Randy Russell
& Janet Barnet,
Ghost Dogs
(Blair, 2001)

This is such a wonderful book, it is just precious (a word I rarely use). Ghost lovers, dog lovers, folktale lovers -- this is your book. The stories are wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, folksy tales that capture much of the oral traditions from whence they assuredly came.

This is in no way, I should say, a parapsychological study of ghosts; in a couple of stories, a ghost is only briefly mentioned. This is all about the story and the storytelling. We are treated to the internal thoughts of the characters, including the dogs, which might sound silly but works wonderfully. Seeing things from the eyes of the dogs provides a lot of unique perspectives and leads to many smiles and laughs, and it strikes me that we can learn more about human nature (at least the good part of it) from dogs than from many people.

My favorite stories involve heroic actions performed by beloved dogs for their masters and even for strangers. The dog who saved a child from getting run over by a car and who returns each Halloween to watch over trick-or-treaters is incredibly touching. There are also some sad, even heartbreaking aspects to some stories -- even the bravest, most loyal dogs sometimes pay the ultimate price for their devotion, and some are brutally and senselessly hurt and killed (as are other poor animals). Any dog lover will tell you that the bond between a dog and that dog's human is stronger than death; those who scoff at such a thing will not enjoy this book.

I know all dog lovers are wonderful wherever they live, but the fact that these stories take place in the South certainly made them much more meaningful to me as a Southerner. These are our stories; several of them come from places "just up the road a spell" from where I live. Each tale features a tidbit of Southern history I was not aware of. You certainly don't have to be a Southerner to enjoy this book, but those of us from Dixie will feel a little closer to these stories than others might. You may notice that the term "Civil War" is never used in these pages; old-timers (and some of us younger folks) know to refer to that tragic period as the War Between the States. There are a lot of little things like this that help make this book so special to me. As an added bonus, you will learn the difference between ghost dogs and dog ghosts, and you will even get to find out why dogs' lips are black and why dogs chase cats.

Finally, this book is a work of art. The care and effort that went into the production of this book deserve some kind of award. Besides the touching cover photo of a boy and his dog, there are old-time photos of men and women, girls and boys, blacks and whites and their dogs interspersed throughout the book. These pictures are not pictures of the dogs whose tales are told in these pages, but they give the book a wonderful, personal touch that evokes the kinds of feelings that are only understood by dog lovers the world over.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 9 July 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.