The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and his People
© 2021 Rick Bragg
There’s no bond like that between a boy and his dog – except, maybe, that of an old man and his dog. Rick Bragg never meant to adopt “Speck”, the mangy and parasite-ridden stray who arrived in his yard one day; he just encountered the dog while sitting under a tree and offered it food – and friendship. Beginning with nothing more than the intention of nursing the sad spectacle back to health, Bragg wound up letting the heeler join his growing pack of adopted strays and letting the chaos that ensued buoy him out of a rough time in his own life. Struggling with the death of a relative and his own renal and cardiac issues, Bragg found the lovable but extremely problematic new ward a welcome distraction. Speckled Beauty is both a memoir of a man and a dog finding one another, and an author’s reflection on growing older.
Of all the Bragg books I’ve yet read, Speckled Beauty instantly rises to the top of the pile; it’s hard to go wrong with a dog book, especially when combined with Bragg’s personal style and humor. The initial appeal lies in how troublesome Speck is; a born herder, the dog constantly harrasses the cats and provokes Bragg’s mules and donkeys, creating a stampede so that it can do what it was born to do: move `em out! Any idea of a drowsy retirement in the country is put to pasture by the presence of Speck, who runs half-blind at full throttle and is perfectly capable of destroying a barbed-wire fence through sheer impact. Part of the fun for dog owners, of course, is that we recognize our own quarrelsome roommates in Speck. To this Bragg weaves in the family stories that he’s made a career out of, as he, his brother, and his mom all try to come to peace with their farm’s new resident; because all three members of his family are having health issues, Speckled includes ruminations on old age and the inevitablity of death.
Despite that, however, this is a funny, warm book — a definitely win for any dog lovers.