The best books about dogs who make us better humans

The Books I Picked & Why

Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself

By Julie Barton

Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself

Why this book?

Put a golden retriever on a book cover and I’m sold. From the opening scene, when Julie has a panic attack in her New York kitchen, I was pulled into this heart-cracking memoir about a young woman haunted by unresolved childhood trauma. She tries all the usual methods to combat depression, from therapy to Zoloft, yet the magic pill is found in the love of a golden retriever named Bunker. Having something else to take care of helped Julie get outside her own head. I felt a kinship with Julie; that sometimes the way a dog looks at you with such love in their eyes is the only thing that can make up for the ways we weren’t seen as kids.


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Free Days with George: Learning Life's Little Lessons from One Very Big Dog

By Colin Campbell

Free Days with George: Learning Life's Little Lessons from One Very Big Dog

Why this book?

This has to be the coolest story of reinvention – man gets unexpectedly dumped by his wife, moves to a California beach town, rescues a 140-lb neglected Newfoundland, and teaches him how to surf with him on his longboard. Man and dog are both traumatized, and the scenes of their slow dance around one another in a tiny apartment are so sweet and awkward, like the slapstick 80’s sitcoms I grew up watching. I love stories like this that make me believe in fate, that Colin and his dog George were destined to give each other a second chance. When they start winning dog surf competitions, I was cheering out loud. It’s quirky, brilliant, and badass all wrapped in one. 


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Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You

By Clive D.L. Wynne

Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You

Why this book?

As I’m writing this, my golden retriever Edie is resting her head in my lap, eyes closed in contentment. Domesticated dogs have learned to love humans because we feed and shelter them, of course, but now that I’m living with my third golden retriever, I’m certain there’s something deeper happening. I just can’t prove it. But canine behaviorist Clive Wynne is using his own scientific lab, DNA tests, measuring oxytocin levels, and embarking (pun oh so intended) on a globe-hopping research trip with a stop at a wolf sanctuary (!) to prove that I’m right - dogs really do care about us. I feel so smug.


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Lily and the Octopus

By Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus

Why this book?

Each time I bring a new dog home, I know the price I’ll pay later is outliving them. I read Lily and the Octopus, a novel about a man caring for his 12-year-old dachshund as she succumbs to a brain tumor, shortly after I put down my 12-year-old golden Stella. It’s so lonely to lose a dog, but I found great comfort in reading about another person’s undying love for his companion. Although I needed Kleenex to read this book, it was also funny – he talks to Lily about cute boys, and there’s a quirky touch of magic realism – he sees the tumor as a talking octopus growing out of her forehead. Rowley made me focus on the simple ways Stella made me happy and reminded me that those memories were her lasting gift. 


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Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

By Lauren Fern Watt

Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

Why this book?

This is a book about finding unconditional love with a dog when you never got it at home. Lauren and I both had aloof mothers. Mine was lost in post-divorce depression and hers to alcohol and pills. For daughters like us, the unconditional love of dog isn’t just nice, it’s vital. Lauren takes her 160-lb English Mastiff to college, and afterward to a micro-apartment in New York, making every ridiculous accommodation she can for her giant dog. But when Gizelle gets sick, Lauren creates a bucket list full of steak dinners and winter beach visits to make sure her most loyal friend has the best life possible of what remains. This book reminded me that dogs have such a grace about how they love us, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us humans could love that bravely? 


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