In this middle-grade novel, an Australian shepherd poignantly relates his mistreatment as a puppy, the love and companionship he finds with a caring owner and other rescued animals, and his life’s surprising last chapter.
Dog lovers be warned: You’ll need to keep the tissues handy while reading the saga of an Australian shepherd’s life and death (and beyond). Told in the heart-tugging voice of Aussie Max, Weber’s (Beyond Flight or Fight: A Compassionate Guide for Working with Fearful Dogs, 2015) novel begins when Max is taken from his mother as a puppy. Relegated to his first human family’s shade-free, barren backyard, Max is subject to increasing neglect. His only moments of affection and companionship come when the family’s unhappy young son occasionally plays outside with him. After a painful encounter with a neighbor’s aggressive dog, Max is beaten and hauled off to an animal shelter, where, confused and depressed, he is marked for death. Life turns around when Max is adopted by a caring, dog-savvy new owner. Gradually adjusting to his extended new family of rescued dogs and cats, he finds his calling as a champion in agility competitions. Weber believably shadows Max’s triumphs and sunny times over the years with a tragedy that befalls his beloved feline companion and with the emotional scars that linger due to the Aussie’s harrowing start in life. The author also doesn’t sugarcoat Max’s last challenge: his wrenching, graphically depicted last illness. Yet Weber never makes Max’s plight feel gratuitous. This touching narrative, with its colorful characters and humane message, conveys Weber’s own love for animals and her experiences with animal rescue and the loss of a pet. And, although readers may go through an emotional wringer throughout, Weber leaves her audience with the comfort of a cathartic last chapter that involves a trip over the “Rainbow Bridge,” joyous reunions, and Max’s new job, tailor-made just for him.
Movingly conveys a resonant message of empathy for mistreated and abandoned animals.