Following an exciting flash-forward prologue, the story begins on a May evening in Florida, at the Donegal Golf and Country Club.
Four dogs watch as a crying woman pours out her heart to Hotspur, her husband’s Border Collie. Two hours earlier, Glenda Gilmore was shopping when Cliff died playing Frisbee with Hotspur. Much younger than Cliff, and a former model, Glenda is the object of envy and mistrust among other wives at Donegal.
The reader is next introduced to Bill and his family. The rescue dog is both simple and devoted, but his master’s wife doesn’t much like Bill. From here, the story develops three plot lines. Neglected by his master’s grieving widow, the high energy Hotspur starts to go crazy. Emma, a Poodle, loves her refined mistress, but at eighty-four, “Madame” is starting to slip.
Most important are events with Bill’s family. His master’s son has remarried and has a new baby. He arrives for a visit with the two older children from his first marriage. Ten-year-old Ruby used to be the light of her father’s life but not since the new baby. Afraid of losing his love, Ruby tells a lie that forces Bill’s master to give up his dog to a shelter.
From this point, Bill’s story alternates with that of his family. Bill is soon adopted by a young man who assumes a big dog will protect his house. But big doesn’t always mean tough: when he is robbed, the man returns Bill to the shelter. Days later in the confusion of a tropical storm, the dog escapes. He makes it to Donegal, races over the lightning-charged golf course and takes shelter at his master’s house.
In the days following, Bill forages for food. He is poisoned. A girl finds him when she comes to service the swimming pool. She calls the shelter to collect the dying dog.
All the while up in Michigan, nothing is going right. Bill’s master feels lost without his dog. While his son sees to the building of a new house, the children and their stepmother are staying at the lake. There, a sad and guilty Ruby has retreated into games and crafts. It is decided she will fly down with her grandfather to check on the Naples house.
And all summer, Glenda Gilmore has been grieving. First she lost Cliff, then Hotspur ran away. When she learns about the dog found at her neighbor’s, she goes to the shelter. The attendant who let Bill escape feels responsible. The dog has little or no chance of recovering, but she gives Glenda hope.
From here on, the value and power of the connection between dogs and humans is concentrated in the bond that develops between Ruby and Glenda. The grandfather sees the two have united to save Bill. He knows what his wife would say about Ruby staying with “the floozy,” and he keeps silent. Something important is taking place between the widow and little girl.