My Dog Days of Summer

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

I like dogs.

I wish I could say that I love dogs. I wish I were one of those people who doesn’t mind slobber on their pants or dog hair all over their car seats or living in a house that always has a faint—or not so faint—doggy smell to it.

Yes, I wish I could say that I love dogs.

But I just don’t.

(My daughter Alison is very much a dog lover. In fact, I just took a break after writing these first few lines because she came to my door with “Bo”, a beautiful Vizsla that belongs to the carpenter who’s doing work at her house. She seems to feel most comfortable when in the company of a dog, and it always makes me so happy to see her with a leash in her hand.)

For someone who isn’t really a dog person, my summer has included an unexpectedly strong canine theme. In the summertime I usually try to read novels that are set by the ocean, but I didn’t find any of those this year. Instead, I rediscovered an author, Susan Wilson, whose books I read a long time ago. Since reading her earlier works, I’ve found she’s added a new dimension to her stories. Each of her newer books includes one or more dogs. These are not just stories in which the central characters have dogs, in these stories some of the central characters are dogs. I loved reading these books because the author made me see the world through the eyes of both the human characters and the canine ones. She made me understand why dogs do what they do. She made me understand their perceptions, their instincts, their motivations and even their hopes.

I’ve been telling my friends who love to read, and/or love dogs, about these books. I rarely recommend books, but these are just so unique and intuitive that I’ve decided to mention them here also.

The first, One Good Dog, introduced me to the horrifying world of dogfighting. “Chance” is a pit bull mix trapped in dogfighting slavery. He manages to escape and in time meets up with Adam, a man who needs rescue and a fresh start as much as Chance does. I was on the edge of my seat as Chance was recaptured by his tormenters . . . would he survive the dogfighting ring again?

The second, The Dog Who Danced, is about a Sheltie named Maks, who has an amazing ability to dance by following subtle cues from his owner, Justine. They do public performances together, making Justine’s otherwise miserable life a bit more bearable. The drama begins in this story when the two are accidentally separated while on a cross-country trip. Justine agonizes, wondering if her beloved Maks is alive and if she’ll ever find him. In the meantime, Maks is bringing healing to a couple who has suffered the death of their only child. Will they be willing to give the dog they call “Buddy” back to his rightful owner?

The third, A Man of His Own, is set during WWII. Pax is a German shepherd who has been volunteered (sadly and reluctantly) by his owners to serve in the Army’s K-9 Corps. His original owner is injured badly in the war; he was a professional baseball player, a pitcher, but now he’ll never play the game again. He desperately needs to have his dog back, but the young man who partnered with Pax during the war can’t bear the thought of parting with him. The book includes plenty of wartime drama and emotional drama as an unexpected compromise changes the lives of everyone involved.

The fourth, The Dog who Saved Me, is the story of a police officer named Cooper who is devastated by loss and guilt after the death of his dog—his K-9 partner—during an arrest attempt. A yellow lab that has been abused and has gone feral shows up and ultimately brings healing to Cooper. The ups and downs of this story involve the dangerous affiliations of Cooper’s ex-con brother, and Cooper’s efforts to find out who abused the dog and bring them to justice.

And finally, the book Two Good Dogs revisits Chance and Adam from One Good Dog. More characters are added, including a love interest for Adam, and another pit bull—a friend for Chance. Tension builds as a murderer seeks to silence a teenaged girl—the only witness to his crime. The dogfighting theme is revisited as well as the country’s current opioid epidemic.

Throughout these books, I saw how complex and varied the skills are that enable dogs to be helpful to humans. Each of these books shows dogs at work, illustrates the ways in which dogs are hardwired to be helpful, and reinforces the sentiment that dogs are indeed “Man’s best friend.”

I’m hoping the author is hard at work writing more!

So now you know how I spent some of my free time this summer.

If I keep this up, who knows . . . I may become a dog lover after all.

Photo: I took this photo after spotting these three beauties on Passyunk Avenue, here in South Philly. 

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