Cuteness: A Survival Tactic

This is Kathleen Kaska’s final post with Pens, Paws, and Claws. We’ll miss her in our regular rotation of bloggers, and we’ll hope she’ll stop by from time to time for a visit.

Do you ever wonder why most people go gaga over babies—human and otherwise?

When I was studying physical anthropology at the University of Texas, one of my professors caught slack after he said that baby animals were cute so that their mothers would take care of them. Anthropomorphism in the world of science was a big no-no back then, and still is in certain academic situations. However, recent brain research seems to support my professor’s claim.

There is a recent article in The Telegraph by Sophie Jamieson about an Oxford University study concluding babies and puppies have evolved cute characteristics as a way to survive. It goes beyond visual attributes like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and infantile giggles. Sounds and smells also stimulate the nervous system to give care to the cute. Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Morten Kringelbach led the research and said, “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.” That also might be why we more often choose young animals for pets rather than older ones.

Beyond stimulating our need to nurture, owning a pet, regardless of the animal’s age, can make us healthier. It’s no secret that pets relax us when we’re stressed, but did you know there’s a scientific reason for that? Cuddling a pet releases the chemical oxytocin sometimes called “the cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin calms and soothes both the owner and the pet, which leads to a strong bond between both. That bond between dog and human is the strongest. Dogs are the only animal that consistently run to meet their owner when frightened or happy to see them. They are the only ones to make eye contact with people when they need attention, food, or protection.

Other studies show that owning a pet improves our cardio-vascular system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of asthma. Cuddling or petting a pet reduces the stress hormone cortisol in those who suffer from clinical depression. Dogs are also being trained to detect, usually by smell, certain diseases or malfunctions of the human body. For example, trained dogs can detect minute changes in the function of the adrenal glands of people suffering from Addison’s disease. Some can use their sense of smell to detect the development of cancer or diabetes, and others learn to detect early signs of epileptic seizures and to warn their owner.

I used to teach middle-school science before I retired. Although I loved my job, I usually left the classroom stressed. A half-hour commute home through heavy traffic added a tight knot between my shoulders. Only when I turned down my street did I begin to relax. When I looked at my front window and saw my little brown, mixed-breed hound Jenny watching for me, the tension washed away completely.

Links:

https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/

http://www.kathleenkaska.com

http://www.blackopalbooks.com

https://twitter.com/KKaskaAuthor

http://www.facebook.com/kathleenkaska

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Meet Teresa Inge, Luke and Lena

Pens, Paws, and Claws Blogger, Teresa Inge, tells us about her writing and her love for pets. 

 Tell our readers about yourself and your writing.

 I am a short mystery author of several anthologies.

 My stories have been included in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of short stories set in Virginia.

 My latest publication is in 50 Shades of Cabernet, “Love the Wine You’re With.” The story features Jules Riley who has three things on her mind. Plan the Virginia Beach Wine Fest, rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, a hot local musician, and keep her sister Em sober. But when Em serves up a deadly appetizer that Jules made, she is accused of murder.

 Tell us about your pets?

 I have two dogs Luke and Lena who were named after my husband’s grandparents. Luke is a country boy, part shepherd, part lab. Lena is a city girl, part shepherd and Husky mix.

 Tell us what you are currently writing?

 I am completing a novella dog walking mystery that includes myself and three other authors. My story, “Hounding the Pavement,” features dogs Cagney and Lacey who help solve a crime and theft.

 Anything else you want to share?

 I am a Sisters in Crime member and president of the Mysteries by the Sea chapter in Chesapeake, Virginia. Our chapter is currently coordinating the Mysteries by the Sea anthology.

 I am also a board of director with the Chesapeake Humane Society and love helping animals.

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A Service Dog to the Rescue

A Service Dog to the Rescue

 By Sheri S. Levy

Kathy, sobbed on the phone. “Logan’s missing! My husband’s golfing and hasn’t returned my call.”

