Nop is a young border collie, happily living the border collie life on a Virginia farm with livestock farmer Lewis Burkholder. On Christmas Day, Nop and a neighbor's dog are let out to play, and don't come back. They've been stolen, and Nop's life has undergone an alarming and disorienting change.
In alternating sections, we follow Nop's struggles to survive in a life much harsher than he has known till now, and Lewis Burkholder's search for his missing dog.
There's dog drama here, and the dogs are wonderfully authentic and satisfying, but there's also human drama--Burkholder's obsession with finding the dog friends tell him is probably dead, and the strains this creates with his pregnant daughter, the son-in-law he doesn't like or quite trust, and his devoted wife. Beverly doesn't want Lewis to give up on Nop, but she's frustrated that since Nop's disappearance he doesn't really seem to see her anymore.
Meanwhile, Nop is learning the ins and outs of rodeos, shelters, and life on the streets.
I first read Nop's Trials when it came out in 1984, and I'll confess that thirty years later, what I remembered was Nop and his struggles. At the time, the human drama apparently made no lasting impression at all. Now, I attribute that to my youth and inexperience. McCaig develops his human characters and their struggles with subtlety and grace, just as he does the dogs.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.