Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3: Atticus's Last Wish


Chapter 3 opens in the recent past on Mount Olympus, where a stir has been caused by the wager between Apollo and Hermes. The other gods are interested in the contest between the two and make their own bets, but Zeus is furious upon discovering what Apollo and Hermes have done. He forbids them from interfering any further with the dogs' lives, and he tells his sons that they are "worse than humans" in their cruelty toward the dogs (92). Though he has forbidden his sons from intervening in the dogs' lives, Zeus himself then chooses to intervene on behalf of his favorite dog, Atticus.

We are then taken into the internal thoughts of Atticus in the time frame shortly after the murder of Max. Atticus is revealed to be not a power-hungry leader, but rather a sensitive and thoughtful dog who really believes in the ideals he set for the pack. The lure of his memories as a "real" dog was too much to resist, so he instituted four major precepts among the pack: "no strange talk" (i.e., Prince's language), "a strong leader" (i.e., himself), "a good den," and "the weak in their proper place" (93). In the moment we are taken to, however, Atticus feels guilty and uneasy on account of the killing of Bobbie as well as the subsequent asymmetry in the pack's hierarchy. Atticus, too, realized what Benjy realized about the top needing a complimentary bottom upon Benjy and Dougie's disappearance, and he had to consider many candidates for pack submissive. While Rosie would have been the obvious choice (as the only remaining female), Atticus has sexual feelings for her that go beyond what is natural to dogs, which he considers perverse. Moreover, he speaks the forbidden language to her in special moments by the pond. This is what led to the selection of Max as submissive, which caused issues when Rosie took too long to unnaturally mount him.

The catastrophe resulting from the deaths/disappearances of Max, Dougie, Benjy, and Bobbie then lead Atticus to begin praying. Perhaps spurred by his own feelings of inadequacy as a leader, Atticus begins to imagine an ideal dog with all the noble qualities of leadership he believes in, and he thinks that such a dog must exist because, were it not to exist, it could not be an ideal dog. With this newfound faith, Atticus begins leaving offerings and praying at a site on the other side of Grenadier Pond. Compelled by the rhythms of prayer, Zeus takes notice of Atticus and appears to him in a dream. Atticus asks Zeus how he may be a better dog, but Zeus only says that Atticus is no longer a dog and that he pities him. Though he forbids himself from intervening in Atticus' life, Zeus tells Atticus that, upon his death, he will grant him one wish. We are then shown the events that were previously relayed by Benjy—the killing of Max, the killing of Dougie, and the poisoning—throughout which, we are told that Atticus kept his faith. When Atticus started to realize that something was wrong after being poisoned, then, his dying wish was that "the one responsible for his pack's demise be punished" (98).

Our perspective then shifts to Benjy just after he fled Majnoun's attack in Nira's backyard. While he still maintains hope that Majnoun will calm down and allow him back into Nira's home, he begins to wander around and thinks about where to go to kill time and stay safe. At the corner of Fern and Roncesvalles, an old man appears and offers him a biscuit. When Benjy asks, in English, what the biscuit is, the old man tells him and acts as if it is not strange to hear a dog speak. Benjy takes the treat and thanks the man, who then addresses Benjy by name and says he needs to go. Intrigued by the man's use of his secret name, Benjy then follows the old man onto a streetcar. The man is really Zeus in mortal guise, and he disappears from the streetcar while Benjy is distracted by the scents and sights out the window of the streetcar.

Benjy is eventually noticed by the driver of the streetcar, so he flees out the doors and heads towards the beach on the lake. Upon arriving, he takes a stick in his mouth and walks aimlessly, wondering both about important matters like food and shelter but also more philosophical topics like the nature of the water in the lake. We are told that Benjy is the dog most at peace with the new ways of thinking because he uses his gifts selfishly and to serve his own wants. Suddenly, a mutt appears and happily pounces on Benjy. It is Prince, who tells Benjy that he has been a number of places since his ousting. While Prince is ecstatic to speak his language with Benjy, Benjy insists that only the human language is important, and that he shall teach him if he likes.