“I’m on my way.” I filled my pouch with treats and snapped his water bottle to my belt. “Let’s go, Syd.”

Kathy stood out front, waving her arms.

Sydney and I bolted from the car. I held her hand as she blubbered information. “Logan had a meltdown when his brothers left to play golf. With his autism, there’s no way Logan can sit in a golf cart all morning.”

I clasped my hands together, easing my tension. “I’ve only played hide and seek with Sydney. He’s a service dog in training, not a search and rescue dog. But Logan and Sydney have made such a strong connection on the beach, Syd may be able to find Logan. But you’ll need to stay here.”

Kathy’s eyes widened.

I touched her shoulder. “You have to be here in case he comes home or someone calls.”

She sobbed. “I’ll go crazy, waiting.”

A load of gravel hit the pit of my stomach, one stone at a time. “Will Logan get in the water?”

She shook her head. “Not without his life jacket. He may walk a long way and forget how to get home. He doesn’t know his phone number and can only say his first name.”

Relieved, I smiled. “That’s good, he won’t get in the water. Can you give me an item he wears? Sydney needs his scent.”

As I clicked-on Syd’s vest, his amber eyes brightened and his lips spread into a grin. He was on duty.

Kathy rushed over, carrying Logan’s ball cap and spoke in spurts. “I’m surprised he…ran off without… this.” She gasped. “He doesn’t like… the sun in his eyes.”

“That’s perfect.”

I held Logan’s ball cap up to Sydney’s nose. “Find, Logan.”

He inhaled the scent, backed up, jiggled his stub, and shoved his nose again into the cap. That was his signal, “I know what you want me to do.”

“Good boy, Syd. Find, Logan.”

I let him run, getting his bearings. He lunged into the bushes behind Logan’s house, and then circled the sea grass in the dunes. As he dashed toward the water, his nostrils opened and closed level with the sand, and then he made a U-turn. Racing on dry sand, he sniffed his way up the coast. After each inspection, Sydney woofed. Logan would recognize Syd’s bark and come running.

If he heard. Or if he could? Shivers ran up my neck.

High tide moved down, leaving no foot-prints, no trail of food, and no way to know which way Logan might have gone.

Before heading up a wooden path, I returned the cap to Syd’s nose. “Find, Logan.”

We repeated checking the dunes, and under each house, block after block.  After an hour and a half, I said, “Down,” in someone’s empty carport. Syd panted heavily and rested. Once his breathing slowed, we shared a bottle of water.

What if Logan knocked at someone’s door, and they took him in. My insides shuddered. What if we can’t find him? I wiped my damp face.

Kathy phoned. “My sons are going door to door. And my husband contacted the island police. They’re patrolling the streets.” She took a long breath. “This is the longest he’s ever been gone.”

My voice squeaked out. “So, he’s done this before?”

“Twice. He’s never gone very far, but each time it’s happened, he’s walked a little farther.”

“Did he have a special hiding spot?”

She whispered, “No.”

My chest tightened. “We’ll find him. He’s getting older. I bet he’s just found a better hiding place.”

“Okay, Syd. Find, Logan.” He turned in circles, excited to be back on the job. When we reached the pier, I said a prayer. Maybe he’s up there watching the seagulls, or looking for dolphins.

As I looked left, despair swallowed any relief. On the other side of the pier, strangers camped in tents or in trailers at the State Park.

We scoured every corner of the pier and restaurant. My stomach quivered with no sign of Logan.

Collapsing on the pier, I sat crossed-legged. My hands covered my face and I cried. Sydney put his nose under my arms, lifting my hands to lick the dripping tears.

I looked into his tired eyes. “You need a rest.” We walked down the stairs, and I undid his vest.

Sydney dashed at the small waves, popping the white bubbles in the foam. I didn’t care if he got wet. He was free to relax.

The sun blazed, making the sand too hot for bare feet. I worried about Sydney’s feet, and then Logan’s. Would he look for shade?

