Wild Dogs is a tale of belonging, yearning and rejection, a group of people joined in a hopeless quest to recover their lost dogs, connected by that hope in a manner that lends urgency to their nightly vigil at the edge of the woods. The wild dogs symbolize impermanence, the futility of ownership, though many are fooled into believing otherwise.
Alice is lonely, vulnerable; it is through her perspective that we view the others, the enigmatic lover she enjoys for so brief a time, relinquished almost as soon as the words are spoken; the emotionally damaged painter, Malcolm, who offers Alice a temporary home; the stray boy, Jamie, battling the demons of adolescence and unhappiness at home with youthful bravado; and the helpless Lily, her innocence a terrible trap that will betray her. Time is suspended for these weeks of waiting and watching; but reality intrudes, breaking the fragile ties of friendships built on mutual need.
Alice quickly realizes the attraction between these strangers, the rebellious boy, the brain-damaged young woman, the confused artist and the research biologist: they are all afraid of the people who have the power to send their dogs into the void. It is only natural to navigate toward shared comfort, to pair up together: "Because we had all suffered the same loss, we bonded with an immediacy that I now realize was premature and foolish." Although Alice is the primary focus of the novel, the others are equally fraught with self-doubt, empathizing with the wild dogs that once were their pets, sensing some of this errant wildness in themselves. Alice falls hopelessly in love with the research biologist, fashioning a romance that may not be all that she hopes for, that leaves her desolate once more: "I lay down with dying in my bones. I lay down under the sweet, anxious sorrow of you."
Fate intervenes, shattering the bonds these strangers have forged. Relinquishing their dreams of recovery, all are changed by the actions that violate the imperturbability of the wilderness. The other characters complete this strange scenario, each leaving an imprint upon a short season of life at the edge of the woods; yet it is Alice who is most changed, embracing the future, her spirit expanded: "The heart is a wild and fugitive creature. The heart is a dog who comes home." Luan Gaines/2006.