Dancing Dogs: Stories

By Jon Katz. Ballantine Books. $24.

Author of 21 books, Katz’s first foray into the short-story corridor is an emotional bumpy ride.

From heartwarming to heartbreaking, it is a celebration of life in the letting-go process one minute and a loving, get-acquainted with a shelter underdog the next.

It gets off to a resounding start with “Gracie’s Last Walk,” where an owner’s beloved golden retriever Gracie dies at home and she is left uncertain how to dispose of the body. When her veterinarian tells her to get the body to his office and he will have it cremated, this New York City woman must become creative. In the process, she is ordered by two New York City policemen to leave a subway car and walk the remainder of the distance to her veterinarian’s office while passersby give her confused looks as she speaks to what’s inside a suitcase.

It was Gracie, on which Carolyn piled up thousands of dollars in credit-card bills, that was there for her through her mother’s death and her boyfriend walking out on her after five years. So what’s she to do but follow the veterinarian’s instruction and make certain she is there for her soul mate to the finish line.

After reaching the vet hospital and paying for cremation costs, Carolyn finds herself confronted by an unexpected option that offers her new Faith and an upbeat hope.

“Yankee Dog” focuses on Lizbeth, a donut-shop worker who defines the periods of her life by the dogs she has owned. Facing $2,400 in vet bills, her husband Frank adamantly tells her no more dogs after 29 years of marriage. But when a co-worker informs Lizbeth about a rescue beagle she spotted on Petfinder, whose owner had died of a stroke and the dog was found starving in the home, it piques Lizbeth’s interest.

Well, you can guess the rest and who becomes beagle Owen’s best friend.

“Surrender Bay” is yet another emotion twister dealing with Emma, a young woman who sees the worst of pet owners who dispatch their animals in the middle of the night at a shelter’s “Surrender Your Animals” bay, then speed off, never bothering to look in their rear-view mirror.

“She remembered a beagle was sitting in his crate howling. A note was taped onto the front of the crate door: ‘My name is Darryl. My owners have lost their home and their jobs. They can’t really afford me anymore, and they hope you will find a great home for me and make sure that I am loved and cared for. Thank you. Please keep me alive,’ “ Katz writes.

Like most shelters, this is filled up daily and operating on a tight budget. This meant many animals had to be euthanized weekly to make room for others. “Emma made it an article of faith to say good-bye to all of the animals, taking them out of their cages for a final pet if she could, and if there was time. She was determined that no animal leave the world without some human affection or a proper farewell,” Katz adds.

Gripping and impassioned, each poignant narrative is a sobering reminder that our four-legged friends are never here with us long enough. In that sense, “Dancing Dogs” is a spiritual, if simplified, wakeup call to savor each day with them in their shortened life journey with us.