by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Once a Dog, by Shaune Lafferty Webb.
Capalaba, Qld, Australia, Jaffa Books, May 2018, trade paperback, $17.00 (319 pages), Kindle $4.15.
Once a Dog is told from the viewpoint of Jesse B. Collie, a young dog on the farm of Mister Overlord. He is no longer a puppy, but he is still too young to be trained to work like Mother, an experienced sheepdog, so he romps happily around the farmyard with his littermates Lil, Zac, Pixie, and Toby. Mister and Missus Overlord are too busy to play with him, but Oldmister Overlord – Mister Overlord’s father, now retired – plays fetch and other games with him.
The first chapter establishes the dogs’ vocabulary. The sun and moon are hot-ball and cold-ball; day and night are bright-light and slight-light; humans are uprights; dogs are packers; sheep are dumbfluffs; barnyard fowls are jumpfly-gabblegabbles, and so on.
One night there is a commotion in the farmhouse, and the next day Oldmister Overlord does not come out to play with Jesse. The reader can tell that he has died the night before, but Jesse only knows that he does not come out any more. Maybe he went away in the strange rolling-house (an ambulance or hearse) that came that night. When Mister and Missus Overlord soon leave in Truck, and Missus Overlord doesn’t close the farm gate tightly, Jesse sets out to follow them and find Oldmister Overlord. They lead him farther than he expects, into the nearby small town which has a bewildering confusion of uprights.
“He had made a big mistake and strayed into hostile territory. And for that, there was only one solution. He’d just have to try harder to smell his way out. So he lowered his nose to the ground, but that prompted an immediate sneeze. Just as he’d feared, the jumble of smells was awfully confusing. And he couldn’t trust his hearing all that well, either. His desperate attempts to single out the unique frequency of any one upright among the discordant sounds around him failed repeatedly, leaving him no choice but to continue down the road almost completely exposed and defenseless. Those packers who had signed at the bush [dogs that had urinated on a bush] had passed this way, too; he could still smell them sure enough.” (p. 29)
Jesse tracks Mister and Missus Overlord into the church where Oldmister Overlord’s funeral is being held. Mister Overlord leads Jesse into Truck (it’s the first time he’s ever been in Truck; he likes the wind blowing through his fur even more than playing ball with Oldmister) and drives him home. Jesse tells his siblings the exciting things that he saw and did, and when Zac doesn’t believe him, he jumps over the fence to prove it to Zac.