Five minutes later, I strapped-on Syd’s vest and lifted Logan’s cap to his nose.

“Find, Logan.”

He turned in circles, wiggled his rear end, and darted to the dunes. Then he put his nose close to the sand, sniffing like a hound dog. Chills traveled up my body. He was onto something. It better not be a fish.

Sydney tramped up to a tree in someone’s backyard, turned around and circled me like he was saying, “Hurry up.”

“What do you smell, Syd.”

He barked and showed me foot prints. They were small, bare feet.

“Okay. Show me.”

Sydney sniffed the ground. I followed. He circled the dune once more and followed footprints from the ocean to the trees. He wouldn’t move forward.

“What is it Syd?”

I glanced between the dune and the trees. Steps to someone’s house, painted sky-blue, had disguised a three-sided outdoor shower under the wooden steps. An ocean-blue plastic shower curtain decorated with colored fish closed the opening. Syd crept towards the shower stall.

I pressed my lips together. Could Logan be inside? Was he hurt?

Sydney stood at attention. “Good boy.”

Syd’s body squirmed, making an indention in the sand with his bottom.

I slid the curtain back, an inch at a time. There was a small bench on the back wall and shaded by the tree. Sleeping with one arm under his head and one arm hanging off the ledge, Logan breathed, peacefully. He had no idea of the ordeal he had begun.

My eyes teared. Face to face with Sydney, I whispered, “Good Boy. You have the honor of waking him.”

Sydney’s eyes sparkled. He slinked in, put his nose under Logan’s limp arm and licked his cheek.

Logan’s eyes opened. He squealed, “Syd-ney. Syd-ney. Want see.” Logan sat, lifting his beaming face, showing two missing teeth on the top and on the bottom.

I snatched Logan’s hand and said, “Sydney, home.”

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The Dogs in My Life: Part IV – Copper

In Part I, I told you about my first dog, Sandy, a Golden-mix from my childhood. Part II was devoted to Einstein and Part III to Ranger, both purebred Golden Retrievers. Each of these dogs made an impact on my life, and I loved them all, but none made an impact the way Copper did.

It was December 2002, less than a month after we had to put Ranger down due to an inoperable tumour. Neither Mike nor I was ready for another dog. We needed time to heal. Fate had other plans.

At the time I was with a running club training for a half marathon. As with any running group, there were people of all paces, though we did tend to meet for coffee after our Sunday long runs to lament aches, pains, and cold weather. I was one of the slower runners, so I was surprised when one of the speedier ones, Teresa, sat next to me.

“I heard you lost your dog,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

I nodded, not able to speak.

“The thing is, my friend owns Kyon Kennels and they have an eight-month-old puppy that was a return to breeder. They’re looking for a good home for  him. I thought about you and Mike.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re not looking for another dog. Not yet.” Especially not one returned to the breeder.

Teresa patted my hand and handed me a piece of paper with Kyon’s website. “Copper’s picture is on there. You can see him on Boxing Day, if you’d like. They don’t believe in placing dogs in new homes before Christmas.”

I went home, checked online, and found Copper’s picture (no mean feat in a time of internet dial-up). “Hey, Mike, come see.”

“Well,” Mike said, “Let’s go see him. We don’t have to bring him home.”

HA! You can imagine how that went. A slightly overweight puppy ran out of the breeder’s barn and sat on my feet. Well, I needed my feet, didn’t I?

We brought Copper, CKC name Kyon’s Time to Shine, home on December 26, 2002. He’d never seen stairs and had no idea how to navigate them. When I let him out in the yard, a car drove by and spooked him. “I think we have our work cut out for us,” Mike said.

He was wrong. A gentle soul, if you taught Copper something once, whether it be a command or an admonishment, he obeyed forever. After a couple of months, were even able to leave an open bowl of dog cookies on a small table at the front door. He didn’t eat them unless we gave him one. He walked on a flat leash as though he’d been trained to heel at birth. If he had a fault, it was that he wasn’t a great car traveller. Gravol took care of that, too, and we even drove to Florida with him when Mike did his first Ironman in Clearwater. I can remember when the US Customs guard asked if Copper was aggressive. As if on cue, Copper sat up in the back seat, his red Dino stuffed toy in his mouth. I think the guard may have actually cracked a smile.

