Author Seishū Hase’s peerless powers of observation shine in these seven short stories about dogs and their people. Tales entitled “Chihuahua,” “Borzoi,” “Shiba Inu,” “Welsh Corgi Pembroke,” “German Shepherd,” “Jack Russell Terrier,” and “Bernese Mountain Dog” demonstrate these animals’ deeply penetrating understanding of their masters, offering readers many a new discovery across the pages.
As a longtime owner of a Bernese mountain dog, Hase clearly has a special place in his heart for the breed, and the finely crafted final story is unlikely to leave the eyes of any reader dry. Cata (from the Spanish Catalina) is an eight-year-old female—a large dog of over 80 pounds. As summer gives way to fall, she is diagnosed with histiocytic sarcoma. Her condition affects multiple organs throughout the body, and no life-saving treatment is known. Wishing to spare Cata the debilitating side effects of anti-cancer drugs, narrator Shin and his wife Suzuko choose alternative therapies to make the dog’s final months as comfortable as possible. As a freelance graphic designer, Shin can work from anywhere, so in mid-October he arranges to borrow a college-era friend’s cottage in Karuizawa and moves there with Suzuko and Cata for the dog’s remaining days. The terrain in the area is more akin to that of alpine Switzerland where the Bernese mountain dog breed originated. Remembering how much Cata enjoyed gamboling about the hills and forests on previous visits, Shin hopes that it may give her at least a modicum of added strength to cope with her disease. He determines to never leave her side for a moment, vowing that when her time comes, “The last thing you see will be my face.” They bring in the new year together, and Shin sees Cata through her final days at the end of March as spring begins.
Dogs and humans are soulmates, Shin believes, but he also wonders if these bonds are something of a one-way street. His conviction that it is dogs who have a genuinely deep understanding of their human masters carries the ring of a message from the author in a deeply moving collection that is certain to capture readers’ hearts, whether or not they are dog lovers.