Read Harder: A Book With a Beloved Pet Where the Pet Doesn’t Die
I will never be “over” Old Yeller. I will never be “over” silently weeping in an elementary school classroom as That Scene played out on the tube TV that had been wheeled in on the cart because we had a substitute teacher.
The only thing that has changed since that time is that I’m old enough to ask, “Why the heck were we watching that movie anyway?”
As a pet owner, I haven’t grown any more emotionally ready to deal with pet death in books. This list of books that avoid the trope of dead pets is, therefore, my public service to all of those like me.
I have endeavored to keep spoilers to a minimum, while reassuring you on this point: In every book included here, the pets survive the final pages. One final pro tip: If you’re picking up something not on this page and want to double-check the fate of a much-loved animal, try a quick search on the crowdsourced Does the Dog Die? database.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Quite frankly, this is one of the most wholesome books ever written, and Calliope the cranky cat thankfully can agree. Calliope’s human, Linus Baker, is a case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. When he’s sent on a mysterious assignment to the Marsyas Island Orphanage, he meets a pod of delightfully unusual children along with their charming and swoonworthy caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
The only book I would rank above The House in the Cerulean Sea in terms of wholesomeness is O’Neill’s whimsical graphic novel. This all-ages read concerns the care and feeding of pint-sized tea dragons, in a coming-of-age story that never once imperils the adorable creatures. This book hits the same stress-relief nerve as Animal Crossing, but without the capitalism.
Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe
Given my own experience as a child with a seemingly never-ending supply of Dead Dog Books, I wanted to include middle grade options that will not traumatize readers. Eva Evergreen has not had consistent luck with her magic, but she’s determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch by doing good for the town of Auteri. Along for the ride is her safe, secure, and incredibly mischievous flamefox, Ember.
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
And here’s a second option for the kids. This book about 11-year-old Alex Petroski tugs at the heart strings, but thankfully not because of any kind of unfortunate end for Alex’s dog, Carl Sagan. Alex records everything about his life, hoping to send his iPod into space to give others in the universe an idea of what life is like on Earth. Instead, he records a clear picture of his own personal journey and self-discovery.
The Happy Ever Playlist by Abby Jimenez
Good news! The title of this book is not a misnomer, despite a close call at the start of the novel. Tucker is both a trouble- and match-making dog in this romcom, bringing together Sloan and his owner Jason through a quirk of fate. This is a follow-up to Jimenez’s The Friend Zone, but you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one and Tucker’s well-being.
Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
For a pet-friendly cozy mystery, look no further than the Sassy Cat Mystery series. Mimi Lee owns a pet grooming shop in Los Angeles and just so happens to own a talking cat named Marshmallow. And she’ll need Marshmallow’s help when she’s accused of murdering a dirt-bag local breeder.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
On Goodreads, Harrow herself was kind and wise enough to pose and answer the question of whether Bad the dog dies in this novel. To quote the author, “Absolutely not. I would never do you like that.” With that sigh of relief, prepare to lose yourself in this lush portal fantasy of adventure and love found when you stumble upon secret doors. Content warning: While January Scaller’s beloved dog Bad lives, he is injured on the page.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Yes, you can find horror novels without animal death! And there should be more of them! In this one, Mouse is accompanied by her dog Bongo, who is a very good boy, when she journeys to rural North Carolina to clear out her grandmother’s house. But Grandma’s hoard isn’t the scariest thing Mouse and Bongo uncover. There is much supernatural and spooky danger in the nearby woods, but do not lose sleep over Bongo’s fate.