If you think this book will make you cry, you are probably correct. What I didn’t expect though, is how sweet and funny it would be on top of the tears.

Told through the perspective of the dog who is reborn after each death, A Dog’s Purpose spans across four lifetimes of the dog; Toby, Bailey, Ellie, and Buddy. The author, W. Bruce Campbell, tackles much larger questions than that of the life of each dog: What is our purpose? Why are we here? Who am I?

Through each life, the dog learns a little bit more about purpose and what it means to simply be. His first life begins as a puppy born to a feral mother. He learns how to scrounge, how to run when he needs to run and how to trust humans even when his mother encourages him to do the opposite. He is sold to a shelter that is not licensed and is named Toby. He is happy in his new world, filled with good food, toys, and new friends. Sadly, this life ends almost as abruptly as it began.

He is born again to a new family, with a nagging sense that he must do something. What that thing is, he is unable to put his finger (paw?) on. With that feeling always in his head, he sets out to escape this new life. He is rescued by a woman who brings him home to a boy who names the dog Bailey. The word “boy” quickly becomes equivalent to the best things in life; love, laughter and joy.

In his third life, he is born as a female German Shepherd which provides a few moments of comedic relief. Ellie, as the dog is renamed, is a search and rescue dog. Her purpose is clear: to Save. She is a hero and even when she does retire, there are still plenty of jobs for her to do. Surely, this job, this purpose, and all her other lives have taught her what the purpose of a dog truly is.

Until the dog is born yet again. Buddy, as he is called in his fourth life, starts his final adventure and must call upon and remember all his other lessons as he is put to the test.

This book could have easily fallen into a sermon about what it means to be a living creature in this tension fraught world of ours, but W. Bruce Campbell easily avoids those pitfalls with wit, dignity, and a fair dose of sadness. There are humorous bits to balance it out, particularly those involving other animals, and it’s affecting in the depiction of a dog’s inborn desire to please humans. It will no doubt make the pet owners remember past pets fondly and look, perhaps, a little differently at the dogs that currently occupy parts of their lives. If you are a dog lover and buying this book, you might want to stop by and get some tissues as well. By the conclusion of the book the reader is able to undoubtedly come to the answer of the questions that the dog started out with. I’ll not ruin it, but the examination of the love shared by dogs and their owners is a singular one and W. Bruce Campbell does it justice.  

A Dog's Purpose