Fable-inspired short stories celebrate dogs’ enduring spirit and loyalty to humans, from ancient Africa to the present day.
Hoffman (Ridgeback Tales, 2016, etc.) runs California’s Sober Buddha Counseling. His Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mister Brown, often sits in on psychotherapy appointments with him—a scenario that he dramatizes in “The Psychiatrist’s Hound.” In the tale, Rafiki the Rhodesian Ridgeback offers just as much advice as Dr. James Pyle, including steering a patient away from pharmaceuticals and toward alternative methods. Rafiki is a reincarnation of all of the other canine characters in the book, each reborn from Tsavo, “king of the brave brown dogs” in the Africa of legend. The author imagines that, at the dawn of time, Shango, the “spirit of immortality and hunting,” set out to find a suitable companion for humans. He chose Tsavo, who had led his fellow dogs in protecting a troop of elephants from lions. “The ridge proclaimed a comrade’s courage,” marking Ridgebacks as a special breed. Tsavo returns in multiple guises. In “Everybody Loves Shep,” he is a search and rescue dog who finds 37 people, some still alive, in the aftermath of 9/11. In “The Dog Wife,” he is Mr. Brown, a comforting pet for an old man missing his dead wife. And in “More Beautiful Than Ever,” he is Blixer, who disrupts obese Isabella’s gluttonous habits and helps her lose weight. In the volume’s standout tale, “Hound of Mercy,” he is Anubis, shepherding the souls of fallen Confederate soldiers into death on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. All of the storylines are cleverly put together, especially that of “More Beautiful Than Ever,” in that both the woman and the dog are undone by an obsession with food. But the tales are invariably maudlin. For Tsavo to be reborn, he must perish at the end of each life, so readers should be prepared for dogs to meet sticky ends. Others undergo magical transformations—“part animal, part angel.” Initially resembling Kipling’s Just So Stories, the book blends gentle magic with realistic situations in a way that will please fans of W. Bruce Cameron.
Artful but overly sentimental tales for canine lovers.