For 12 years, Copper helped us get through some tough times, including my 2008 breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. That dog didn’t leave my side from the moment I got home from the hospital at night to the moment I left for treatment every morning. 

But of course, the heartbreak of dog ownership is that we outlive them. On Boxing Day 2014, exactly 12 years after we’d brought Copper into our home, he died of stomach cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever cried quite so hard. It truly was like losing my best friend.

Today, I view Copper as a wonderful  blessing in my life. But even as I write this, I find a tear or two trickling down my cheek. Here’s a two-minute video of his life with us, should you care to watch it.

Thanks for reading.

Judy

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Welcome, Maureen Bonatch

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Maureen Bonatch to the blog.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello! I’m Maureen Bonatch from small-town Pennsylvania. I write humorous paranormal romance and fantasy. My stories are meant to allow you to escape from the ordinary world for a little bit to visit the underlying extraordinary.

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

Currently Scuff, our Shih Tzu, is our only pet. I often use my pets in my writing, but usually change their name. Scruff is in a WIP. My featured book today, EVIL SPEAKS SOFTLY, stars Mozart. He is a Lhasa Apso and modeled after our beloved 14-year-old Lhasa Apso, Bummy who died 5 years ago. Before you ask, we kept the name he had when we got him. He was dubbed “Bummy” because he was a “bum pup” or “the runt” of the litter and we loved him dearly. He was my baby long before I had babies.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Where do I start? I’m always working on something. Right now, I’m waiting for my editor to finish Book #2 for The Enchantlings Series entitled NOT A CHANCE. I also have multiple works in progress in varying draft states.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

The first pet that was an indoor pet was Mimi. She was a toy poodle. I call her my pet, but in reality, she was closest to my Mom. We always had cats, a few rabbits and my dad always had ‘hunting dogs’ (even though I don’t know how often he actually went hunting with them, lol), but they lived outside.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

The animals in my writing always end up being a secondary character. I have so much fun writing them. They are often a pet, or some type of guardian. One of my WIP has a shifter in it and when she shifts she can talk to other animals.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I believe that most people love animals and feel as if they’re part of their family. I like to write the animals in my stories the same way. Plus, they allow me to show my hero or heroine’s vulnerabilities and compassion.

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

I don’t know why, but Boo, from Dean Koontz’s book ODD THOMAS comes to mind. I love those stories.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

I consider Scruff my writing assistant. He usually comes up to my office and either pesters me for a treat, or lays right behind my chair so I’m forced to keep on writing. He also will decide when I need a break and fuss until I get up and toss a toy around, or just give him a little attention.

What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

My twin girls are both big animal lovers. They’re 16 now, but when they were growing up, we had a range of critters that they considered pets, whether they really were or not. Starting from worms (each ‘Wormy’ rarely survived the night), frogs and toads, tadpoles, fish, hermit crabs, a hamster and lastly two guinea pigs. Our last guinea pig died about six months ago.

 What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

 I wish I would’ve realized how much easier it would be to finish each series before starting another one. The story is always there and will wait. Allowing myself to become distracted by other shiny new ideas has resulted in having multiple series, and standalone stories, in progress. It becomes challenging to move from each story without a lot of rereading.

I wish I would’ve realized from the start how each book can be promoted and marketed for a lifetime. Initially I felt as if once a book was out for six months or so, that I should focus on promoting the next, or newest story, when a book is always new to someone.

