citing a personal incident, she notes that sometimes in animal rescue, well-intentioned volunteers and staffers simply get in over their heads in their attempt to save lives.

The author’s vibrant storytelling is complemented with two equally riveting factoids: Twenty-two states ban the use of the gruesome gas chambers for killing shelter animals; Americans spend approximately $15 million local tax dollars annually to fund animal-control facilities with these chambers.

With rich insight and detail, Kavin writes in practical terms shorn of ideological overtones. Yet she’s at her best when personalizing her involvement, first as a journalist/pet owner, then a volunteer when transporting two dogs north, fostering them and eventually finding homes for them via a local rescue organization. In other words, talk is cheap, just do it! And she does with terrific results.