“Bulu: African Wonder Dog”

By Dick Houston. Random House. $15.99.


This is marketed as a middle-grade children’s book, but it’s an invigorating, heartwarming adult read as well.


Bulu is a part Jack Russell terrier, owned by Anna and Steve Tolan, retired former English police officers who left their life behind to live in the African bush, care for orphaned animals and build an education center for local children. 


Upon adopting Bulu (means wild dog in the local Nyanja language) in Zambia, the couple is warned by a friend, that getting a dog “will bring you nothing but heartache.” That proves somewhat prophetic.


Bulu, however, quickly emerges as their best friend and incredible partner, serving as a foster parent and spiritual soul mate to a wide mix of orphaned baby animals ¬– vervet monkeys, baboon, bushbuck (antelope), elephant and two warthogs.


But Bulu’s adventures are also cause for plenty of reader angst, too. I found myself hoping the Tolans carried a long leash to rein in the dog who narrowly avoids drowning in a nearby river, escapes death in a crocodile encounter, is nearly blinded from a snake bite, suffers a major infection from tsetse fly bites (No. 1 killer of domestic animals in Africa) and miraculously dodges death after an encounter with a lion. How he survived the latter is anyone’s guess, since lions seldom leave survivors.


Even the locals are in awe of Bulu’s ability to survive in an environment whose inhabitants view him as prey.  He does, however, encounter many close calls and is rushed to an unsanitary nearby veterinary clinic on numerous occasions and flown to another upscale facility for care and medications.


A beaming Joseph, one of the nearby school children while visiting the education center, says it best, “Bulu. He big brother to baby animals. Bulu make them like family. They be orphans no more.”


Bulu’s heart-wrenching journey and kindred spirit is a colorful mosaic of life on the wild side packaged refreshingly with vivid, ragged slices of life that will tug at your emotions throughout.