Tom Cleaves is a counselor who understands what it is like to struggle with addiction. After going through rehab himself, Tom becomes a counselor to help other addicts. Tom is constantly unsure about his abilities as a counselor but figures he must be doing something right to make it this far. He understands that not everybody can be saved from addiction, and only those who are ready to work for their sobriety are the ones that are going to successfully leave rehab and go back out into the world.
James is just finishing his second stay at West Oaks Recovery Center. It wasn't long after leaving rehab the first time that he started drinking again. This time he is expecting to constantly screw up and start drinking again. He's trying to stay sober, but he also knows how easy it is to open the bottle and start drinking again.
Jason Boston Jr. and his father, Jason Boston Sr., are both heroin addicts. Both have traveled through West Oaks Recovery Center at different times. Tom isn’t sure how much he can help either one (since neither of them actually want to get sober), but Tom wants to stop this pattern of drug abuse before Tyler, Jason’s young son, ends up like his father and grandfather.
Tom and his wife, Patty, are trying to conceive their first child. Going through the challenges of infertility is wearing Tom down. He is struggling with wanting to help addicts, many who seem to have multiple children out in the world that they don't bother to take care of, when he can't create a child that would be brought into a loving, sober home. Just as becoming sober made Tom look at the world differently, so is trying to become a parent.
James gets a job at Argos, an animal shelter next door to West Oaks. There he meets Ra, a beautiful young girl who has a giant heart and a love for all people and animals (especially the stray animals brought into Argos). Through getting to know Ra, James begins to realize that most people are looking for an escape from their life. While Ra never turned to drinking or drugs, she does feel like she doesn't belong and is trying to find a place to call home. James is trying to readjust to the world by being sober and he, like Ra, is struggling to find a way to fit in.
Every character in the book has felt like a stray animal at some point, lost and alone. Each person deals with these feelings in different ways. Not everyone makes it through rehab and not everyone has the strength to stay sober. But everyone, from counselors like Tom Cleaves to the family support systems to the struggling addicts, is simply doing the best they know how.