Where the Red Fern Grows has two main themes: determination and man's relationship to dogs. The two are closely related. After all, Old Dan, a dog, is perhaps the most determined character in the novel. Billy earns his beloved dogs through his determination, and together, they are unstoppable; they are a trio of dedication. Billy distinguishes between Old Dan and Little Ann, deciding that Old Dan is brave (that is, determined) while Little Ann is smart. But what does Little Ann's intelligence entail? It means that she always keeps searching for a coon. It means that she doesn't bark "treed" until she has done as thorough a search as possible, and is sure that the coon is in the tree. She is smart because she doesn't give up too early.
The plot of the book consists of adventure after adventure, each one a little more dangerous than the last. And to survive each adventure, Billy and his dogs have to be increasingly determined. But there are other elements that make this dedication meaningful. Rawls shows the strong love that develops between the boy and his dogs, and supporting Billy's love is his parents' love for him. There is a chain of love linking all the characters, so that when the reader fears Little Ann might die, the reader imagines the sad reactions of everyone in the book. This is how Rawls involves us in his fiction and is what makes the book so famously sad.
Rawls braces the theme of dedication with moral characters. Not only do they love one another, but they always do what is right. If they make mistakes, they are accidents. If anything bad happens, it is usually the fault of nature or a wild animal. The only exception is the Pritchards, and Rawls includes Mama's admonition that they can't help the way they act, because they have a poor life. The reader has no choice but to support all of the characters and hope that everything comes out for the best.