Meet Samantha McGraw

Thanks for inviting me to stop by Pens, Paws, and Claws; I’m delighted to spend some time with your readers.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve been a freelance writer for a several years now and I’m finally working on my first mystery novel. In the meantime, I’m writing for pure enjoyment over on my blog Tea Cottage Mysteries where I get to talk about my favorite things, tea and great mysteries. And when I have some free time, I love writing short stories, some of which I’ll be sharing soon on my blog.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

I have a feisty tuxedo cat who tends to be a bit of a diva, and I love it! She’s very strong-willed and strong-minded. Her favorite place to spend time is on my heat blanket or a pile of clean clothes just out of the dryer.

I also have a sweet, snuggly tabby who was abandoned in our neighborhood about 2 years ago and decided he wanted to live at my house. Now he spends his days sunning himself on my back deck or visiting my neighbor’s house and his nights curled up on heat blanket, not to be outdone by the diva.

Cats have always been part of my life so it just feels natural for me to include at least one as a character in my book. The cat in my story is a blend of my 2 babies.

Above: Madi and Mitty

What are you reading now?

I almost always have 2 or 3 books going at once. At least one to actually read and always one on audio that I listen to in my car or while cooking dinner. With a TBR pile that never seems to shrink, this helps me keep it under control.

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Ellery Adams’ new book, The Secret, Book, & Scone Society, which was one of the best book I’ve read all year. Be sure to get it when it releases.

I’ve been craving an Agatha Christie so I’m trying to decide which one I’ll read next.

On audio, I’m listening to Lisa Scottoline’s Exposed. I love Mary DiNunzio, and I always enjoy Lisa’s work.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

There’s always something! Right now I have my first novel and two short stories in the works.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a tough one, there are so many I love. There are two at the top of my list though. Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton. I love Agatha’s stories because she’s so clever about “hiding” clues right in front of your face. You really have to pay attention or you’ll miss something very important. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple challenge me to be at the top of my game to compete against them.

As for Sue’s Kinsey Millhone, I just love her. She has to be one of my favorite fictional characters. I wish she was real because I’d want to be her best friend. Sue is also very talented at hiding the obvious right in front of your face. When I get to the end I always feel like saying “Of course! I should have seen that!”, but I didn’t!

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?

Charlotte’s Web! What’s better than a spider trying to save a pig’s life? 😊

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

My husband and I still laugh about this one. We were sitting up in bed one night watching a movie and our diva kitty was snoozing in a box on the bed (if you’ve ever had a cat, I don’t have to explain the box obsession). She was sleeping so soundly she was snoring; it was adorable. Out of nowhere, my husband lets out a HUGE sneeze. I mean so loud I think the neighbors heard it. Huge! The cat jumped straight up in the air from a dead sleep and fell right off the end of the bed. She just sat on the floor, dazed and confused, shaking her head and trying to figure out what just happened. We laughed so hard we cried! She didn’t come back to the bed for the rest of the night!

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?

I’ve always known; it’s just part of my soul. My mother would tell you that she knew from the time I learned to spell my name. I never stopped writing and I always had at least one book with me at all times. When I was about 7, I would call all my aunts and uncles to find out what was new then I would hand write a “family newsletter” for everyone and make my mom send them out to every family member.

When I was 10, my grandfather bought me an Underwood typewriter so I wouldn’t have to keep writing by hand. I guess he always knew too.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

I don’t really prioritize my bucket list; it’s just ongoing. But one thing I can’t wait to try is a hike down to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. It’s at least a two-night camping trip to really enjoy it and I’m not much of a camper, but the trip is worth any struggle I may have to endure. I’m hoping to go in the next few years. If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. Now! You’ll be glad you did.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

Diva kitty sleeps all day and only bothers me when she’s hungry, and my snuggle buddy is usually outside. But if the weather’s bad and he has to be inside, he’s in my lap, tapping at my hand to stop working and pet him instead.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?

I have 2 TBR lists. One for books and eBooks, one for audio. My book list has a couple of Agatha Christie’s, 3 books from authors who have visited or are about to visit my blog, several books from my Sisters-in-Crime friends, and a new-to-me series that someone recommended.

