4 min read

Many Lifetimes: Thoughts On 'A Dog's Purpose'

My father, Irving Townsend, wrote in the essay "A Continuity of Collies," (Separate Lifetimes): "Shakespeare divided a man's life into seven parts, perhaps because he never owned a dog. My life, measured by the lives of collies, is better divided by five.... Two months ago the fourth part of my life came to an end with the loss of my thirteen-year-old companion.... I found a new collie to accompany me through the fifth part of my life, and although so far it is an uneven match, we will adjust, he and I."

I suspect my father would have loved A Dog's Purpose, and The Art of Racing in the Rain, although he may not have accepted the belief that a dog's reason for being is to benefit humans. It's hard to argue against such a concept, however, when I look into those muddy pools of trust, adoration, and expectancy in my dogs' eyes. They do seem to believe that I am the center of their universe. Well, usually. A squirrel, treat, or the UPS truck will often trump that position.

In A Dog's Purpose, Toby, a puppy in a family of feral dogs, tries to determine his place in the puzzling world around him. His mother chooses to remain wild, but he finds some possibility of comfort, of love even, with the rescuers who take him and his siblings in. But, comfort and love are not in the cards for Toby. It is in his next incarnation that both become central through his boy, Ethan. And caring for Ethan-protecting him, comforting him, loving him-is his purpose.

Or is it?

And that's the question he continues to worry like a chew toy as he goes from old age to puppyhood again and again. Aside from the appealing philosophy of the book, the storytelling is pure pleasure. W. Bruce Cameron knows how to keep the pace and rhythm of the story at a fine doggy trot, making this a hard book to put down. And it is a completely ageless tale, easily picked up by youngsters, who will glean their own understanding of the dog universe from it, and adults who have-like my father had-gone through several lifetimes of dogs, and long to believe each sad ending leads to a happy beginning.