Letters from Wolfie

Letters from Wolfie
by Patti Sherlock

Publishing Information: Viking Press: New York, 2004
ISBN: 0670036943
Pages: 240 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

It's 1969 and America is deeply divided over the war in Vietnam. Yet when thirteen-year-old Mark donates his dog, Wolfie, to the Army's scout program, he feels sure he's doing the right thing. After all, his dad is a WWII veteran, and his older brother Danny is serving in Vietnam. But although Wolfie's handler sends letters detailing Wolfie's progress, the Army won't say when, or if, Wolfie and the other dogs will be returned to their owners. As Danny's letters home become increasingly grim, Mark grows more and more unsure of his decision to send Wolfie and of his feelings about the war. He'll need to do something drastic to get Wolfie back, but how can he raise his voice in protest without betraying his country? Inspired by real events, this is a gripping story about loyalty, dissent, patriotism, and the heartbreaking contradictions of war.

Book Talk:
It's 1969 and America is mired in a war in Vietnam. Letters from Wolfie presents a fairly complete spectrum of America's feelings about the war at the point in time when the weight of public opinion was just beginning to shift.

Mark is thirteen. He has not been paying much attention to the war. He knows little about it and has no opinion of his own. His father served in World War II. His brother Danny is serving in Vietnam. He worries about Danny but mom says the war will soon be over.

A letter comes from Danny. Danny says there are dogs serving as scouts in Vietnam, saving soldiers' lives . Maybe Wolfie could be an army scout too. That would be the patriotic thing to do. It is a difficult but Mark decides to donate his dog to the war effort.

Another letter comes from Danny. The war is not what Danny expected and he doesn't want Mark to send Wolfie. It is too late. There is no turning back for Wolfie. Mark figures it will be all right. Soldiers return home after their tour of duty; Wolfie will be home too. Won't he? Mark starts asking questions. He gets no answers. Soon, Mark is engaged in an all-out campaign to get answers and secure Wolfie's return to the US after the war.

It is true: the US military used dogs in Vietnam. The dogs saved many soldier's lives with their keen senses and loving hearts. Military policy stated that once the dogs were donated to the military they became military equipment. They were never returned. When the US pulled out of Vietnam, the dogs that had served so well and nobly were either euthanized or simply abandoned. That policy did not end until President Clinton signed into law the Military War Dog Resolution in November 2000.

What happened to Mark's dog? You will have to read Letters from Wolfie.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Brothers - Fiction
Dogs - War Use - Fiction
Emotional problems - Fiction Families - Fiction
1960s and 1970s
People with disabilities - Fiction
Political Dissent
United States Government
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 - Fiction

BookList, July 1, 2004, p. 1835
Kirkus Review (April 15, 2004)
Publishers Weekly (July 5, 2004)
School Library Journal, June 1, 2004, p. 150

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What factors motivated Mark to donate his beloved Wolfie to the army?
  2. Did Mark know what he was getting Wolfie into?
  3. When Eve said goodbye to Wolfie, sh"e dug her fingers into Wolfie's fur and started to bawl." Mark was confused because his mom had not cried when Danny left. Why did she cry so hard over Wolfie?
  4. Mark's mom was the sort of woman who hated to draw attention to herself. How and why did Eve change in the course of this story?
  5. How do we know that Mark's parents' relationship is strained? Will the relationship change? Will it endure?
  6. Mr. Casey, the history teacher, did not want in-class discussion of the war. Why won't he allow it? Should he have allowed discussion?
  7. How many perspectives on the war can be found in this book?
  8. What is Effie Heimbach's fear? Does she have reason to be afraid?
  9. Rick and his little brother are living with an abusive parent. Rick will not talk about it. What does Rick's home life have to do with Mark's story about Wolfie?  
  10. The author's focus is on Wolfie rather than Danny or Tucker. Can we compare the Vietnam War experiences of a soldier and a dog?

Related Websites:
Military Working Dog Foundation, Inc. - www.militaryworkingdog.com/history/
National War Dog Team Memorial - www.wardogsmemorial.org/
The United States War Dogs Association - www.uswardogs.org/id9.html
Vietnam Dog Handers Association - www.vdhaonline.org/

Amaryllis by Craig Crist-Evans, (2005 RITBA Nominee)
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson,
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor,
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls,

Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII by William W. Putney, 2001
Dogs at War by Clayton G. Going, 1944
A Dog's Life: Stories of Champions, Hunters, and Faithful Friends, selected by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. 1978
Military Dogs by Phllis Emert, 1985
War Dog Heroes : True Stories of Dog Courage in Wartime by Jeannette Sanderson, 1997

Other Books by the Author:
Alone on the Mountain: Sheepherding in the American West, 1979
Four of a Kind, 1991
Some Fine Dog, 1992

About the Author:
Patti Sherlock lives on a farm in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with Appaloosa horses, two border collies and a large, mixed breed shepherd named Shakespeare, who served as inspiration for Wolfie.

The acknowledgements page in Letters from Wolfie gives some insight about Sherlock's research into the use of army dogs in Vietnam. The Author's Note at the end of the book provides information on the topic.