My aunt and uncle owned a dog. I can never remember the name of the breed, but she was an adorable white fluffy ball of energy. I loved visiting their house and having that dog run up to me, tail wagging. She was probably more excited just to have guests around than to see me specifically, but it was always a nice welcome. She died last year, and every time I visit my aunt and uncle, a part of me still expects to hear her excited barks, and to see the little ball of white fur hurtling towards me. Something’s missing now, and I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for my aunt and uncle, for whom that dog was such a big part of their lives.
What if beloved pets don’t die, however? Rather, what if they are reborn as another dog, and what if fate finds a way to bring them back into our lives? W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Journey is the sequel to his bestselling A Dog’s Purpose. Buddy, who has lived several lifetimes searching for his purpose in life, begins Journey believing that he has found and fulfilled it, having taken care of his owner Ethan. So Buddy dies, believing it to be the final time. However, it turns out that Ethan’s granddaughter Clarity needs a dog of her own, and Buddy finds himself reborn and adopted by Clarity, beginning a whole new cycle of birth and rebirth throughout Clarity’s lifetime. (Buddy is reincarnated in various forms and given various names throughout the novel, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just keep calling him Buddy.)
To be honest, a part of me feels uncomfortable with this idea. Surely a dog exists for far more than his human’s needs. Why would a dog’s value in life be determined by how comfortable he’s made ours? More importantly, why would a dog’s entrance into doggie nirvana be dependent on our human lifespan? At one point, I felt pretty bad for Buddy, who, in all his various reincarnations, kept thinking of finding Clarity, because she needed him. I just wanted to let the dog have his rest.
That being said, there is something reassuring in the idea that loved ones — human, animal — never really leave us, that they will be around in some form for as long as we need them. Putting aside my desire to give Buddy a life beyond the support he can give Ethan and Clarity, A Dog’s Journey is really a very touching book. It reveals how devoted our pets are to us, and, just as important, how devoted we are to them. On the book jacket is the question, “Do we take care of our pets, or do they take care of us?” A Dog’s Journey suggests that it’s both — humans and dogs as best friends, very much linked to each other.
If anyone ever needed a dog’s unconditional love, it’s Clarity. Growing up with low self-esteem and a hypercritical mother, Clarity feels unloved. Even when her best friend Trent, who is obviously in love with her, asks her out, she suggests he find someone prettier. Best thing about Clarity is that she’s not a self-pitying sad sack. She does feel low about herself, but she is also funny and charming, and you can see why Trent would be in love with her.
You can also see how much she needs the unconditional love Buddy provides. Being completely free to talk to Buddy about her problems, and having to take responsibility for Buddy’s well-being helps Clarity. I especially love the part where she has to perform community service and chooses to help train cancer-sniffing dogs. Even though Buddy wasn’t being trained himself, he learned how to do it by watching the other dogs. Cancer is one of those truly horrible diseases that’s become so common you probably don’t think about it much unless it happens to someone you know. Having lost a loved one to cancer myself, I love the idea that dogs can be trained to detect cancer early, and thereby help get the patient to a doctor before it’s too late. I hope the author based this particular bit on research.
Cameron does a great job at presenting a dog’s eye view — things we take for granted (e.g. a woman can be called both “Gloria” and “mother”) are things Buddy, as a dog, makes a conscious effort to teach himself. A visit to a TV studio leads to a heroic misunderstanding and one of the funniest moments in the book. Trent is probably my favourite character — such a nice, sweet guy! Like Buddy, I wanted Clarity to realize what a good man she has in him, and as a reader, I had the most emotional response while reading this book at a plot twist concerning Trent.
Buddy, especially, is a hero to cheer for. Smart, playful and fiercely loyal, he’s the kind of dog kids probably have in mind when asking for a dog. A Dog’s Journey is a funny, touching novel, highly recommended for dog owners, animal lovers, and anyone who’s ever considered getting a dog.