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I’m a sucker for dog stories. I've lost hours watching funny dog videos on YouTube and I love reading the shared stories of doggy antics on social media. A novel about a dog will usually find its way into my book pile, and I'm the first in line for dog movies. 

 

The irony is, with few exceptions, dog stories also make me cry-probably because as the central character in Gordon Korman's middle grade novel No More Dead Dogs pointed out, you pretty much know the dog is going to die in the end. In fact, the mortality rate of dogs in books and film is so high that there is a website called  https://www.doesthedogdie.com/ that allows readers/viewers to track whether or not the dog dies in a book, movie or video game. The site also has a section for cats, horses and other animals in general if you’re worried.

 

It’s hard to quantify what makes us such gluttons for punishment that we continue to subject ourselves to the emotional devastation of seeing a dog die in a book or a movie.  Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend. They are part of the family. They give us unconditional love and loyalty. They give us companionship, joy, and laughter for as long as they live.  We know that our time with dogs is limited, but we love them for as long as we have them and are enriched by them.

 

Maybe we love these stories because we connect with them on a personal level. When we read a story about a dog like Marley, we nod and smile seeing something of ourselves and our dogs in the story. We become emotionally invested in these doggy characters, and care about them as if they are our own. These stories reflect our own experiences, and make us hug our dogs even tighter. 

 

One of my favourite books growing up was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Growing up, my family had a brother and sister pair just like Old Dan and Little Ann and I loved reading about the bond between the two dogs and their boy. I also remember bawling my eyes out when the dogs died. I smiled through my tears at the ending *spoiler alert* when Billy discovers the red fern growing between their graves which is a sign that an angel is watching over them (as per an in-book Indian legend that says only angels can plant the flower). It’s a beautiful and heart-wrenching book and it got to the point where I couldn’t even open the book without starting to cry, so I haven’t reread it in a while.

 

As an adult, two recent books (within the last decade) sit high on my list of favourites, mostly because they capture the bond that an adult has with their dogs. I adored my family dogs, but it’s a different experience when it’s your own dog.

 

From the first page of The Art of Racing in the Rain I was hooked, and I totally fell in love with Enzo the dog. The story follows Denny, an aspiring race car driver, through his trials and tribulations, but from Enzo’s point of view. Enzo is preparing for his life as a human and has some astute observations about humanity. His narration is witty and philosophical, and he shares his reflections on dogs and humans with the reader. The book perfectly exemplified the bond that my partner and I had with our dog, and of course, I could fully imagine what he would have to say if it were he who was narrating the story.

 

As I told everybody I gave it to, the book will make you cry and smile at the same time. I like to believe that my dog will someday return as a human who will come back into our lives, and that we’ll know him when we see him. This is a book I have continuously lent out, and it even got my brother - who was reluctant to read it - to stay up all night finishing it. The film adaptation of the book is currently in production, and I can’t wait to see my favourite book on screen!

 

My other favourite dog novel is Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley. I knew it would be difficult to live up to Art of Racing in the Rain, but Rowley does it successfully. This story is perfect for anyone who has lost a dog, as it’s about the grief we feel over their deaths.

 

The novel begins when Ted, Lily’s 42-year-old owner discovers a tumor on her head, which he calls the octopus because of its shape. He imagines the octopus is alive and is an enemy which needs to be defeated. Ted will do anything he can to save Lily, but eventually has to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her and end her suffering.

 

Once again it’s a book that will make you cry and smile. It’s profound, funny and just a beautiful read. It’s also semi-autobiographical, which adds to the authenticity of the story. I hoped against hope that Ted would find a way to save Lily, and I laughed and cried with Ted throughout.

 

With the recent death of my old dog to cancer, this book touches me even more profoundly. When I first read it, it made me more aware that my partner and I would eventually have to make that tough decision, and now that we have, I feel Ted's grief all the more.  Amazon studios has optioned this book for film, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it popping up on either the big or small screen sometime in the near future.

 

In a quick Google search for “happy dog stories” I was hard-pressed to come up with anything, but we love dog stories because they are human stories that touch our hearts, and that's something we can all appreciate! 

 

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Happy Reading!

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