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Literature / A Dog's Life

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A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray is a novel by Ann M. Martin about a feral dog named Squirrel.

Squirrel is born in an abandoned shed by a vacation house occupied by many feral cats, mice, and other small animals. Squirrel and her brother Bone are the only survivors of her litter of five. They live happily with their mother, Stream, until danger causes their mother to abandon them. This is the start of Squirrel's long and difficult life as a feral dog.


This book contains examples of:

  • Abandon the Disabled: Stream abandoned her small son who wouldn't be able to walk. He died a hour after birth.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: Mother dogs name their children after things that are important to them.
  • Animal Talk: Played with. Squirrel's internal monologue implies that animals talk to each other, but the book is in first-person and the only dialogue comes from humans. Squirrel can also understand foxes but not cats, suggesting canines can understand one another.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Subverted with the dog's diet. They scavange from trash bins for most of their food, which leaves them malnourished. It's also shown that some foods, like chocolate, make them ill.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Subverted. Most of Squirrel's owners are neglectful at best and abusive at worst, however they're not evil.
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  • Death of a Child: Squirrel's mother gave birth to Bone, Squirrel, one runt, and two stillborns. The runt lasted under a hour because Stream ignored him.
  • Ear Notch: Moon gains a tear in her ear after a fight with a group of dogs.
  • Informed Conversation: This is how animals communicate in the novel. It's mentioned in the narration that they're communicating, but the only dialogue shown comes from the few human characters.
  • Interspecies Friendship:
    • As a puppy, Squirrel and her brother befriended a cat called Yellow Man.
    • Though Squirrel mainly avoids humans, she does end up befriending a few friendly ones such as a boy named Mathias and an elderly woman named Susan who adopts her.
  • Look Both Ways: Trying to hunt a squirrel, Moon and Squirrel cross a road only to get hit by a car. Moon dies on impact. The owners of the car end up temporarily adopting Squirrel, however they're very neglectful and end up abandoning her.
  • Missing Mom: Stream left one day and didn't come back. It's unknown if she died, was captured, or just ran off.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Squirrel befriends Moon because she looks so much like Bone would have as an adult.
  • Shown Their Work: The writer worked with shelters to make a book about an accurate stray dog experience.
  • Stray Animal Story: Deconstructed. Squirrel is born a stray but it's a miserable, lonely life for a dog. Squirrel is constantly in pain, she's always hungry, and she frequently has to avoid humans and other dogs. She's also abused by almost every human she comes across. It isn't until her senior years that she finds happiness with an old woman who takes her in.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Squirrel is abandoned by the women who took in her brother because she wasn't as cute as Bone.

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