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A dog’s life: Labradors are the most popular breed of dog in Britain Rex Features
A dog’s life: Labradors are the most popular breed of dog in Britain Rex Features

Dog books: Walkies on the wild side with Ben Fogle and Joshua Stephens

From Dogs, a Literary Anthology to Dogs of Courage: When Britain’s Pets Went to War 1939-45

The worldwide interweb may now be well and truly made of cats, but where literature is concerned, dogs still lead by the nose. Having acted as a muse for as long as fiction has existed, it’s no wonder that man’s best friend has taken such prime position – if not lying in front of our fireplaces as we read, then in the books we turn to for comfort on a dark winter’s evening.

Dogs, a Literary Anthology (British Library, £12.99) is the ultimate in comfort reading and perhaps the best Christmas gift idea for dog lovers aside from a big bag of excitable puppies. A charming collection of extracts from Dodie Smith to Shakespeare; poetry, prose and anonymous witticisms attest to the longevity of humankind’s love for pets and will warm the heart of any non-believer. As Sir Walter Scott put it: “The one misery of keeping a dog is his dying too soon, but to be sure if he lived for 50 years and then died, what would become of me?”

Resident BBC adventurer Ben Fogle knows as much as any dog lover the value of a pet’s companionship and indeed the ability for our four-legged friends to break hearts. Reading Fogle’s all-too familiar tale of having to say goodbye to his faithful black Labrador for the last time will have readers in tears by the second page. By reading on, one realises that one is among friends who just “get it”. Labrador (William Collins, £20) tells the story of the UK’s most popular breed of dog, tracing them from their roots as intelligent and brave companions to fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada to the British homes they are comfortably found lounging around in. It’s a must-read for anyone with an interest in the history of man’s relationship to dogs, regardless of breed, and Fogle’s typical adventure-style storytelling keeps the narrative light and entertaining.

College dropout and part-time anarchist Joshua Stephens knows a little something about entertaining. The Dog Walker (Melville House, £17.99) tells of his time working in Washington DC as a dog walker to the city’s elite. This was a career chosen partly because – as many readers will empathise – he enjoys the company of animals far more than that of people. The only problem is, the people with the kind of money to pay him and his agency to walk their precious pets are just the kind of corrupt elitists who are part of the establishment he wants to bring down.

Part hilarious memoir entailing anecdotal horrors such as the walking of a cat-eating Labrador named Moses and the reality of picking up faeces every day, The Dog Walker is also very much a collection of the self-indulgent musings of a narcissist. Whatever its purpose, this book is by no means a cute story of dog walks in leafy parks.

Dogs of Courage: When Britain’s Pets Went to War 1939-45 (Corsair, £14.99) tells of some of the incredible ways in which dogs assisted in the war effort both at home and abroad. As author Clare Campbell puts it, it is the story of “humans and dogs, doing something quite remarkable together”.

Pets offered up by families and strays taken from rescue homes were trained up by the thousand to become security guards, patrol dogs accompanying soldiers on the front line or carrying messages in bottles between camps. Despite the very idea of using dogs in the military being laughed at and condemned, they were even trained to detect landmines, eventually helping Britain to reclaim ground and keep thousands of soldiers safe.

Dogs of Courage is a fun and heart-warming take on a lesser-seen side to war and demonstrates the courage and intellect of the nation’s favourite beasts.

Rachael Pells

About The Independent

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