I’ve never seen nor read Old Yeller - I just know better. My mom preferred stapling the last couple pages of The Snowman together over having me be repeatedly disappointed that the boy’s wonderful new friend never got to stick around. Bambi didn’t get much airtime in our house, and All Dogs Go to Heaven still makes me feel betrayed (but seriously, shouldn’t the halos on the posters have tipped me off?). Alas, I was a sensitive child.
Taking all that into account, it should be no shock to my readers that I still try to avoid books and films where the non-human lead dies in the end. If you’re like me, just knowing that a book has a lovable (or not so lovable) dog in it tends to be a deterrent because you just know how that’s going to wind up. It doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be a heartwarming death or a senseless one, we instinctively know to steer clear.
Thankfully there are books out there that buck the trend. The best way that I have found to avoid having my emotions brutally toyed with is to get into a series in which the dog happens to be the main character. To help you all out, here are a few series that I would recommend for other softies like me who wouldn’t flinch if the human protagonist got eaten by a tiger, but would cry their eyes out if the author dared to have Rex die peacefully of old age surrounded by a litter of loving offspring.
For kids and young adults:
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Originally introduced in 1963, Clifford has lived to an amazing 213 dog years and shows no sign of decline. The Clifford empire has expanded from simple, delightful softcover books for young readers, to a range of television programming, movies, video games, and toys.
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Harry was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I’m happy to report that, like Clifford, Harry continues to live a long and productive book, DVD, and merchandise life.
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman* by Brian Jacques. This title gets an asterisk because technically the dog is already dead; that’s how the series begins (no real spoilers there). I won’t get into the details, but Ben and his dog companion Ned travel throughout the ages, irrevocably tied to the fate of the famously cursed ship, The Flying Dutchman. As they wander through time the duo get into a series of adventures, befriend an interesting cast of characters, and fight evil when they encounter it. Though these books can be a little bittersweet at times, because Ben and Ned are always forced to move on from their newly established lives, you know that they will not be parted from each other.
The Mrs. Murphy Mystery series, by Rita Mae Brown. I know some dog-loving purists may take issue with the fact that this series was co-authored by Brown’s cat, Sneaky Pie, and features two cat detectives, but hear me out. I personally love Tee Tucker, the lively crime-stopping corgi that plays a big role in all of Brown’s mysteries. I think if you gave the series a chance you’d root for Tee too.
The Chet and Bernie Mystery series, by Spencer Quinn. For those who can’t stomach the idea of their dog hero sharing the spotlight with a couple of cats, there are Chet and Bernie. Failed K-9 cop Chet, the narrator, works with his human companion Bernie as a private eye. These books are full of suspense, humor, and a little bit of canine mischief, that all adds up to very enjoyable reading.
All of the above series have multiple volumes, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your dog hero fix with minimal heartbreak. That should keep your eyes busy and your tails wagging!