by Ernesto Bethancourt
Many children’s books revolve around animals personified as humans who have a problem and set out to solve said problem. Children like animals and, through the magic of writing, can relate to them because they speak and have feelings just like the reader. However, breaking down the barrier between true animal and human behavior is accomplished seamlessly in the 1976 young adult novel, The Dog Days of Arthur Cane. It is a necessary read for anyone over the age of 13 (there are a few “adult” themes, such as references to alcohol and drinking).
Arthur Cane is a typical upper-middle class teenage boy. When he gets into an argument with an African exchange student, James, about “witch doctors” and the existence of devils, James uses traditional African shamanistic chants to turn the arrogant and ignorant Arthur into a mutt for the summer. Arthur wakes up to find his life completely changed, starting with physical changes, then luxuries of everyday life as a human, to the inability to communicate with others, causing him to be very cautious and able to trust. However, as a dog, he still has human thoughts and feelings, which allows him to be a “special” and unusual dog,and the reader truly understands the life of a canine, especially a mutt who is homeless and trying to adapt.
Arthur encounters the best of people, like a musician who treats him as a friend, as well as the worst, including a man who purposely gave him poisoned meat and left him to die. It is not only a beneficial coming of age story for animal lovers, but for everyone. It teaches equality and tolerance, as well as shares the truth about cruelties of the world. Like many timeless stories, the philosophies shared in this text are still relevant today. It seems the author hoped that not only Arthur would walk away with a new outlook on life.