In both The Familiar and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, dogs become primary elements of the novels that deeply affect the characters. In both novels, dogs function to provide a kind of reconciliation within the psyches of certain characters. In Disgrace, defrocked English professor David Lurie ends up working at an animal euthanasia clinic and is able to view his mistakes from a different perspective by identifying with the dogs he helps put down. In particular, he seems to take a liking to one partially crippled dog at the end of the novel that enjoys his banjo music. In the end, Lurie decides to end the dog’s suffering and prevent him from experiencing the same kind of disgrace and loss that Lurie has dealt with. In this way, Lurie is able to come to some kind of compromise within himself and accept the mistakes and drastic changes to his life that have occurred.
Similarly, in The Familiar, dogs provoke changes and empathy within people that is contrary to their inherent nature. Luther is a violent man deeply involved with the crime world, but cares for ex-fighting dogs as pets. Luther used to use the dogs for his own fights, but at some point felt the need to end the dog fighting and become a more benevolent figure in the dogs’ lives. Astair is also changed by the concept of meeting Xanther’s epilepsy dog. She tries to deny her excitement at owning a dog but is unable to do so, embarking (no pun intended) on a doggy shopping spree. Astair in this scene also seems very hopeful that the dog will help Xanther in ways she cannot herself.