The Dog with the Old Soul: True Stories of the Love, Hope and Joy Animals Bring to Our Lives

By Jennifer Basye Sander. Harlequin. $12.95.

Don’t let the title fool you on this anthology: It’s also the title of the first short story. There are 26 others, including vignettes featuring whales in Baja California, a bird sanctuary, horses, kittens, cats and more dogs, of course.

The title subject, a basset hound renamed Bridgette after being adopted from a New York shelter not without incident, becomes the steadying force and surrogate child in the author’s angst-filled household after she is diagnosed with infertility and later faces testing and surgery.

Other accounts deal with Donna, a Guide Dog raiser who attends the graduation of Llama, a golden retriever, then receives a call years later that the arthritic-ridden dog is being retired and inquiring if she would be interested in bringing Llama “home” again. Ironically, Llama returns home at a time when Donna’s husband is in the final stages of gastric cancer. Today Llama and Donna are rarely separated, with the giving golden bringing “that love back to Donna when her need was the greatest.”

A few others: “Transforming U,” details how an unwanted former wild horse named Freedom provides a jump start to the life of a journalist after her “seemingly-solid 24-year marriage” comes unraveled; “Spotty’s Miracle” focuses on a how a 2-pound gift of a disabled dog becomes a life teaching lesson for a couple, one of whom is disabled, which are later given Spotty’s twin sister, Sophie, after Spotty’s early death; “Kissing the Whale” in Baja California details the writer’s breathtaking visit to a gray whale nursing ground where the cetaceans maneuver right up alongside the fishing boats carrying whale watchers and allow themselves to be stroked and patted – and sometimes kissed; and “Hammer,” the endearing story of an emaciated and diseased pit-bull that is one of five seized from an unfit caretaker, briefly rehabilitated (“The next thing I knew, his huge front paws were on my shoulders and this fierce guard dog was give me sloppy dog kisses” (after a bath and massage) in a shelter before being euthanized days later, since he is deemed unadoptable.

The friendly, first-person presentations reflect wise, warm and compelling storytelling that capture both the combustible and complex feel of the human-animal bond. After each densely-packed narrative, I found myself taking a deep breath to digest the heady mix of soul and sensibility I had just read.