A Dog Called Harry by Jill Baker

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

After reading the promotion to the publication of this book, I supposed that Harry had to be a very exceptional dog. Jill Baker, the author and devoted owner of Harry, suffered within a year, the death of her beloved husband, George, and a diagnosis and subsequent treatment for breast cancer.

For her, it was indeed, the year from hell.  She was in deep depression, not able to enjoy life with her habitual enthusiasm.

Not only did she miss her husband of twenty years who was also a very dear friend, but she reeled with the shock at the fragility of her existence and the ordeal of chemotherapy and radiation. She was both physically and spiritually ill.

Jill was fortunate in that she had a very perceptive and caring GP, who suggested she needed the distraction and companionship of a dog. Reluctantly she agreed and Harry entered her life.

There follows the account of how the little Cavoodle (King Charles Spaniel and Poodle) created a new life for her, restored her longing to engage in the world around her again, and helped her to live with the loss of George.

In addition, Harry made it possible for Jill to live happily on the city once more. For years she had worked in Melbourne and retreated to the farm which she and George had established in the country.  She loved the weekend life on the farm, the animals and the seasons. It was another hurdle having to sell it and live permanently in the city. Her feelings for her husband and the life on the farm were inextricably mixed.

The book is not exclusively about Harry. Jill Baker is a highly respected journalist. She writes of her progress in the profession and the lessons she had to learn. She does this with a rollicking, self- deprecating humour.  She is very fond of the metaphor and produces some hilarious comparisons. This is one of the most enjoyable features of the memoir.

She tells of her relationship with George, his dream of having a farm and animals, and there are harrowing details of her breast cancer diagnosis and the treatment that ensued.

However, the book belongs to Harry. Jill chooses him as a pup and instantly is bewitched by his boisterous charm. There is her visit to the pet superstore where she was convinced she must have every doggie “need” from a wraparound beanbag with battery-run ticking heart, to a vast range of food and treats which would fill an extensive menu…  He is obsessed with food, especially the fridge which contained most things he liked to devour. So focused on this was he initially, he refused to go for walks as that entailed his leaving the kitchen and all the food it contained.

His sleeping demands, sharing her king-sized bed, are a nightmare. It is incredible that the sleep- deprived Jill was able to get to work the following day.

This dog’s antics are lovingly described at length. So clever is he in shaping his puppy heaven, with Jill’s unflagging help, that she has no time to think of the past and the sadness that had choked her life, prior to Harry’s appearance.

If the reader is contemplating getting a small dog, this would provide a very entertaining handbook. It prepares us to be ready to share couches, beds and food. Look forward to boundless enthusiasm and unending determination to bow to the dog’s wants and likes. A small fortune is an asset should the vet be required, as well as ensuring there is a constant supply of treats and chicken necks!

There has always been a dog in my life so I love them dearly. A Dog Called Harry is very entertaining and moving. He works his magic and restores Jill’s well-being and joy in living.

For me, Harry’s antics became a bit tedious by the time I’d reached the final third of the book. He is spoilt, indulged and at times very naughty.

All this is forgiven if one considers what an outstanding success the GP’s advice to Jill Baker proved to be.

A great read for dog lovers and anyone who believes in the benefits of pets.

A Dog Called Harry

[2020]

by Jill Baker

Hachette Australia

ISBN  978 0 7336 4267 8

$32.99; eBook $14.99; 319 pgs. 

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