by Jerrold Mundis
“Christ, it’s only a dog, not a science-fiction monster.”
“Tell that to the public.”
A rural government facility, attempting to maximize the potential of the modern canine, loses one of its German Shepherd puppies due to theft, and the thief soon loses the puppy (due to theft) which is then abandoned on the side of the road. A local teacher finds the puppy and after a week of watching the papers for the owner decides to keep the dog and raise it as his own, naming it Orphan, or Orph.
The professor keeps the dog for about 18 months until it badly mauls one of his two visiting sons in a kind of aggressive self defense. The dog escapes into the wilderness where he quickly becomes the alpha of a small pack that’s smarter and less afraid of man than people have experienced, and panic ensues as the pack finds food in garbage and local livestock.
It’s important to note the dog isn’t the bio-engineered, chemically enhanced super-monster that often populate this type of story, but rather the product of careful, selective breeding for traits to maximize potential of the species. He’s just a dog, but a good dog.
It’s a curious book, bouncing between views of the owner, other locals including a dogfighter, and Orph himself. Some sections of the book are overwritten, including the following passage from Orph’s point of view when reflecting on his new-found freedom and his recent owner:
At moments, though, was an uneasiness, an imbalance, a discordancy, which was Orph’s nearest approximation to unhappiness. He had no literal memory, the recollection of vignette, but in a sensory consortium could see the image of Him, taste His scent, hear the timbre of His voice.
This can be a little jarring here and there, but the eloquence of speech tends to helps build contrast between the abrupt, differing viewpoints and ultimately melts together into a working whole. There’s even a sex scene between dogs quickly followed by a sex scene between humans that offers a different kind of contrast.
The author’s knowledge of canine behavior is also extensive, whether it be through first hand experience, exhaustive research or just a wonderfully convincing bluff. You get the feeling of Jack London, or considering the material perhaps an anti-Jack London. The instinct, perspective and thought processes of the dogs are a pillar of the story and well-sold.
Finally, the relatively short book features excellent pacing that ramps up to a bonfire of an ending. You may experience misgivings occasionally during the read, but when finished you’re going to walk away glad you read this.
“Men are the only real problems dogs ever had.”