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Kids Fiction 296
Power Struggle in a Furever Home
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Gus is the pack leader at Miss Lottie's house, and has kept the peace well with excitable Roo, loyal and protective bulldog Tank, and the newest addition, Moon Pie, whose owner, Gertie, has passed away. Neighbor Quinn, a tween whose father has passed away and whose family relationships are strained, helps take care of the dogs. There is also a very shy cat, Ghost, with whom Gus has arranged an uneasy détente. When Miss Lottie has the pack meet a new dog, shepherd/husky/Doberman mix Decker, Gus is worried. While Decker reminds Lottie of a childhood dog, Decker is a traumatized, controlling personality whose goal is to be the pack leader and slowly remove all of the other dogs! He manages to get into Lottie's bed, and displace Moon Pie, who is sure that he will soon be going home to Gertie's. Gertie, unfortunately, has passed away, and this is being kept from Moon Pie so as not to make him sad. Decker also has a confrontation with Tank during which he bites his own paw, causing Tank to be caged and leashed away from his friends. Roo has always thought Gus' leadership style was too weak, and starts to follow Decker around as though her were the pack leader. At the same time, Decker tells Moon Pie that he is the weakest member of the pack, and that the other dogs are lying to him. Gertie is at her home, Decker says, and Moon Pie should run away to find her. Ghost overhears this exchange, and tries to tell Gus, but finds it too difficult. Miss Lottie is devastated when she finds out about Moon Pie, and the dogs decide to run away to help find him. With a coyote roaming the neighborhood, this is dangerous for all of the dogs. Will they be able to find their friend and restore peace to their household?
Good Points
Secondhand Dogs has a well developed cast of characters and has the feel of Watership Down in its examination of power structure and group dynamics. Gus is a steady, thoughtful leader who is always motivated by kindness and the best interest of his pack. Tank is a gentle giant who makes sure that his mates feel secure. Roo is the loose cannon-- an excitable hunting dog who doesn't think things through. Moon Pie is sweet and trusting, and just wants to go back to his beloved human, Gertie. Ghost is the odd cat out, who seems to enjoy solitude until there is a chance to be included. Decker is evil on the surface, but improves once the humans understand what his motivations are and intervene. Caring for all of these dogs is Miss Lottie, whose story we don't fully understand until the end, and Quinn, whose work with the dogs helps him process problems in his own life.

As impressive as the character development is, younger readers will enjoy the plot, which is solid and fast moving. Decker's deviousness causes Moon Pie's departure, which has a ripple effect throughout the household. Encounters with rats and coyotes add to the excitement, and there's a little comic relief when Moon Pie is taken in by a woman who smell of "warm pudding and muffins", calls him "bunny-boo", and feeds him roast beef and mashed potatoes! The resolution is worked out well, with all of the animals and humans getting what they need to be happy and healthy.

Like Standish's Bad Bella, Cameron's A Dog's Purpose novels, and Ibbotson's One Boy and His Dog, Secondhand Dogs offers a look at the complex, codependent relationship that dogs and humans have. Readers who have had a dogs in their lives will connect to Gus' love of his pack, Miss Lottie's care of them, and Quinn's investment in an alternate family that ultimately helps him love his own.

I have to say that Moon Pie's love of popcorn and yearning for Gertie had me tearing up frequently; the first time I made popcorn, my new secondhand dog, Pongo, got very excited. His former owners, Bob and Peaches, passed away, and we decided that perhaps he had snuggled with them while enjoying a snack. Now, I make popcorn on the 24th of each month to celebrate my new little guy who, like Moon Pie, just wants to be near me at every moment, and will bark only if I don't give him enough attention the moment I get home from work.
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