Jul 25, 2020

Just a Dog

by Helen Griffiths

   Story of a stray dog, born in a derelict house and living on the streets. Only two puppies survive out of her littermates. She has a rough start. Most people ignore stray dogs in the poor neighborhood where she lives. Some children chase and torment them, others are kind and try to befriend them. One boy tries to take in the puppy, but his mother won't let him bring her indoors, he ties her up outside until the neighbors complain, then he has to get rid of her. He asks a friend to have his dad drive her to a distant part of town and dump her there. She's bewildered by the change, but eventually takes up with a group of dogs that hangs around a gypsy camp, attaching herself to another young boy. The dog is content living with them for nearly a year. When he leaves for a distant opportunity she's left behind, having a litter of pups to care for (an earlier litter she bore died quickly from cold exposure). After her puppies are grown and dispersed she wanders off looking for the boy and never finds him but befriends a lonely old man who spends most of his days sitting on a park bench. He can't keep her though, and when he dies, his daughter drives the dog away from the vicinity. She wanders off bereft again, and eventually starts hanging around with a pair of dogs that live at a construction site. The workers like the dogs there because they bark at night scaring off would-be thieves; children and a few kind-hearted adults in the apartments nearby feed them scraps. Here the dog finds acceptance at last- some children become very fond of her and eventually their family takes her in. It is a long gradual process though, because all her past experiences - being beaten, chased and otherwise abused at different points in her life on the streets- makes her very wary of getting close to people again. 

This book was vaguely familiar to me, I'm pretty sure I may have read it when I was a kid. It's got a gritty reality to it, completely different from Rusty. The writing is very descriptive yet concise and easy enough for children to grasp, but with mature themes- obviously doesn't shy away from telling of the hardships animals experience, and cruelty of some humans. The characters- dogs and people alike- all are distinct personalities and very realistic. I could have read this book in one day but stretched it over two on purpose. I really like this author. I looked it up and she's written more books about dogs, horses and cats- I'd love to get my hands on all of them. 

Rating: 4/5              180 pages, 1974

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