Skip to main content

Why Must Dogs Never Die in Books?

Is the death of a dog in a story a deal-breaker for you, even if it is essential to the story, and a reflection of reality? Why must a dog never die in books?

In a book group the other day, a reader brought up the question: why must dogs never die in books? And that made me think of my first book, You Beneath Your Skin. In that novel, there’s a puppy, and while Simon & Schuster India had zero issues with a scene in the book, the first thing my US agent spoke of while prepping the book for other publishers was that scene with the puppy. The scene has since been tweaked.

I’ve been a lifelong dog lover and my family has only ever rescued dogs. My fiction has never included dogs other than that particular one, and that only because the novel is very realistic, and that scene didn’t seem out of place in that specific context.

It’s also worth noting that my (now-ex) British agent didn’t have anything to say about it at all. It is only since I’ve been interacting with the US audience and US books that I’ve come to realize that the US audience will accept gratuitous violence against women, against men, the elderly, and often, even children.

If a dog dies in the book, however, that’s the end of the book, and the author.

I don’t think there should be gratuitous violence against any animal or human, but very unfortunately violence is a part of human nature. If a particular genre of fiction is meant to imitate reality, it is strange that violence against pets, which is at least as common as violence against humans, is taboo.

It’s been said that readers can’t take violence towards dogs as these animals represent all that is innocent and loyal, and that dogs don’t have a voice. A dog or puppy is seen as a creature that can be tortured without fear of major repercussions. After all, the punishment for killing a dog is much lower than that of killing a human, and is not a capital offence (in countries that haven’t abolished it).

A dog that dies in a book (that is otherwise filled with violence of all kinds) remains a deal-breaker.

I’m not judging those for whom it is a deal-breaker, and those for whom it isn’t.

As a writer, I’m merely curious as to why.

My speculation (based on no proof whatsoever) is that it might boil down to an issue of control and scale.

We can all do something about violence against animals, whereas violence against humans needs to be dealt with differently for our psychological well-being. We harden ourselves to violence against humans, because to bear it in reality and fiction, we need to see it as ‘unreal.’ In some cases, the scale of violence against humans is too mind-boggling–war is horrific, but it can be seen as generalized depravity and horror, not individual. In others, violence against fellow-humans is seen as ‘fictitious’ because it is so far removed from what is possible in the reader’s humdrum life. It provides escape by making readers care and worry about a fictitious being (but not too much), thus taking the reader away from the everyday anxieties of their own lives.

Women (the majority of readers) who read super-violent fiction where women’s bodies are splattered on walls, claim to ‘have no triggers’. Some of them think of it as a ‘warning to learn from’. Walking into a dark parking lot while being unaware of your surroundings, or not checking the back seat of your car or entering a home where the dark front door is already open are seen as scenarios to learn from. That’s how the killer gets you.

As well, a ‘murderer’ is on a different scale than an ‘animal abuser’—many will confront the latter straightaway, but may not feel able to confront the former. So we turn away from what seems avoidable. Animal abuse, though very common, seems more shameful, because we, as individuals, should be able to get a handle on it. Animals are cute, innocent beings, and we ought to be able to protect them–at least in our fiction, if not reality. I see very successful authors with very graphic violence against women in their books who take pains to tell readers that the dog is not harmed. They understand their audience.

We can demand that a dog not be harmed, but it takes a lot/ something different for us to demand that a human not be harmed–because so much fiction is either a warning on how humans can come to harm, or a safe way to experience certain emotions that are often not found in a reader’s real life.

What about you? Is the death of a dog in a story a deal-breaker for you, even if it is essential to the story, and a reflection of reality? Why must a dog never die in books?

My literary crime novel, The Blue Bar is on Kindle Unlimited now. Add it to Goodreads or snag a copy to make my day. The sequel, The Blue Monsoon is up for pre-orders–add that one to Goodreads so we can have a giveaway soon! Blue Mumbai Stories is up for pre-orders, too! And if you’d like to read a book outside the series, you can check out You Beneath Your Skin.  Find all info about my books on my Amazon page or Linktree.Do you read or write short stories? What was the last short story collection you've read? Are you picking up the Blue Mumbai Short Stories?

If you liked this post, you can receive posts in your inbox, or keep updated on my writing by clicking on any or all of the following buttons:


Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  • Debbie D. says:

    In my opinion, dogs are less capable of defending themselves against humans, which makes it more tragic. Just one dog lover’s take. 🙂 Personally, I turn into a sobbing mess when any dog is hurt or killed in a movie or book. It brings back horrible memories of watching my beloved Dalmatian die in my arms. Although it was many years ago, the tears are welling up as I write this.

  • Janet Alcorn says:

    I’m glad you’ve raised this question. I write crime fiction and horror, and even I don’t like overdone on-the-page violence. Show it, yes, but not ten pages of torture, please. As for why violence against humans is much more accepted than violence against an animal in the USA, your analysis seems right to me and is better than my very cynical view: too many of us care more about animals than people (and I say that as an animal lover who’s had dogs, cats, and a few other kinds of pets over the years and loved them dearly). With people, we look for reasons why they’re to blame for bad things that happen to them–and yes, we even do that with children. But we see animals as entirely innocent. Too many people are big on blaming victims and focusing on what they think people “deserve” rather than on having compassion for all. We’re also pretty desensitized to violence against people, which is disturbing.

    OK, stepping off my soapbox now. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  • Jemima Pett says:

    It’s interesting the variations around the world. Greyfriars Bobby is another incredibly sad book/film, but I think he dies in the end.

    One thing I found when I was writing MG fiction was the difference in sensitivities to a) violence and b) sex. Australians seem less tolerant of fighting/battles etc, and in the US better not even suggest they kissed in an MG book, but you can slaughter all the baddies in the most gruesome ways.

