This realistically tragic novel tells the (many) life stories of a dog who is continually reincarnated. In his first life, Toby – a feral mutt – is whisked away from his mother and dropped in the grungy, dog-eat-dog world of “the Yard.” The Yard, which is essentially a pound, becomes overpopulated with aggressive, homeless dogs and is eventually shut down by the government, which leads to Toby and all of his fellow Yard mates being euthanized.
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In his second life, Toby is reborn as a golden retriever who finds a way to escape into the real world. He is quickly scooped up by a truck driver, who leaves Toby in a hot truck while he loads up on booze in a local bar. Just before Toby enters into his third life, a woman rescues him from the overheated truck and takes him home as a gift for her young son, Ethan. Ethan gives the pup the name Bailey and the two spend year after wonderful year together as best friends. Bailey provides comfort and support to Ethan through life’s challenges, but is ultimately abandoned by Ethan when he goes off to college. As Bailey’s health declines, he is eventually put down with nothing more than the memories of his amazing time with Ethan.
In his third life, Bailey is surprised to be reborn as a female German shepherd named Ellie. Ellie is adopted by a police officer and trained as a search-and-rescue dog. In addition to fulfilling the needs of the police force, Ellie plays the important role of loyal family pet. By the end of this life, Ellie is sure that she has served her life’s purpose.
She soon learns that her journey isn’t over yet when she is reborn a fourth time as a male Labrador retriever. Bear (as the dog is renamed) is passed around from person to person, none of whom are able to keep him, until he is finally abandoned on a country road alone. He recognizes the scent of Ethan from his previous life and uses the skills he learned at the police academy to trace Ethan’s scent until he arrives at Ethan’s family farm. Bear reunites with Ethan, who is now very old, and is named for the last time “Buddy.” Finally returned to his best friend and able to protect him, Buddy has achieved his life purpose.
This story, as heartbreaking as it may be, ultimately teaches a lesson we should all learn from. Whether you’re a Toby, Bailey, Ellie, Bear or Buddy, it is important to embrace your past and use it to better your future.