My audio list is almost complete, but Mary Burton just released a new book that I’m dying to check out and there’s a new David Baldacci book coming in November. I always drop everything to listen to his latest when it releases!

Biography: Samantha is a freelance writer and aspiring mystery author who shares her passion for all things mystery and tea on her blog Tea Cottage Mysteries.

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The Dogs in my Life: Part I – Sandy – by Judy Penz Sheluk

I was about eight-years-old when, after years of pestering them, my parents finally relented and bought me my first dog. A mutt of unidentified origins (though his color and feathered tail indicated a smattering of Golden Retriever), I imaginatively named him Sandy.

Like me, Sandy’s favorite place to go was our cottage on Gull River, near Norland, Ontario, where we could both run and play and swim to our heart’s content. I can remember paddling my rowboat up and down the river, Sandy sitting beside me, and thinking how lucky I was to have a best friend.

For the most part, Sandy was a good dog and a great companion, but every now and again he’d jump the fence in our backyard and disappear for a day or two. Today, I realize this behavior could have easily been corrected by having him neutered, but for whatever reason, my parents chose to leave him intact. That decision eventually caused Sandy is his life.

I remember the day an irate man came to our door. He told us that he was a breeder of purebred dogs, and the latest litter had a distinctly “Sandy” look to them. While that explained where Sandy had been, and what he’d been up to, the breeder made it very clear that our mongrel dog had cost him a lot of money, and he was furious about it.

Maybe things would have turned out differently if my mom had given the breeder some money,  but my father had recently died and we didn’t have a bean, let alone a pot to cook it in. As for taking the breeder’s name, address, and telephone number, it simply didn’t occur to us, probably because we were both  too intimidated to think clearly.

We kept Sandy tied up after that, even in the backyard, but one day Sandy broke his chain and jumped the fence again. Days went by and no Sandy. My mom and I scoured the neighborhood looking for him, put up posters, advertised in the local paper. Nothing. And then one day, while I was studying for exams, there was a scratching sound at the front door. When I opened it, I saw Sandy, badly beaten and lying in a pool of blood.

I called my mom and she left work and came home right away.  We took Sandy to the vet, who said Sandy had been whipped with a chain and beaten with something, most likely hockey stick. The vet told us that Sandy was lucky to be alive, having more than forty lacerations over his body and face, and his paws were worn raw, as if he’d walked for many miles to find his way back to us. I’ll never know where or how my mom came up with the money, but Sandy was stitched up, and the vet reported the incident to the Humane Society, not that anything came of that.

It took several weeks, but Sandy eventually healed, his fur growing in around the multiple wounds. He became the ultimate house pet, showing no signs of wanting to bolt, regardless of the season. He used to like to sit on the front porch with me and watch the people and cars go by.

I’ll never forget the day it happened. I popped into the house to get something, just for a minute, leaving Sandy on the porch, chained, but unattended. I heard him bark, a frantic bark…he never barked… By the time I got to the front door, Sandy was gone, a dark car pulling out of our driveway. I didn’t get a make or model. I didn’t get a license plate.

We never saw Sandy again, and I knew, no matter how long or how hard we looked, that this time Sandy was never coming home. He was seven-years-old.

I was fifteen the last time I petted Sandy, and to this day I can’t bring myself to imagine what happened to him. In fact, I debated writing such a sad story for my first post, but if Sandy’s story convinces even one dog owner about the importance of spaying and neutering, it will be worth it.

Find out more about Judy on her website, One Writer’s Journey

 

 

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An Interview with Lauren H., Puppy Trainer for Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with Pens, Paws, and Claws this week. We’re excited to have you on our blog. Lauren is a rising college freshman who started training dogs in high school for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated high school this past May and am attending classes at PVCC with the intention to transfer to another college after 2 years. I am most interested in becoming a counselor.

When did you know that you wanted to train dogs?

My mom and I stopped by the grocery store one evening to pick up a few items and saw a group of dogs being trained. I asked a few questions and left there knowing this was something that I desperately wanted to do.

How did you find out about Guiding Eyes for the Blind? 

After a Google search for possible guide/service dog training organizations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the only one that wrote back letting me know that they were more than happy to have a teenager join their region. The coordinator that responded let me know that all three of her children raised guide dogs when they were teenagers.

