A Dog Called Perth: The True Story of a Beagle, by Peter Martin (Arcade, 2001, 206 pages, $21.95)
An Understated Story with an Understated Title
The year was 1965. You just know something tragic is going to happen but the suspense lies in the how plus exactly what it will be. Will it be in New York, Vermont, England? You sense the tragedy and almost put the book down but you have nothing better to do and it is a small book and you wonder why a book nearly 15 years old is still in the bookstore and library. So you read on and it only gets better.
The year was 1965 and dogs were different back then. Many, including Perth, had the run of the land and were not on a leash very much if at all. Rather like some cats today, Perth would take off right after breakfast, come back if she needed a drink of water, and then you might not see her again until suppertime.
Unfortunately, Perth’s family moved from idyllic upstate New York to a faculty position in an Ohio university. But not for long. They next landed in Florida which was better for dogs than Ohio but with not as much freedom as New York afforded.
How on earth does one train a dog to never cross the road anyway? Or did Perth train herself?
Devoted to You
She was so devoted to her family that she became almost aggressive to nearly all outsiders, to the point of biting them. So, when the family took a sabbatical to England for the summer, they searched and searched for the right spot for Perth, finally finding a girls’ camp in Vermont. But not for long. She did not suffer fools gladly.
What happened next is actually the climax of Perth’s story but is only the middle of the book. It makes me want a Beagle with loving brown eyes.
Quarantine, devotion (both directions), chains, heartbreak, running into a St. Bernard – literally! Perth lived it all and loved to bark about it (or howl).
Perth was unique. Author Peter Martin says it best: “…a life of courage, stamina, adventure, freedom, and survival. . .She had not been everyone’s favorite. But she was a genius among dogs.”
Perth “often flirted with danger, almost as if she were testing her own invincibility.”
Style: yes, part of this book takes place in England but, fortunately, had very few British words I didn’t know (not sure what a heath is, or a moor, or the downs, though). And if you were an English major, the references woven into the story from the bards of British literature will delight you. Though it is a dog book, we don’t quite get to know Perth but we do understand the devotion of Perth’s family.
A Dog Called Perth would make a wonderful family movie, complete with suspense, adventure, and blood-pressure-raising ups and downs.
You can find A Dog Called Perth in book superstores or at your public library.
Story – I give it an A
Style – I give it a B, surprisingly since it was written by an English professor
Note: You may come across two copies of this book - with different publishers, different front covers, etc. This sometimes happens with books. Both books are essentially the same.