I may or may not have mentioned before that upon entering my home through the back door, hangs a frame picturing Xena in winter; a snow dog at heart. Beneath these three photographs are words credited to Richard Caras,
Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.
To me that wholeness comes in the form of unconditional love, loyalty without limits and unquestioning devotion. Dogs teach us lessons that no other can; making us better than before. We humans have much to learn. (Truth be told...my life is pretty much, books, reading, students and one very special dog.)
Bobbie Pyron penned a story, A Dog's Way Home (Katherine Tegen Books) which moves readers beyond the love between a girl and her dog.
It was a near-to-perfect fall day. The late October sky was so blue and crisp, it made my eyes hurt. And the Virginia hills, all colors with their pretty fall leaves, humped and folded around us like one of Meemaw's patchwork quilts.
Abby Whistler and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, have completed the Southeast Virginia Junior Agility Championship and won first prize. Tam has been placed in a crate in the back of her Mama's pickup truck to protect its newness. Setting out for home in Harmony Gap, North Carolina fate intervenes, as it is so often apt to do, in the shape of a deer running in front of their vehicle.
Tam is thrown, still in the crate, from the truck down a hillside into the rushing waters of a creek. Abby and her Mama, after more than a day in the hospital, at her Daddy's arrival go back to the site only to find no sign of Tam. Deeply missing his human, Tam's internal compass points him south.
Over the course of three parts, three seasons, told in alternating chapters moving between Abby and Tam, readers follow as they create a path back to one another. Tam's journey over hundreds of miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains is arduous, painful and yet filled with determined hope. Your heart will soar as Tam encounters friends in the wild and within civilization but it will plummet as he fights starvation at every turn, the natural elements, animal foes and cruel humans.
Though in travels not measured so much by miles, Abby's obstacles, parents who do not share her convictions, a move to Tennessee for her Daddy's musical career, her age, money and time, never sway her belief that Tam is alive and making his way back to her. Like Tam she finds support, an old friend, her grandmother with the "Sight" and an unlikely new friend. Through separated by distance each feels the tug, the thread of love, which binds them together.
Bobbie Pyron's writing is magical. Her ability to tell Tam's story would leave one to believe she might have Shetland genes hidden somewhere in her DNA or at the very least the gift of "Dog Whisperer". Clearly she has not lost touch with her younger self; skillfully portraying the emotional ups and downs associated with Abby's life, her sense of loss and longing.
Her pacing is impeccable; creating chapter lengths appropriate to move the narrative forward attaching readers to the story as Abby and Tam are to each other. Her knowledge of the wilderness area, flora and fauna, family life set within a small mountain community, shifting to the world of music in Nashville and the ins and outs of days spent in a middle school is sharply realistic. Details, fully descriptive, coupled with meaningful dialogue depict a sense of place and characters fully human.
Here are two examples of her writing.
She sat down in the old rocking chair Grandpa Bill made for her when Daddy was born. She closed her eyes and held Tam's collar against her chest.
I held my breath and watched her face. Snow ticked against the windowpanes.
Just when I was beginning to think it wasn't going to work, a little "Oh my!" escaped her mouth.
And like shadows slipping across our pond, alarm, fear, sadness, determination, and love flowed one to another across her face.
Suddenly the log began to rock back and forth. Tam scrambled to keep from being thrown from his hiding place. Sick fear flooded every inch of his body. In his three years of life, he had never known fear. He had never known hunger. He had only known what every well-loved dog knows: comfort and security. This new life of constant danger was beyond his experience.
But deep within every dog is a bit of the wolf from which he descended. And that wolf gives the dog keen instinct. As the bear rocked the log harder and harder, Tam shot from the old tree like a cannonball between the bear's legs.
Gripping, heartwarming and ultimately satisfying, A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron is a classic as time will reveal. For dog lovers it is a must read but anyone will be held spellbound from beginning to end; it making a mark on their heart. Do I love this book? ...without reservation.
I don't know how I missed this last year. It is now out in paperback and the film rights have been sold. Please go to Bobbie Pyron's website linked above for a study guide made for teachers and librarians.