I am not a dog person. I dislike getting licked and slobbered on. I can’t stand yapping. When I see the toothpick legs of a skinny little Chihuahua everything in me wants to see how easily they will snap. (At such times, I carefully keep my hands to myself.) At least I have gotten over the terror of dogs I had as a child. That terror was based on my grandfather telling me that the little girl next door didn’t have any ear lobes because a dog jumped up and bit them off. Now, I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine that he actually said that, but for years that belief was the basis of my hysterical screams when a dog came near. I tell you this to let you know that David Wheaton must be quite a writer to have won me over with his book My Boy Ben.
[Disclaimer: I was hired by the publisher to edit this book, but these thoughts are entirely my own.]
A former professional tennis player, David writes with humor and great feeling about the hunting dog that meant so much to him. He describes the difference between Utilitarian dog owners whose dogs sleep out doors and perform functional roles verses Egalitarians who treat their dogs like children. I’m what David calls a DUD (Doesn’t Understand Dogs). Then there are UDLs who don’t care whose dog it is, they are all over it because they are Universal Dog Lovers.
The opening chapters cover the ins and outs of choosing just the right breed from just the right kennel, training him to obey and to be excited about finding birds. Of course a good hunting dog cannot make a beeline for the truck when he hears gun fire. David describes the fascinating process of teaching the dog to associate birds and booms with FUN. Ben is a Labrador puppy with a sweet disposition and an uncanny sense for the hunt. I learned so much from David’s stories and gained a new appreciation for a breeder friend who raises puppies in her kitchen. (Yes, her kitchen, and I have eaten dinner there.)
If you are a dog person, you will eat this up with great appreciation for David’s wit and wisdom. But even a DUD like me found myself wishing for a nice big dog to share the Northwoods.
Unfortunately, as David says, “the dog lover’s journey … inevitably goes from deep love to devastating loss.” The second half of the book is a lot harder to read as David learns that his beloved Ben has prostate cancer, much harder to treat in dogs than in humans. I fear that readers will give up at this point, not wanting to suffer David’s pain, but don’t. It is through the pain that he learns so much about himself and about life and shares so deeply as he learns.
Again, dog lovers will identify closely, but non-dog owners like me will nevertheless be deeply touched by lessons whose application goes far beyond the relationship with a beloved pet. David is a committed believer in Jesus Christ. The loss of Ben threw him on his Savior in ways he never had been before. Through difficult months he wrestles with the age-old problem of how a good God can allow pain and suffering, and even the question of what happens to dogs when they die. I found his answer both satisfying and biblical. The end of the story is a new encounter with God’s grace—both the Big Grace that saved us at the cross, and the little grace that cares about the pain of losing a dog.
Yes, I invested a good deal of myself in the editing of this project, but I did that because I was so thrilled with David’s power to tell a story that resonates with readers and will carry them along with him into a deeper relationship with God.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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