    But in adult fiction, as we know, everything else is fine. Except dogs, apparently. Personally I would not read a book where a guinea pig was mistreated, but dying a natural death… well, why not, if it’s relevant to the story.

    Oh, and I totally ripped Call of the Wild to pieces when I reread it some years ago. It’s so cruel. Should be banned. Historical or not.

    • DamyantiB says:

      I agree, the versions of what’s acceptable in a story can be so varied depending on location. Even the feedback on that particular scene in You Beneath Your Skin, considering whether it was my British agent or the US audience reviewing it, could be incredibly nuanced.

  • arlene says:

    Haven’t read any of your books. I hope I’ll find one🥰

  • Violence against any living creature human or animal is unacceptable and if any society considers it acceptable then that society is on the same pathway revealed in the great book “The Decline and Fall or the Roman Empire.” A society that loses it’s moral compass is destined to self-destruct.

    • DamyantiB says:

      Yes, violence is a terrible thing, whether fictitious or otherwise. Reading about gratuitous violence in a fictional setting can be just as impactful for me as if I was reading about it in the news or a factual account.

  • ccyager says:

    Interesting question. My Perceval series is about a reluctant assassin. In one of the novels, his landlady’s dog is killed off-stage by a man who attacks everyone in the house and my reluctant assassin kills him in self-defense. The attacker killed the dog so it wouldn’t bark and alert her humans to the intruder/attacker. I didn’t even realize until much later that while I describe the human violence, I did not the violence against the dog. When I think about it now, I think I did it that way because I wanted the focus on the humans, not the dog. Not because I don’t like dogs, but because I wanted the focus on the humans.

    • DamyantiB says:

      Thank you for sharing your thought process. As authors, we often portray things so differently, even if they’re based on similar subjects, and it’s interesting to hear the reasons behind the work.

  • My theory is if someone can abuse an animal, they can also abuse an adult. A lot of mass-murderers here abused animals when they were younger.
    I admit, it’s a deal-breaker for me. I’ve never even seen the movie Marley and Me because I know the dog dies in the end. (Not cruelly, but still.)

    • DamyantiB says:

      Yes, I’ve read about quite a few cases where animal abuse can often translate or lead to acts of violence against humans, too. It might be that the process of becoming familiar with dealing violence can lead to a habit.

  • Pam Webb says:

    Oh the pain of reading Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows.

  • setinthepast says:

    I don’t like dogs!

    • DamyantiB says:

      I love them, but I can understand and respect those that don’t. Dogs share a long history with humans, and often tend to become part of the family for those who decide to share their lives with them.

  • Mick Canning says:

    I don’t like gratuitous violence, but depending on the book some violence might be necessary to the plot. Whether the victim is human or animal makes no difference. It is fiction, after all.

    • DamyantiB says:

      Yes, in many books, violence is unavoidable. Even in reality, violence is an unavoidable truth, as unpleasant and unsettling as it is, and many of our stories reflect that.

  • Kaye Spencer says:

    I will not read a book in which animals are killed, tortured, maimed, abused, or neglected. I read for two reasons: entertainment and to gain knowledge/understanding, depending upon the type of book (same with movies). I do my best to find out if there are animals, in this case dogs as the topic of your question, in the book. If so, then I also have to know if the dog is unharmed in the story. If the animal remains unharmed, I ‘may’ go ahead and read the book. If harmed, I will not read the book. If I’m reading a book in which the author slips in a scene with an animal that is harmed or will be harmed, I will never trust that author again, which means I won’t read anything else they’ve written.

    Animals (particularly domesticated animals), children, and the elderly are in a position of dependence and trust toward the human they depend upon for their well-being. I derive no pleasure or satisfaction from reading stories in which the author exploits that trust and dependence as a weapon against our emotions.

    • DamyantiB says:

      This is a commonly-held view, Kaye, and is the reason why most authors would think twice about having any violence inflicted on dogs in their books, irrespective of whether it happens in real life. You might already know this, but for everyone else with similar sensitivity, they might find sites like useful, which tells the audience what happens to the dog in a film/ book.

  • As an author myself, and an animal lover, I feel the death of a dog, if it is necessary to the story, should definitely be included. It would make me sad as a reader, but I would understand it as a pet parent. The loss of a pet can lead to some pretty serious mental health issues. I know I have to still overcome losing Muffin. Losing her has affected how I interact with people and the world around me as well.

    • DamyantiB says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. The grief of losing a pet is just as present as that of losing a friend or family member. An animal is as much a part of a family as any person, and can love and feel just as deeply. Sending my love and wishing the best for you.

  • My response to your question about dogs can’t die in fiction is ‘huh’? I’ve never heard of this before. What about Old Yeller, which is a classic book written for children?

    • DamyantiB says:

      I think it depends on where we’re talking about, and how extreme the violence is. With my British agent, the response to the scene in You Beneath Your Skin was quite different from how the US audience might view it.

  • rxena77 says:

    It was a deal-breaker for me with the movie, I AM LEGEND. Cujo of course was more monster than dog. A friend had to break a long-standing rule of hers and tell me: “The horse lives” to get me to see the movie HILDAGO. There is too much hurt to living creatures who only give us love, for me to pay to see or read it.

    • DamyantiB says:

      There are quite a few books or movies which I’ve avoided seeing, on account of the suffering of animals. Even while reading White Fang, I often had to take breaks and switch to something less grueling and heartbreaking.

  • It might boil down to a simple “dogs are domesticated; people aren’t”. I will say, I accept violence as part of the human condition, but gratuitous violence does make me close the book.

    • DamyantiB says:

      I think it’s so important to let the readers know what they’re getting into, so that they know whether or not they want to pick up the book before they start.

%d bloggers like this: