A Useful Dog

useful dog

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A Useful Dog is a short, beautifully presented book by Donald McCaig who lives on a sheep farm in Virginia, helped by border collies and sheep guarding dogs. He also trials collies and writes poetry, novels and essays. The book starts with a poem, then moves on to lambing, setting the scene for an account of sheepdog trials with Gael, a bitch who first appears in 'Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men'. The stories continue with new characters, like a demining dog in Albania. Then we go back to when it all started, the evolution of dogs, and a fast forward to the first dog shows, the unintended consequences of breeding for appearance, and what is being done to offset them. At the same time as dog shows took off, Battersea Dogs Home was born. Today it is a success story. Then we are back in Virginia with more sheepdog stories, which end with a tale of Christmas Eve, orphan lambs sheltering by the wood-burning stove, a half moon and a silent night outside.

The tales are crafted with care, and work on many levels. This is a book to be cherished. It would make a very special present for anyone who wants to understand how it is that dogs and humans have come to mean so much to one another.