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Context: My husband's two daughters send him books about dogs, which despite being on the New York Times Bestseller list at some point, inevitably upset him, because although he can still read, his comprehension is confused and he forgets he's read the books, so he'll re-read them, over and over. The worst was The Art of Racing in the Rain, a novel by Garth Stein, which starts out with the dog dying, lying in his own urine. The dog is the narrator as he recounts, in flashbacks, his master's life going from one horrible event to another.


The second most awful book was Marley & Me, life and love with the world's worst dog, written by John Grogan about a real life pet and all that the author and his family learned from the experience. I mentioned this book to my daughter and she suggested I hide it, having taken her youngest son to the movie based on the book. He got so upset, they left after the first half-hour.


Which brings me to the last book, Only a Dog, A Story of the Great War, by Bertha Whitridge Smith, c.1917, with the inscription: To THOSE DEVOTED AMERICANS who are giving their lives to the relief of suffering in Europe. They are dwelling on the hill-tops, and it will be their privilege to see the first glow of the dawn of a new WORLD CONSCIENCE.


Then there is the author's note: This story of the bravery of a man, the faithfulness of a dog, the kind heart of the British Tommy, and the wanton cruelty of the German "Hun", is quite true, and was given to me by Major Edgar, R.A.M.C.(of Montreal) with his kind permission to elaborate it into its present form. It all happened near Armentieres in Flanders, and it is there, that anyone who cares to look may find the big grave with the little one beside it, both marked by the same cross, and on it the legend, NO. 678962---PRIVATE RICE and "ARMY".


An additional note from the author states that Whatever money comes from the sale of this little book will be used for materials to make dressings for the wounded soldiers of the Allies, and it is perhaps not too much to hope that little Army's life-story may be the means of easing the suffering of many brave soldiers like "P'te. Rice". (Ironically, I picked up this from the free shelf at the library and just saw it selling on ebay for $200.)


I read the books so that I can explain certain things or soften the blow, because the dogs always die in the end. With this last book, I tried to explain that "Army" was like the pet therapy dogs that come once or twice a month to the Adult Day Care Center. My husband had many dogs in his past and reading the books brings back sad memories.


I picked up a paperback written by a Marine who served in Afghanistan, and found a stray dog, that they trained to detect IEDs. The soldier went to extraordinary lengths to bring the dog back to the USA and succeeded, then he adopted the dog, and the dog is alive when the book ends. My husband loved that book, but then told one of his daughters that bomb-sniffing dogs came to "his new job" all the time. He thought they also were trained to smell dead bodies. This was one of those times I just let it be.

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