No two ways about it; A Dog’s Pupose is a must for dog owners. W. Bruce Cameron’s novel is heartwarming, insightful, and poignant, especially if you love dogs. The novel follows one dog — who narrates the novel — as he is born and reborn (reincarnated) over the years. Each life is enormously different from the previous one, and leads the dog to begin questioning what his purpose is in life. As he looks for his own meaning, the dog also explores human nature, family, and the relationships that shape us.
The novel opens with the dog being born as a stray mutt, scrounging for food in garbage cans and shying away from humans. He is eventually scooped up and taken in by a woman who collects stray dogs without a second thought, opening her home to an enormous pack. She names the narrator Toby, and he has a generally happy, but all-too-brief life in her home. His first death is horribly depressing, and reaffirmed my belief in adopting from shelters and/or the pound whenever possible.
The narrator is soon conscious that he has been reborn as a golden retriever, in what most readers should recognize as a puppy mill. It’s an inauspicious start, but after several close scrapes, the dog is rescued and taken home by a woman as a gift for her young son, Ethan. Ethan names the puppy Bailey, and the boy and dog immediately form an unbreakable bond. Much of the story is a dog’s-eye view of the daily world, with amusing interpretations of human behavior. However, Bailey also delves into darker, more complex issues, such as why the frightening boy down the street seems broken inside. In another instance, Bailey and Ethan get lost in the woods together, and must rely on each other to survive. The family loves Bailey, even when their own lives take sad and unexpected turns.
Bailey witnesses and plays his part in many events over the years, growing up alongside Ethan. The pair have over a decade of adventures and mishaps before Bailey grows old and tired, and eventually the family must make the hard decision to put him down. Anyone who has ever had to put a beloved pet to sleep will absolutely empathize with that scene; I had to stop reading for a few minutes to cry and hug my dog. This second death, while sad, is easier in some ways than the first, though, since at least in this life Bailey had a good long life full of love and happiness.
In his third incarnation, the dog is startled to realize that he is a female German Shepherd. As a puppy, the dog — soon named Ellie — is adopted by a police officer and is soon trained for the K-9 unit. Ellie is an elite search-and-rescue dog, and has a strong working partnership with her handler Jakob. Jakob likes and is proud of Ellie, but does not love her the way Ethan did. Ellie’s life as a police dog is difficult, but also rewarding in its own way. Over the course of her life, Ellie faces danger, different handlers, natural disasters, and injuries. She also has a loving home for many years, and is proud of the work that she does to help people. Ellie once again lives a long and fulfilling life before she is taken to the veterinarian for the final time.
The dog is honestly surprised to find himself a puppy for the fourth time, this time as a black Labrador. His puppyhood is not happy, and I was fairly stressed for several chapters. The dog is determined to find his purpose this time around, and fate lends a hand when he is abandoned in an area that it turns out he recognizes. Without going into any spoilers, the dog (eventually named Buddy, the same as my dog!) finds himself determined not just to improve his own life, but to fully change the lives of the humans around him as well. Buddy is a miracle dog, with each life building on the ones before it. The memories from one incarnation often come back to serve him in the subsequent life. He is intelligent, loyal, and loving, with an endless capacity for optimism and courage. He is everything we hold up as to why canines are man’s best friend.
Cameron’s novel is well-written, exciting, and a pleasure to read. The action traverses the ranges from the everyday humdrum to the nail-biting extremes. It’s impossible not to love the dog narrating the novel, and my affection for the fictional dog only made my all-abiding love of my own dog all the stronger. I started wondering what my Buddy is thinking, why he reacts the way he does in any given situation, and even how he views my daily habits.
I highly encourage people to read this novel, especially dog owners. I think that A Dog’s Purpose is easily accessible to all readers, but the depth of meaning and understanding will be much greater for dog people, as will be the emotional impact of the stories. We have very special relationships with our dogs, and the novel reflects that. It both offers a potential insight into the thought processes of a dog, as well as encourages humans to be better, more respectful companions to their canines. The ending, while bittersweet, encapsulates everything that a dog owner already knows deep down: the purpose dogs play in our lives, and our purpose in theirs.
Much love, and Happy Reading!