By Shawn Proctor
Like a slippery dog after a bath, this book completely slipped by me for two decades.
When Because of Winn–Dixie, Kate DeCamillo’s Newberry Award winning debut novel, was published in 2000, I wasn’t reading books often (or at all.) And my then-childless self wouldn’t have wandered into the middle-grade fiction section of the library anyway. But like the dog for whom the book is named, Because of Winn–Dixie came at the right time–when I was finally ready for him.
Ten-year-old Opal moves into a Florida town with her emotionally cloistered father, who she calls “The Preacher.” Her mom left seven years before, and Opal is very much alone. Then she meets a “big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor” in the back of a Winn-Dixie grocery store. Opal opens her heart to this dirty, friendly dog, and, in turn, Winn-Dixie opens the world to Opal, and she meets new friends, mends her relationship with The Preacher, and helps people along the way. It’s brief, funny, sad, and (like Winn-Dixie) very easy to love.
Now, Winn-Dixie is not a specific breed of dog in the story. Likely, he’s just a mixture of different stray dogs and grew up on the street, as evidenced by his strong fear of thunder.
In the movie, however, Winn-Dixie was cast as a group of Berger Picards (pronounced bare-ZHAY pee-CARR, according to the Bloomberg Businessweek article “Puppy Love.” There is zero chance one of these dogs ended up in a Florida store, as they are a rare breed of French herding dog that nearly became extinct after the two World Wars. Few print Library resources mention the Picardy Shepard (as they are also known), but online access to The Dog Encyclopedia indicates simply: “This breed can be stubborn.”
“Puppy Love” traces the growth in popularity of dog breeds from rarity to fad, using the Berger Picard as one example, as it was recognized by the American Kennel Club only in 2014. This arrival on the dog show scene is often met by interest in sourcing puppies and, sometimes, unscrupulous behavior from profiteering breeders. The owners in the article explained they sought out the Berger Picard especially because it is energetic and affectionate.
Energetic. Affectionate. Stubborn. That sure sounds like Winn-Dixie to me.
- Battan, Carrie. “PUPPY LOVE.” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4451, 2015, p. 62.
- Merriam Garcia. The Dog Encyclopedia. Abdo Reference, 2021.
Shawn Proctor is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.