Anyone who’s had a pet that they’ve adored can relate to the stories in A Series of Dogs.
“It’s a memoir of love and loss,” says Chilliwack author, John Auber Armstrong. “They’re not so much dogs as they were really good friends.”
Those friends brought with them many stories and memories that Armstrong shares with the reader.
“When I think of them… it transports me to a place and a time. The dogs remind me of people, places, who I was at that time, and not knowing what was coming.”
Armstrong, and the people who know him well, will admit he was a bit of a hell raiser and problem child. After reading A Series of Dogs, they saw a side of him that they weren’t aware of.
“It’s a side of me that, most of the people who think they know me, don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think they thought that I was this sentimental or thoughtful.”
Armstrong has a background in journalism. He was a reporter and columnist at the Vancouver Sun for 15 years.
A Series of Dogs, published by New Star Books, is his third book. It follows Guilty of Everything — an account of his time in early Vancouver punk band The Modernettes — and Wages, a book chronicling his years as a reporter.
His most recent book is about the canines who have stuck their cold, wet noses and warm hearts into his life.
The book will have you laughing and crying within two pages, he says.
They range from the happy, puppy-tail wagging tales, to the guilty feeling of loving one dog more than another, to the sorrowful death of a loved friend.
A Series of Dogs starts when Armstrong was just a tot and his family’s farm dog, Ruff, would sit at the foot of little John’s highchair happily smiling up at him.
Through the book we meet a string of dogs.
There’s Kiltie, a cocker spaniel who longed for Armstrong’s attention as a young boy but was always second to the puppy, Spooky, who followed him home one glorious day.
We meet Chopper, who, when hearing the lunch bell ring at the neighbouring junior high school, would trot over for his daily all-you-can-eat buffet served by the students.
There’s Mugsy, the $5,000 Rottweiler, Rip the bandmate, and Sluggo.
Armstrong is a big-dog person. He’s especially fond of Rottweilers.
“I’ve had three now and they’re such incredible dogs. They’re so loving. They’re absolutely bonding animals.”
The dogs have come and gone in his life, each leaving a lasting paw print. He’s said goodbye to many furry friends over the years. Anyone who’s had to put a pet down knows the heartache that comes with it.
“To decide the time and place of your friend’s death is a horrible responsibility, but you owe it to them because you took it on,” says Armstrong.
He writes about Rip’s last trip to the vet, the words the veterinarian says, and the pain that comes afterwards — an experience that many pet owners have gone through.
“I’m a real sentimental schmuck. And these were very hard for me to get over, losing these guys.”
But none of the dogs touched his heart quite like Bobo did.
A big, friendly Rottweiler, Bobo came into his life when Armstrong started doing respite work with youth. He would be away for several days in a row working and Bobo was with him 24 hours a day while he worked. Then Armstrong would be home for days and Bobo was still by his side. They were together 24/7.
“I never called him. He would just come to me, he was always there.”
After living in Vancouver’s east end for 30 years, Armstrong moved out to Chilliwack with Bobo to live with his current partner, Penny, and he admits it was a culture shock for Bobo.
“He was an East Side dog, he was a city dog. He’d never done dog things — he’d never swum, he’d never seen anything outside of a cat or a pigeon, or the occasional rat,” he says.
The first day they lived here, Armstrong took Bobo out for a walk and a giant racoon came waddling across the road.
“(Bobo) looked at me like ‘that is one messed up cat’.”
He admits A Series of Dogs was difficult to write at times.
“In a way, (writing this book) is the same tradeoff you make when you take a pet. You know there will be heartbreak at some point, but you’re willing to trade how bad you’ll feel for the years you get,” he says. “I said ‘well this is part of the price. If I want to remember them, I have to go through the heartbreak again.’”
But what is it about dogs that Armstrong was able to write an entire book on?
“I really believe that they exemplify all the best qualities that we wish we had. They give love so freely, they’re loyal, they’re so forgiving,” says Armstrong. “If I was half the man any of my dogs had been, I’d be happy.”
A Series of Dogs is available to purchase at newstarbooks.com for $21, or online at Chapters and Amazon. Additionally, people can purchase the book directly from Armstrong via his Facebook page.