Benjy tells Prince that they are the last of the pack, recounting a truncated version of events and totally leaving out Majnoun. Despondent at this news, Prince then tells Benjy about what has happened to him since he fled the pack. Prince says that, after fleeing, he stayed with a variety of masters whom he always fled or ran away from on accident. One particular master he recounts is a family with young kids who used a painful leather leash on him that caused him to either be attacked by other dogs or be strangled. Moving east in a rough parabola from where he started, Prince always followed the scent of the lake, getting a feel for the city. While he was whelped in Ralston and knows the feel of that place, Prince remarks that Toronto is far more tailored to humans with its wide array of smells and moods. Benjy, bored with this account, asks Prince if he has a current den where they might get some food. Prince cannot think of a reason that his new masters would not feed Benjy—and besides, he feels a closeness to who he believes to be the last of his pack—so he takes Benjy to a home near Rhodes and Gerrard.

The house is rickety and, though it is late afternoon, Prince says that they will have to wait for the homeowners to wake up. Prince recites poems, which makes Benjy bored—a feeling he has rarely experienced. Eventually, a man comes out and calls his partner Clare, saying that her friend has brought another dog with it. Clare arrives and calls Prince "Russell," inquiring where he's been. Sensing an opportunity, Benjy recites a bastardized version of the opening of Vanity Fair that he had earlier memorized. This draws the attention of the two owners, and the man in particular is fascinated by Benjy. After making him perform a series of tricks, he asks Benjy what his name is. Mishearing Benjy's English, he then calls Benjy "Benny" and takes him in. Prince, however, is ousted and never sees Benjy again. Upon returning in the months that follow, Prince is never allowed in again with the humans.

The man's name is Randy, which Benjy learns easily. He thinks that Clare and Randy's life up close is interesting in some regards and unexceptional in others. The one thing that confuses Benjy is seeing Clare penetrate Randy in the bedroom while Randy wears a black leather suit and is beaten by Clare. This makes Benjy wonder whether the true leader of the house is Clare or Randy—who, in being rash, violent, and intimidating, would otherwise be the clear leader. The power vacuum that Benjy sees in the house leads him to assume his own dominance and think that he can manipulate Clare and Randy. Meanwhile, Clare and Randy are each growing quietly contemptuous of Benjy for his new behavior, like peeing on Randy's pillow.

We are told that Benjy spends six months with Clare and Randy and that he is mostly left to his own devices in this time. While Benjy finds Clare and Randy to be complex, we are told that they are really just fundamentally selfish people. When Randy loses a source of income, for example, Clare refuses to look for work, leading them to have no money for rent. They skip their rent and flee to Syracuse, where Randy's brother lives, and they leave Benjy behind. Though they tried to get him to come with them when they left, Benjy's dominant mindset made him ignore them, so they abandoned him, leaving only a bowl of tuna and pasta and some water. In the first few days, Benjy exhausts all the food that he can access in the house and grows desperate for more. When he calls out in English for help at the door, no one takes notice because it is Halloween and seems in character with the festivity of the holiday.

We are told that, under different circumstances, the landlord might have come looking for his tenants and found Benjy, but instead was called away to Glasgow. Leaving the property, he set traps for rats with poisoned food. The smell of these traps is alluring to Benjy, though they remind him of gardens of death. Benjy finds one such trap in the cupboard beneath the sink and struggles to get it open, eventually breaking it by pushing it off the countertop. He eats all of the poisoned pellets and slowly comes to the realization that he will suffer the same fate as his pack. He dies an exceptionally painful death, but as he dies, he hopes for a world to come where the social hierarchy is clear and rigid, and this thought makes him happy, even to the point where we are told that Benjy dies "into hope itself" (117).

Benjy's death leads to another row between Hermes and Apollo. Hermes tells Apollo that the hopeful death is a happy one, but Apollo insists that hope is merely a condition of mortality and irrelevant to happiness at death. Hermes suggests that they broaden the definition of happiness, but Apollo will not relent. As the chapter ends, Hermes feels somewhat resentful over this.


