Long, long ago when I was a little girl, I learned how to read when I was only three, so by the time I was six or seven I was already in the habit of scouring bookshelves for something exciting. Stuffed away on a shelf in my aunt’s bedroom was a battered hardcover book with the picture of a collie on the front. The book was Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, and it made me fall in love with collies.
Terhune wrote in the 1920’s and 30’s, and you can tell by his attitude towards certain groups of people, especially the “hill folk.” But taking into account the perceptions of the times, Terhune’s writing is quite enjoyable to me still. he wrote prolifically about his own collies that he raised at his estate, Sunnybank, in New Jersey, as well as making his dogs stars of their own fiction books (I kid you not). Many of his short stories are about other dogs he knew, and how much of his tale is embroidery and how much is fact – well, your decision probably depends on what you think of dogs.
Collies were Terhune’s passion, and he does sometimes go over the top a bit, waxing eloquently about their intelligence, obedience, and all-around awesomeness, but in some ways it’s endearing to see him so enthusiastic.
Over the years, I’ve collected quite the stash of Terhune books, and I’m honestly a bit surprised that this is somehow the first one that I’ve reviewed on this blog. While The Way of a Dog isn’t my favorite of his books, it’s still a solid collection of short stories.
The first half of the book is several chapters about one of Terhune’s own dogs, a blue merle named Gray Dawn. Gray Dawn already made an appearance in another collection of short stories, and these are Terhune’s response to his readers who apparently enjoyed the first batch of tales. Gray Dawn is, of course, intrepid and intelligent, but Terhune still paints a realistic picture of a dog who, in his own words, was “in the midst of the hobbledehoy age. In spirit and temperament, too, he was infuriatingly bumptious; the very soul of destructive mischief.”
Throughout his stories, Terhune generally speaks in the third person, referring to himself as the Master and his wife as the Mistress. In Terhune’s writing, he practically worships his wife. She is painted as all that is good, gentle, far-seeing, thoughtful, and kind. She is intelligent, with a strong sense of humor and justice. If there is ever a difference of opinion between them, it is the Mistress’s inclination that is invariable proven to be the correct one.
And so, it is the Mistress who sees Dawn’s true potential, despite his penchant for “doing the wrong thing, not only at the wrong time, but all times.” We follow Dawn through a few chapters of adventures, concluding with his death. Terhune genuinely mourns the passing of his chum – “I missed him, and I still miss him, more bitterly than a mere collie should be missed. His going took something unsparable out of my life.” Perhaps only someone who is truly a dog person can understand the sentiment.
The rest of the book – two-thirds, probably – are random stories, each chapter unto itself, of dogs who prove themselves loyal and intelligent. (Some stories are true, others are fiction. Terhune leaves it for you to decide which are which.) They are stories that would probably bore someone who doesn’t like dogs, but I always find them to be great fun. Terhune is a warm writer, able to sketch his characters with a few select lines. While his books are nothing of depth or intrigue, the fact that Terhune loves collies, and loves people who love them, comes through, and gives life and interest to his writing. Recommended for all dog lovers.