In Burke’s short story, a city employee has a violent breakdown at work and goes on medical leave, during which he meets and adopts a friendly bulldog—but their time together soon becomes threatened.
After one too many days of suffering under a boss who despises him and a human resources director who refuses to listen to him, a city employee snaps, shredding his boss’s files and throwing her chair against a window. After spending time in a hospital, he goes on medical leave, giving him the first “vacation” he’s had in years. While walking home after dinner one night, he realizes a hefty white bulldog is following him. The dog obediently stays outside his house after receiving leftovers. Bearing a vague resemblance to the unnamed narrator’s Grandfather Stanley, the dog soon wins his heart. But his sister’s domestic partner—a veterinarian—discovers the dog (now named Stanley) has a microchip, and the narrator reacts with fury and fear. Weeks later, when a little boy and his mother come forward and claim that the dog belongs to them, heartbreak may be in store for the narrator and his beloved new pet. This short story—Burke’s debut work—boasts some fantastically vivid descriptions, particularly when the narrator shreds everything in his boss’s cabinets, “right down to her spare pair of beige panty hose.” In addition, the narrator’s sister offers a believable mixture of wary judgment and familial warmth. But the narrator’s vitriolic resentment of the people around him—particularly his supervisor, dubbed the “puppeteer of [his] career”—sours the story’s tone from the beginning and prevents the reader from getting to know most of the characters. The narrator’s descriptions of Stanley also prove confusing, with the bulldog yelping with supposed fear when the microchip is discovered, yet dutifully lying down in front of his old family’s house. Finally, what could have been a poignant, if painful, ending instead feels abrupt and deeply unsettling. Devoted pet owners may want to steer clear of this tale.
Told from a bitter narrator’s narrow perspective, this dog story ends up more disturbing than charming.