This chapter is noteworthy for its treatment of faith as a condition of mortal, human intelligence. Particularly striking about this treatment is the way in which Alexis takes our perceptions of Atticus and Benjy and flips them on their head. Benjy and Atticus, as the archetypal conman and leader, are deeply invested in the secular and the worldly. After all, without strong priority being given to material or earthly things, Benjy would have nothing to gratify his selfish and conniving behavior, and Atticus' leadership would have no stakes or spoils. That even these two dogs experience feelings of religious or spiritual faith—that is, since Atticus is presented in life as thoughtful and faithful and since Benjy places great faith in the world to come upon death—is thus a significant cue for us as readers to think of faith as a necessary result of mortal intelligence.

Atticus' faith is the more straightforward of the two. When Atticus is troubled by the events that have befallen his pack—each one itself a result of the pack's newfound intelligence and a specific dog's death or disappearance—he begins to think of an ideal dog that would not be thrown off by such events, in possession of "sharp senses, absolute authority, unparalleled prowess at hunting, [and] irresistible strength" (95-96). Out of this belief is something greater than what Atticus' mortal intelligence allows—a craving that is not held back by either death or the physical body. He thus invents his idea of god. Notably, the qualities that Atticus endows his god with are all canine and not imbued with any details of the new intelligence that he and his pack enjoy. In other words, the ideal of a god to Atticus has not been changed by his own transition from a dog into something different and transitory; rather, one might say that the ideal of the perfect dog always rested within Atticus, and he simply needed human awareness and comprehension of his own mortality and limitations to invent this god.

Similarly, Benjy's contact with the divine and hope for an afterlife also comes with heightened awareness of his mortality. When Benjy is lying in wait for death after being poisoned, he "experience[s] a moment of hope that [is] not transcendent or mystical, but, rather, [is] very much in keeping with his character," a vision of a place "where schemes [are] unnecessary because he [is] safe." Only upon death is he spurred to a realization of a possible world beyond the earthly concerns he has preoccupied himself with. Just like Atticus, he invents a vision of the divine that compensates for a lack of his own: specifically, because Benjy has had to scheme his entire life, he imagines a place beyond the threshold of life where one does not have to scheme. Benjy hopes for a place with a rigid social system where each echelon is clear, specifically because the uncertainty of Atticus' pack has caused him physical and psychological torment (i.e., through mounting and the killings perpetrated by the conspirators).

One other interesting similarity between the faith of Atticus and the religious vision of Benjy is that neither has a vision of the divine rooted in benevolence. While each has an idea of the divine that is individualized, for example—and while Atticus even is able to personally speak with Zeus—neither imagines a benevolent god who intervenes in their daily lives and ensures that they are on the right path. Rather, their visions of god are inspired by what they know from life on earth—reciprocity, power, and cruelty. And, indeed, the gods are presented at the beginning of the chapter as indifferent, at best, towards the dog's plights. This is particularly interesting considering that human religions often seek to paint godly forces or the divine as benevolent and the afterlife as paradisiacal or heavenly.

The novel's allegory between dogs and humans thus becomes particularly interesting when one interrogates the differences between the dogs' canine faiths and what we know of human faith. If Alexis means to convince us that the dogs' understandings of the divine are based on their awareness of their own mortality, he also means to say the same about human beings. More interestingly, if the dogs' ideas of the divine come from projecting their own flaws, shortcomings, and pet peeves onto their mortality, what do our visions of the divine reveal about our own character as humans? Do we envision a benevolent and personal god because we have experienced loneliness, callousness, and fear? Do we envision a paradisiacal afterlife because we resent the fact that we are wanting during our lives? What does the fact that Alexis' gods are cruel say about the veracity of modern religious practices? Are we out of touch with the true forces at play, or are our visions commensurate with a different understanding of the same divine forces?

Finally, the role of love in each of the dogs' lives is also informative when contextualized against the backdrop of their respective faiths. Atticus sees his relationship with Rosie—which is more than simply sexual and might be close to something like human love—as a perversion rather than a natural precondition of his intelligent mortality. This is perhaps why no kind of love appears in his vision of divinity. Similarly, Benjy has no experience of anything like human love and thus does not have any element of love in his vision of the afterlife. Human beings, on the other hand, consider love to be an essential part of life, and our visions of divinity are often phrased in the language of love or include an aspect of love. Here too, then, just as in the last chapter, love is a wedge that divides the human and the canine. This will come to have special significance as we move into the next chapter.