The chances of me reading a book or watching a movie rise by about 50% if a dog is featured as a main character. Put a dog in a post-apocalyptic setting and it rises to 100%. I love seeing how characters cope in the aftermath of world-ending scenarios, but the addition of a faithful hound adds stakes and a particular dynamic that I just can’t get enough of, so I’ve rounded up eleven of my favorite fictional dogs in stories about surviving the end of the world.
These books and films always make me think about whether my own dog, a rescue greyhound called Misty, would be a good post-apocalypse buddy. On the one hand, she’s a fast runner (good for getting away from danger) and never barks (meaning she wouldn’t draw unwanted attention). On the other hand, she has to have me arrange her blanket just right before she’ll even consider sitting down, so maybe she’s not cut out for the difficulties of post-apocalyptic living. (But then, neither am I.)
Hopefully Misty and I won’t ever find ourselves in the position that the people and dogs on the list below do. I won’t reveal the fate of any of the dogs, but you can check doesthedogdie.com if that’s something you need to know before diving into these post-apocalyptic books and films.
Blood — A Boy and His Dog (1969) by Harlan Ellison
If you’re looking for a wholesome story like My Dog Skip (2000) then A Boy and His Dog is not for you. Vic, the boy, and Blood, the dog, can communicate telepathically thanks to some scientific modifications to canine genetics. That might sound like a dream come true for any dog-lover, but the duo’s relationship isn’t exactly smooth. The barren world that they live in has caused them to become cruel—to each other, as well as others—but they’re dependent on one another for survival. Still, buried underneath their antagonism and need is genuine love.
If you want more from Blood and Vic then you can also read the prequel, Eggsucker (1977), and sequel, Run, Spot, Run (1980)—both of which further flesh out their story—and watch the 1975 film adaptation, directed by L. Q. Jones.
Boy — Love and Monsters (2020), dir. Michael Matthews
Set seven years after all of Earth’s cold-blooded creatures have mutated into giant monsters, Love and Monsters sees Joel (Dylan O’Brien) leave his relatively safe underground bunker and set off on an adventure to be reunited with his pre-apocalypse girlfriend. While it’s a brave endeavor, Joel has basically no survival skills. Thankfully for him, he soon meets a stray dog called Boy who is much more capable of dealing with the oversized monsters. This means that Boy is no mere sidekick in their partnership and plays an integral role in their survival. But, as in all the best stories, the two end up saving each other.
Jess and Jip — A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World (2019) by C. A. Fletcher
C. A. Fletcher offers not just one, but two, fantastic dog characters in A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World. The story is set many years after an infertility crisis has ravaged the world’s population. Griz is a teenager who lives with his family, including dogs Jess and Jip, on an island off the coast of the UK. Dogs are known for their loyalty, but it’s Griz who proves his loyalty when Jess is stolen by a stranger. He and Jip immediately set off to the mainland to get her back—danger be damned! Jess and Jip feel like fully-fledged characters in the story rather than mere plot devices, and you’re sure to fall in love with them.
Unnamed Dog — I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson
The dog in I Am Legend may only appear fleetingly in the book, but it’s the most poignant part of the narrative. Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a plague that has killed most people and turned the rest into vampires and he is very much Not Okay. The effects of extreme isolation are taking their toll on him mentally, but then a glimmer of hope arrives in the form of a stray dog that, like him, has evaded the vampires. His attempts to befriend the scared dog are hopeful and heart-wrenching. If I had been in Neville’s position though, I couldn’t have resisted naming the dog the second I saw it.
Sam — I Am Legend (2007), dir. Francis Lawrence
Sam the German Shepherd from the 2007 film adaptation of I Am Legend is so far removed from the dog in the book that she deserves her own separate spot on this list. Do I actually like the movie? No, it completely misses the point of the story. But is Sam a very good dog? Absolutely, and her storyline, while totally different, has its own merits. Sam takes on a far larger role than her unnamed book counterpart. She does everything with Will Smith’s Neville, from riding shotgun in his car while he ventures out into NYC to kill Darkseekers (ugh, they’re really awful) to cuddling up with him in the bathtub at night for comfort and protection.
Goodyear — Finch (2021), dir. Miguel Sapochnik
Tom Hanks trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world with his dog and robot companions is basically the recipe for my perfect movie. Hanks stars as Finch, one of the few survivors of a solar flare that has turned Earth into a scorched wasteland. To look after himself and his dog, Goodyear, he has built a dog-like robot called Dewey (a nod to the 1972 film Silent Running) and has almost finished building a humanoid robot.
Goodyear is truly the heart of the film. He isn’t just a good dog along for the bumpy post-apocalyptic ride with his owner—he is the driving force of the story. Finch features all the flashes of excitement expected of a post-apocalyptic tale, but it is ultimately a tender story about the incredible bond between humans and dogs (and robots).
Jasper — The Dog Stars (2012) by Peter Heller
There’s something irresistibly cute about dogs riding shotgun in a car—something which multiple mutts on this list do—even though I would never let my own dog do it (she’s huge, okay, she wouldn’t fit). But The Dog Stars goes one better: Jasper the dog gets to fly around as a passenger in a little Cessna airplane. He lives in an airplane hangar with his owner, Hig, after a deadly flu has wiped out most of the population. The writing style of this book wasn’t for me but I’m sure there are readers out there who will love it, and I can’t deny that Jasper is an excellent friend for the end of the world.
Kojak — The Stand (1978) by Stephen King
Kojak is literary proof that humans don’t deserve dogs. Captain Trips, the superflu that kills off the majority of humanity in The Stand, is also deadly for dogs. Glen Bateman comes across a rare doggy survivor, an Irish Setter formally known as Big Steve, and renames him Kojak, after the ’70s TV detective. After initially establishing himself as a great guy by looking after Kojak, Glen then becomes a villain in my eyes by leaving him behind (!) to travel across the United States with Stu Redman, instead of figuring out a way to bring him with them. Even Randall Flagg, the real villain of the story, wouldn’t sink that low.
But Kojak is a loyal hound (not that Glen deserves it) and makes the difficult trip on his own. We even get an amazing, but deeply harrowing, section recounting the journey from Kojak’s point of view. Kojak isn’t just a good boy…by the end of the story he’s an absolute hero.
Dog — Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), dir. George Miller
Hardened survivor Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) refers to his canine companion only as “Dog”—which feels hilariously true to life for me given that this is what my dad calls my dog Misty about 90% of the time. Max operates as a lone wolf in this leather-clad post-apocalyptic world that is thirsty for oil, but while he shuns the company of people, he still craves companionship: enter Dog. We don’t get to know their backstory but we do know that they are fiercely loyal to each other, sharing food and fighting off danger together. Dog adds a bit of much-needed levity to the film and humanizes Max precisely the right amount.
Lucky — Last One at the Party (2021) by Bethany Clift
Lucky is another perfect example of dogs being far too good for humans. He’s a Golden Retriever who is left on his own after an extremely lethal virus, nicknamed 6DM (which stands for 6 Days Maximum, the longest period of time before the virus kills), wipes out almost all humans. He’s found by the protagonist of the novel, an unnamed woman who rescues him and calls him Lucky. I didn’t gel with the protagonist—almost every decision she makes is painfully foolish—but Lucky is an optimistic bundle of happiness who deserves an endless supply of belly rubs and head pats.
Have I missed any good post-apocalyptic stories that feature dogs? Let me know so I can add them to my TBR (to be read) and TBW (to be watched) lists right away…
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her aforementioned rescue greyhound, Misty.