Ivan is a Good Dog. He wants to do his job correctly, but he doesn’t have an owner, and without a boss he doesn’t know what job he should be doing. So he searches, sniffing out food and water to survive. There are occasional glimpses of hope that someone, anyone, will want him, like when a nice woman feeds him a sandwich from her picnic. The deceptive simplicity of Chaffee’s pen and ink drawings captures the optimism fading from Ivan’s face as she tells him she doesn’t have room in her house for a dog and gently, heartbreakingly, shoos him away.
Wherever he goes, Ivan always seems to be outside looking in. His pal Kirby has always had a master and is devoted to the man, despite his owner’s many imperfections. Ivan questions his friend about his living situation. Kirby contentedly describes himself as being in his correct place in the world; he has a master and a Good Dog is always loyal. Ivan isn’t certain this answer satisfies him, though it’s obviously good enough for Kirby.
Ivan then runs into a group of strays who not only don’t have masters, they don’t want them. They prefer to live in a pack as nature intended, led by their top dog, a Malamute named Sasha. The dogs work together to get food, each animal having his part to do in order for them to be successful. Humans, they say, are cruel and wicked, and dogs are better off taking care of themselves. Ivan has a crash course in the politics of the pack, still hunting for his place.
So much of the power of this narrative comes from the stark artwork, with emotions of the characters easily read in the perking of ears or the droop of a tail. There is something poignantly compelling about Ivan’s pursuit that goes beyond a tale of survival. His quest is greater, an allegory for the search we all make to find out where we belong, where we can feel secure, and where we are loved and valued. As one of the characters says: “Dog needs someplace to belong.” Don’t we all.
Recommended for animal lovers or anyone who can empathize with the desperate search for finding out where one fits in.
Search the WRL catalog for Good Dog.