[Book Review] Haunted Animals: True Ghost Stories by Allan Zullo

A ghostly cat comforts its former owner. A mistreated bulldog returns to haunt its master. A mysterious horse leads a group of rescuers to an injured boy--then disappears.

Could animals really become ghosts? Read these and many more unexplained encounters with the supernatural and decide for yourself...

Haunted Animals: True Ghost Stories contains nine stories that are "true" the same way that Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a true story. In other words, these are definitely not true stories, and the introduction admits as much:

Haunted Animals is a spooky collection of stories about kids who claim to have encountered spirits from the animal world--including pet dogs, a loving cat, a wild horse, and a vengeful wolf. You'll read nine spine-tingling tales, inspired, in part, by the accounts of those who say they were haunted. The names and places in the stories have been changed to protect everyone's privacy.

In other words, it's nonsense, and the subtitle is there... because reasons? But it's a good thing these stories are merely "inspired by" true events. There's a lot of depressing shit from here on out.

Click to view spoiler!
Twister's Farewell

In Twister's Farewell, a dog visits his human companion in the hospital to say goodbye. While this could have been touching, the writing really made it more hokey than anything else. The story of how Twister got his name, however, nearly had me in tears. This is a theme throughout the book; while I don't blink an eye at most fictional tragedies, I have a ludicrous weak spot for the suffering of cats and dogs... and a lot of animals die in this book.

Seriously, that's Warning #1 about Haunted Animals. If you have any sympathy for children losing their furry best friends to accident and illness, you're going to be crying before you're done reading.

The Tell-Tale Bones

In The Tell-Tale Bones, a ghost and his dog appear to a boy and his father on the anniversary of the ghosts' deaths. It's a typical ghost story. Nothing fascinating, nothing too terribly heartbreaking or offensive.

The Spirit of Morgan's Woods

In The Spirit of Morgan's Woods, two young boys repeatedly see a ghostly white stallion in the woods near their ranch. But when one of them is injured while horseback riding in those very woods, the ghost horse becomes a hero. Again, it's not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a solid ghost story.

Bingo's Secret

After a boy dies of leukemia, his dog refuses to eat until he eventually starves to death on top of the boy's grave. The family is then haunted by the dog until he is finally buried in secret beside the child.

Obviously, this story has the double-whammy of a child dying of cancer and a dog dying from neglect. Meanwhile, the story acts like both of these occurrences was simply a matter of course, as if the family was somehow unable to, you know, feed their goddamn dog and prevent him from obsessively visiting the boy's grave. But no, apparently the only appropriate course of action for a dog's obvious state of depression is to permit the dog to literally starve to death in a cemetery.

In comparison, see these amazingly loyal dogs.

The Haunting Vengeance

The Haunting Vengeance is a story about a fucking moronic farmer who thought he could turn a wolf into a dog, only to kill his "friend" as revenge... for something a completely different wolf did. The wolf then haunted him for the next forty years.

As far as this story goes, let's just say that I empathized with the wolf's anger.

The Ghost of Walker's Bay

In The Ghost of Walker's Bay, a young girl is rescued from drowning by a mysterious German Shepherd, she and an acquaintance discover the story of a heroic dog who died in the 1800s and finally put to rest her unfinished business. It's not a bad story, especially when compared to the previous two.

The Phantom Cat

In The Phantom Cat, a girl makes the wrong medical decision, and her cat dies in surgery. In spite of her heartbreak and guilt, she's comforted when she begins to suspect that his ghost has returned to the house.

Again, it's not a bad story, but I found it to be far more emotionally taxing than it had any right to be. If there's one thing I don't want to read about several months after my own kitty had breast cancer surgically removed, it's a cat dying during surgery. That's one panic attack I don't need, thanks.

Spike's Revenge

After a family's neglect toward their dog (refusing to bathe or exercise him, leaving him alone and/or chained for long stretches, forgetting to feed him, allowing him to get into multiple near-fatal accidents,) results in his death by electrocution, he comes back to haunt them. They're instantly forgiven when they begin taking care of other animals.

In other words, it's a super disturbing story, and the criminal neglect is never punished in any way, shape, or form. And let's all take a gander back at that subtitle, shall we?

Yeah, I don't want this to be a "true story", oddly enough.

Rescue from the Beyond

When a girl's heroic Great Dane dies of cancer, he saves her one last time. Really, it's just a terribly sad story. Again, I don't need to read about animals being euthanized because of cancer. I'm kind of dealing with it, so... let's not, yeah?

All in all, this was a big fail as far as Halloween reads goes. It was just sad, not spooky. If I'd read this as a member of the intended age group, I'd have probably cried myself to sleep. And frankly, I don't get that. What's the point of all the tears?

I mean, really. There are plenty of "true" stories of so-called ghost animals. The ones featured here, for instance, are animal ghost stories that aren't specifically written to make children cry. Obviously, there are dead animals involved--that's kind of implied with the whole "ghost" thing--but there are no long, drawn out descriptions of animals' suffering over there.

Ultimately, I'm glad to put this book behind me, and I really don't recommend giving it to your child(ren) for Halloween.

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