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If you are a reader and a dog lover, you’ve surely enjoyed some books about dogs. Those of us who have loved dogs know that they are fantastic story fodder. Often funny, heartwarming, and poignant, these books remind us why dogs add so much richness to our lives. Whether you like nonfiction, memoir, or fiction, these are a few of the best dog books from my own reading.
To love a dog is to lose a dog.
And this week, after 14 years of loving my sweet dog, I had to lose him.
Fourteen years is a good long life for a dog, especially for a larger breed (my guy was a lab). But making that decision and saying goodbye to our trusting friends is not something most of us are ever really prepared for.
And even if you are prepared, it’s always heartbreaking.
As my dog aged, I talked to my kids about how long dogs live and how we would have to say goodbye over the next few years.
I felt prepared, but it was still a surprise when the vet told me he had an 11-pound mass in his abdomen. If we waited, it could rupture and he would truly suffer.
My sweet old guy, who had never really lost his puppy face, who was thrilled to see his friends at the vet, and who still had enough energy for little hops of excitement when we left for walks, had an invisible time bomb inside him.
Saying goodbye was hard–much harder than I expected. I’ve worked from home for years, so I have been with him constantly. Now there are no more furry cuddles, no more tippy-taps when he wants to go out, no more contented sighs as he settles into his nap. He has been my silent companion, but now his absence is deafening.
Of course, this story is not unusual. We love our dogs, and then we lose them. If we are lucky, we get to spend the full span of their lives with them, and usher them out with love and grace.
In the years between, they offer us adoring gazes, unending devotion, tail wags and cuddles, and dance parties when we walk in the door (no matter how brief our absence).
We marvel at their wisdom, giggle at their innocence and silliness, and delight in their companionship.
And it’s all these qualities, wrapped together in fluffy bundles that become our family, that make these wonderful creatures the perfect subjects of books.
In both fiction and nonfiction, books about dogs delight us almost as much as our own furry companions. Whether we’re seeing characteristics of our own four-legged buddies or enjoying the quirks of someone else’s, dog books remind us why we welcome them into our lives and families.
We simply don’t deserve dogs, but these books about dogs remind us of why we are so lucky to have them. And so, in memory of my own dog, who I was so lucky to have for all of these years, here are a few of my favorite books for dog lovers.
Nonfiction Books About Dogs
Author: Ted Kerasote
This memoir of Kerasote’s relationship with his dog can be slow at times, especially when he delves into scientific explanations of wolves and dogs, but dog lovers will be captivated. Kerasote’s lives a solitary writing life near a small town in Wyoming, which allows his dog, Merle, unusual independence and agency.
Merle may be no more special than any well-loved dog, but perhaps it’s this quiet life that gives Kerasote the space to observe, contemplate, and articulate Merle’s identity and thoughts in a way that makes him seem human. Keep your tissues handy.
Author: John Grogan
One of the most popular dog books in recent years, Marley captured the hearts of dog lovers through his bumbling and destructive zest for life. Often a thorn in his owners’ sides, Marley’s unabashed joy and determination to barrel through life at full speed led him to wiggle his way into their hearts.
Marley proved that even the dogs without sage wisdom in their eyes can be the very best boys (and girls) and teach us how to live. We all know this is a sad book, but it’s also a very funny dog book, sure to make you laugh and cry.
Author: James Herriot
James Herriot’s classic memoirs of his veterinary career in the English countryside are about many types of animals, but there is plenty for dog lovers to appreciate. Herriot spares himself no embarrassment but proves himself keenly observant and sensitive as he interacts with the characters—human and animal, by turns eccentric, sad, and inspiring—who pepper his stories.
Herriot’s memoirs are true comfort reading. While the life of a veterinarian is not without sadness, if you don’t want to read books about dogs dying, this is a warm and uplifting choice.
Author: Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir is an original take on the typical dog memoir. From her boyhood through her transition and adulthood as a married woman with children, this book is less about the dogs themselves than about how their presence punctuated the pivotal moments of her life.
For a person struggling with identity, these dogs were unrelentingly (often hilariously) themselves. Grounding Boylan’s journey–foreign to so many readers–in the relatable love of dogs serves to make her story relatable as well.
Fiction Books About Dogs
Author: Steven Rowley
This imaginative dog book brings in elements of magical realism to underscore Ted’s devotion to his beloved dog, Lily, who is fighting a losing battle with the “octopus” invading her brain. His quest to save her is touching and heroic, and dog lovers will feel his fear and loneliness at the prospect of losing his beloved companion.
A beautiful book underscoring the love, loneliness, grief, and beautiful companionship and memories we build with our pets during their short lives.
Author: Garth Stein
I loved this book narrated by a dog named Enzo, a philosophical canine who bemoans his lack of thumbs and likes to ride in race cars with his best friend, Denny. Enzo will alternately charm you and break your heart, as he reflects on his life and responsibilities as Denny’s best friend, all while anticipating his death. It’s hard to resist an imagining of a dog’s rich inner life, and Enzo is particularly irresistible. It should go without saying that you’ll need your tissues, but it’s worth it.
The children’s version of this book, Racing in the Rain, is also wonderful–though I attest that reading it aloud is difficult toward the end.
Author: Sigrid Nunez
This strangely compelling National Book Award winner is a good choice for someone wanting a more literary dog book. The story is less about a woman’s healing relationship with the Great Dane left to her by her deceased friend than it is a meditation on grief. The friend and mentor, who committed suicide and left no note, looms large in her thoughts and memories.
The snippets with the dog are charming, but they are not the focus. It may be disappointing for readers wanting a dog-centered story, but it also underscores how dogs’ mere presence can play quiet roles in our healing.
Author: David Wrobleski
Another good choice if you like a literary take on the dog novel. Edgar Sawtelle is a retelling of Hamlet–in the north woods of Wisconsin and with dogs. The Sawtelle dogs are an imaginary breed, and Edgar, a mute boy forced to leave his home by his uncle after the death of his father, survives with their companionship.
Many readers have mixed feelings about this book–and I’m among them–but the Shakespearean aspects of it set in Wisconsin (my home state) are compelling, the prose is worth savoring, and casting a dog as Ophelia is brilliant.
There are so many wonderful dog books–I’d love to know your favorites. Also feel free to share stories or memories of your own beloved pets.
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