Could you tell us a little about the organization? And what kind of training did you have to go through to start?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides dogs free of charge to blind people. They breed the puppies themselves and then foster them out to puppy raisers for approximately 13-14 months. At that point, they return to the New York facility for more intensive training before being paired with a blind handler.

To become a raiser, I attended three, two-hour training sessions and did a 5 day in home trial with a 6 month old puppy that had been going through training in the area. Once we received the puppy, we attended a once a week training class with the puppy for 12 weeks and then big dog training classes every two weeks after that.

Did you get to name the puppies?

No, Guiding Eyes names the puppies. They have the puppies that are a part of a litter all start with the same letter.

How old were they when they started their training?

Depends on the puppy. I have seen them anywhere between 7 weeks to 10 weeks.

Tell us about Wheat your first dog and where he ended up? 

Not all dogs end up being a good match for a blind person. Guiding Eyes has other organizations/career possibilities for when that happens. Wheat let it be known that she was more interested in sniffing down and finding items. The Connecticut State Police showed a strong interest in her, so she now is in their training program. She is due to graduate in December at which point she will wear a vest, a badge, and will be referred to as Detective Wheat.

What breed is she?

She is a Yellow Labrador

Tell us about Nirvana. How long has she been with you? 

We picked up Nirvana on the way home from the New York facility. While we will always have a place in our hearts for Wheat, it was very nice to be able to immediately put all the work and training we had done to use on another dog. We have her for about a month now, and she is definitely a different personality. She is a very gentle soul.  You can almost see her thinking about what you have said and is processing all of the information.

What’s the breed?

She is a black Labrador

Do you have any other family pets? 

We have a 7 yr olds dog that is a beagle mix and a 6yr old Norwegian Forest Cat.

If so, how do they get along with the pups you train?

In general, they like the dogs. There were times that Wheat’s energy level would be a bit much. At those times, they would escape to a private area. Being that Nirvana is a little slower going, the cat has actually been seen cuddling up to her.

How do you socialize the dogs to be in crowds or around people?

They teach you to start out small. In the beginning, it may be good enough to just walk in the door, sit there for a few minutes and go back out again. From there, it’s baby steps.  As the dog is more comfortable, extend the amount of time and start walking around. As far as around people, there are two approaches. When walking past people, you call the dog’s name as you are passing by someone and have a “puppy party” when they focus on you instead of the people. A “puppy party” consists of a few treats while very excitedly praising her for being such a good girl. When people ask to greet her, we have them pet her while we feed her several treats. This helps teach her to pay attention to her handler no matter what.

What is a typical day like when you are training the dogs?

That can really change with age and what the individual dog needs to work on.  House manners, walking while checking in with their handler, and socialization are some of the more common things worked on.

How do you juggle training, volunteer work with school and your other activities?

Thankfully, my family has helped me by seeing to her needs while I am at school or if I need to be out of town. It is actually very good for her so that she remains flexible as to who is working with her. The Richmond Region also has a great network of Puppy sitters that help out when our family happens to go on a trip where we can’t take dogs with us.

How much time do you spend with the dog each day?

Again, it depends on the age. A younger puppy needs much more sleep, so training times are shorter. As the grow, they can handle a little longer. It can also depend on the state of mind of the dog. Training classes help teach you to read the signs of whether a dog is in a state of mind where they are receptive of learning or not.

Congratulations on your recent award! Could you tell us a little about that?

Thank you!  The award is the President’s Volunteer Service Award.  Honestly, I knew nothing about it. Jodi, our regional manager applied for it for myself and a few other teenagers in the Prince William area. I was speechless and very honored when she presented the award.

What two dog training tips would you give to pet owners?

1) Making sure your puppy has 10 minutes, three times a day of chew time on an appropriate dog toy will help to significantly reduce the chance of the pup chewing on other items.

2) Make sure whatever you allow your puppy do, that you will still be okay with them doing that same thing when they are full grown. Stopping what may be unwanted behaviors or habits upfront may save a lot of stress and extra work later.

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with us and telling us about your work with the puppies and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. And congratulations again on your President’s Volunteer Service Award!

Lauren and Wheat

 

 

 

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