Follow the Dog Home

By Bob, Samantha and Kevin Walsh. Sweet Tea Books. $19.95.

If there was ever a doubt about the value of a dog in a family’s lifestyle, this poignant narrative will dispel that. Three generations of a New England family beautifully capture the galvanizing impact of a wide mix of pooches in their lives, from childhood to golden years.

The Introduction paints the scenario: “Dogs are bridges to our past and our future, connecting people and generations like nothing else can, and nothing else will. They are institutions that have stood the test of time and transcend individual life. It doesn’t get much better than experiencing a parent’s joy in seeing his or her child fall in love with a puppy.”

But one profound sentence on the following page captures it even better: “Dogs ground us when time and technology change us in every facet of life.” And from that point on Bob, 72-year-old Grandpops or Dad; Kevin, 41, who is Bob’s son and Samantha’s dad; Samantha, 10, passionately reflect how.

Their dogs not only instill values, but open doors and reveal answers to the past, like Bob learning one of his early pooches, Dee Dee, a smooth fox terrier, was poisoned when he thought it had run away, and how a photo in his father’s suitcase of Bob and Dee Dee led the family back to the same home decades later and a welcoming get-together with the present owners.

Bob’s canine collection through the years includes a mongrel, Dalmatian, cocker spaniel, St. Bernard, Cairn terrier, golden retriever and corgi, all with distinctive personalities, a galaxy of challenges, special memories and some untimely deaths from accidents and health issues, leaving a major void in most cases.

“With a few gaps in time, dogs had always been a part of my life,” says Bob, “and certainly the lives of our children. They weren’t just animals; they were an extension of our family. They guarded our house, slept in and under our beds and cribs, connected us with neighbors in ways that humans couldn’t.”

Being dogless, simply doesn’t work for Bob, a trait he has passed on to Kevin and Samantha. On a ride home after purchasing Susie, a golden retriever puppy that was to eventually find four homes within the family and become the bedside partner of his first wife Carol who died of brain cancer, Bob says, “I felt old in wisdom, but young at heart. I remembered all the dogs I had and all the dogs I’d lost. I remembered the joy of my father bringing home a new dog and the excitement of starting over.”

German shepherds are young Samantha’s first love, particularly Beverly, which the family purchases from an Amish breeder and which Kevin characterizes as “the consummate companion and protector of our house and family” and “a sweetie with an edge.” Because dogs give us leadership and obedience opportunities to experiment with, Beverly has been the consummate partner for Samantha to develop those skills.

Dogs are the conduit here for all to discover the heart and soul of what old-fashioned family values are all about and savor the celebration of life in the process.