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[344] A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron

” I was seized with an inexplicable question, a question of purpose. This didn’t seem like the sort of thing a dog should think about, but I found myself returning to the issue often, usually as I was just dozing off for an irresistible nap. Why? Why was I a puppy again? Why did I harbor a nagging feeling that as a dog there was something I was supposed to do? ” [56, Bailey]

Sometimes I have a misgiving that as loyally and mindfully as my dog clings to me, I can never carry on a meaningful conversation with him like I do with humans. Dogs are extremely receptive to sounds and scent, which establish a basis of their acumen in memory. By separating nuances of scents and distinguishing sounds that take a long time to find our noses and ears, dogs commit into memory that help identify a threat or a treat. A Dog’s Purpose (aptly sub-titled A Novel for Humans) comes to relieve my angst in a timely manner. What’s more appropriate to investigate the purpose in a dog’s perspective?

Toby is a stray mutt adopted by an old lady who’s already had too many dogs in a crammed yard. With one leg severely injured, Toby is euthanized when animal patrol raids the woman’s house. A deep slumber has brought the dog to another time and a new place: the dog is reborn as a rambunctious, playful golden retriever who is heedless of house rules and falls victim to the cat’s instigation. During his life with 8-year-old Ethan, Bailey discovers his purpose in life to be a good dog. As the boy grows up, the dog senses all the tension and witnesses changes in family dynamics. Bailey saves his young master from being lost in the wood and then from a fire later. The dog reflects, his purpose is to love and protect.

Any reluctance I might have felt to attack a human being was overridden by the sense that whatever Todd was doing, it was causing harm to the boy and to the family I was there to protect. There was no stronger purpose than that. [148, Bailey]

Bailey has sworn loyalty to Ethan and his family. The form between dog and master transcends time and death. The last thought of the golden-haired canine, as he drifts away from life, is the boy. The memory passes on to his next incarnation, as if the dog has unfinished business. Reborn as a female German shepherd, Ellie is a search-and-rescue dog. If even dogs can earn karma, Ellie would be a top dog for all the victims she has saved. When Ellie’s time is up on earth, the dog is surprised to incarnate once again. What justifies another rebirth?

I knew they were talking about me, and wagged my tail in friendship. [215, Ellie]

A Dog’s Purpose is a remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for purpose over the course of four lives. It touches on the universal, rhetorical question that has puzzled philosophers over time: Why are we here? As much as he was taught to avoid men at all costs, the dog’s fate is inextricably linked with theirs, feeling their pain, sharing their joy, and sensing their inner sadness. An ultimate purpose to be fulfilled once again brings the dog to another incarnation—one that truly demonstrates how dog is man’s best friend. The fulfillment of this novel is that dogs, although incapable of speech, do observe and size us up. They feel us and know exactly when we need comfort, even though their lives do revolve around getting a biscuit treat. This book is a must read for dog lovers. Who can resist the charm of a dog, which contemplates his purpose in a voice full of curiosity and humor?

319 pp. Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]