‘The Dog Thief’ proves to be a surprisingly good read

Well, “The Dog Thief” by Marta Acosta was a real surprise. It included more than a few modern-day issues and situations. I liked that it is filled with interesting and quirky characters.

Sisters Kenzie and Maddie Whitney recently returned to Coyote Run, California, with hopes of making a living on the family ranch.

Kenzie is a psychotherapist who works divides her time between the school district and doing equine therapy. Older sister Maddie boards dogs and does behavior therapy. Maddie is probably autistic. She hates crowds, has mild obsessive-compulsive disorder and uses several “tics” to calm herself in bad situations. She very much prefers the company of dogs to that of humans and is unapologetically bisexual.

Maddie has recently been dumped by Claire Des Jardins, and she’s not taking it well.

Not long ago, Maddie took on a service dog from his nearly catatonic handler. Bertie was injured saving the soldier’s life but now needs to a chance to live out his life. One day, Maddie and Bertie took a stray dog and her two little pups from a local barn. To calm the dog, she walks cross country to the local vet’s office.

Ben Meadows is the new vet, and Maddie is surprised to find that he is both good and likeable. On the walk to her truck, Maddie cuts through private property and soon discovers a badly decomposed human body. When hounded about how she found the body, Maddie flippantly says that blackbirds told her. Suddenly, she’s “The Dog Psychic.”

The body is identified as a visitor named Sherry Rae, but there’s no hint of who killed her or why.

As much as Maddie hates it, business increases and she get caught up on bills. A drunken visit to Claire lands Maddie in police officer Oliver’s truck on his way to shoot a “killer” dog. Maddie knows that the dog is just doing its job, so she gets inside, quiets the dog and escapes with him.

She soon learns that Zeus is a highly trained and loyal animal and begins training him to do Search and Rescue, or S&R. Within days, she is asked to help find a dementia patient who wandered into a thick wood. Between Zeus and Bertie, she is found safe. Now Maddie is really famous, so Oliver doesn’t dare arrest her and take the dog.

Instead, she proposes creating a S&R unit to help the police. Oliver grudgingly agrees, thus forcing the two enemies to spend time together for training. To her surprise, Maddie is also building a firm friendship with Ben and his family.

When Dawg, the vet’s stoner receptionist, calls saying he needs her help, Maddie and Bertie rush to his aid. Too late, Dawg explains that he believes his dog has told Maddie that he killed Sherry Rae and is working with a drug cartel. So now, he must kill Maddie and Bertie. Using one of Oliver’s tricks, Maddie manages to escape. Dawg follows but hits a hidden trip wire, setting off a huge explosion.

Things go smoothly until the annual Bonanza Days when a little boy disappears. Oliver and Maddie use Zeus to track the boy to a motel but he’s not there. The suspect is too confident, so Maddie takes Zeus and finds the child locked in an old shed. Once again, she is a reluctant hero, but now she’s learning to handle it better. Before long she has made big changes in her life and living situation. With a little luck, this weird girl will be OK.