cover image A Useful Dog

A Useful Dog

Donald McCaig, . . Univ. of Virginia, $14.95 (80pp) ISBN 978-0813926179

It's no wonder that Virginia-based sheepdog trainer and author McCaig (his novel Canaan also publishes in March) has been called the Mark Twain of dog writers. He understands that some things—in this case, dogs—don't need exaggeration or ornate description to make a strong impact. In this series of narrative snapshots, McCaig writes simply and elegantly—sometimes profoundly—about the lives of dogs and the humans who are “dotty” for them. That's not to say he doesn't show them a reverence familiar to dog lovers: “On good days, I imagine humans are connected to our dogs on a primitive genetic level; that we don't need to hear well because our dogs hear for us, that we don't need good noses because our dogs sniff out danger.” McCaig is a true seeker, someone who wants to understand, deeply, the nature of the human-canine bond, and his combination of folksy anecdotes and pared down science conveys just the right sense of wonder and wisdom. Toward the end, McCaig writes, “One day I will be buried on the hill where my dogs Pip and Silk and Mack and Gael are buried”; anyone who understands the well of unspoken emotion in that statement will surely appreciate this sharp little book. (Mar.)