I don't actually like dogs, but I did like this book.
Having recently lost a partner who left me with her grieving (with a walnut sized brain? I'm not sure) cat, I read this book because I've read other of Doty's books about grief, including the lyrical haunting and ultimately wise Heaven's Coast and because I'm interested in the relationship between grieving humans and grieving pets and, of course, grieving humans and other grieving humans. Dog Years illustrates both.
Dog Years details the lives (well mostly the emotional lives, to be sure) of two of Doty's dogs: Arden and then Beau, in the time of the death and aftermath of Doty's partner Wally. Doty's calls his the dogs "secret heroes of my own vitality" and it is clear at many points throughout the book that Doty is borrowing the will to live from one or more of his dogs at any given moment. During a visit to the vet, when both Beau the dog, and Doty's partner Wally are ill, Doty says “I'm kneeling at a bloody room in the bottom of the world and I can see right where we're going but I push that feeling down and thank the technician.” On the way home, Beau steals Doty's glove, his favorite trick. Doty says of the dog in that moment“[he is] all happiness, he knows just what to do.”
There is no deliberate conclusion that Doty makes from this or similar interactions but the reader is left to wonder if the fact that Doty's dogs recognize joy even in grief part of what he finds so sustaining in his life with them.