Author Biography:

Maureen Bonatch grew up in small town Pennsylvania and her love of the four seasons—hockey, biking, sweat pants and hibernation—keeps her there. While immersed in writing or reading paranormal romance and fantasy, she survives on caffeine, wine, music, and laughter. A feisty Shih Tzu keeps her in line. Find Maureen on her websiteFacebookTwitter

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Welcome, Jane Finnis

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Jane Finnis to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello, pet-lovers! I’m joining you from Yorkshire, northern England. I live near the coast here with my husband Richard and our cocker spaniel Rosie. I write a series of mysteries, novels and short stories, that are set in Roman Britain. I’ve been fascinated by history all my life, and love the research I need to do to get the historical background right. My main sleuth (you can’t really say “detective” for those times) is Aurelia Marcella, a Roman settler who runs the Oak Tree Inn on the road to York. She and her sister and twin brother get drawn into solving crimes that lead to trouble and often danger. There’s plenty of both, because Britannia in Aurelia’s day was a raw frontier province, quite recently conquered, and simmering with barely suppressed violence. It’s a wonderful backdrop for stories of murder and mayhem.

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

We share our home with Rosie, a black cocker spaniel aged 11. She’s lively, clever, and loving, and of course she’s got us well trained to provide walks, food, and attention. She’s our fourth cocker spaniel, and when a spaniel turns those appealing eyes on you, you can’t refuse anything! My husband keeps fish too, the brightly coloured sorts like koi and golden orf. Interesting pets though not exactly cuddly, and their pond make a lovely addition to our garden.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?

There are dogs aplenty, because the Romans valued them, not just as pets but for farm work and guarding. It’s no surprise that one of the best-known mosaics unearthed in Pompeii has the warning “Beware of the dog”, but whether the residents really had a fierce guardian or just didn’t like visitors much, who knows? My innkeeper Aurelia keeps pet dogs, different ones as the series progresses through the years. Our first dog, going back forty years or so now, was a smart black labrador cross called Lucky, and she makes a cameo appearance in Aurelia’s first adventure, SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT, when she discovers the body of a horse in the woods. There are also, as you’d expect at a country inn, several household cats, sort of pets but mainly kept for pest control duties.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of another Aurelia Marcella novel, LABYRINTH OF LIES, which takes Aurelia away from her inn and down to London (but not away from mysteries!) That’s still a work in progress so there’s no publication date yet. Right now I’m just finishing an anthology of short stories set in Roman times, and several include Aurelia and her family. The collection is due out in May, and is called SIX ROMAN MYSTERIES, unless I can think of a more original title.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

Yes. I specially remember a red cocker spaniel called Wendy who produced four pups, very exciting; and we had two tabby cats called Tinker and Tailor. I kept rabbits too, one at once because you know what rabbits are, and used to take them with me to and from boarding school.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

Animals are as important in my stories as they were to the people I’m writing about, which means very important indeed. I don’t use them actually to do the detecting, but they and their actions, such as leaving or following telltale tracks or appearing unexpectedly, can be crucial for unravelling the twists and turns of a mystery plot.

Do you have any working or service animals in your stories? Tell us about them.

Yes, heaps of them. As I’m writing about the long-ago past, pre-steam and pre-petrol, transport animals abound. From glossy horses to dusty mules and donkeys and lumbering oxen, they bring customers and their problems to Aurelia’s door. Then there are farm animals, army mounts, and I can’t resist mentioning hunting dogs occasionally, as British dogs were highly prized. by hunters even in Rome itself. According to the ancient writer Oppian, the native Britons raised a breed they called Agassian, “…endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth…For tracking it is the best there is.”

Aurelia doesn’t hunt but she does enjoy riding when she can, This is in character… and needless to say it comes in dead useful for plot purposes sometimes!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

Richard and I and our first dog Lucky went touring on holiday once in a caravan. One beautiful evening we parked in a field by the sea, and went for a walk on the sands; Lucky always loved water. As we headed back for supper Richard realised the one and only caravan key had somehow slipped from his pocket and got lost. We searched far and wide with no luck; dusk was falling and panic set in. Then we spotted Lucky sitting calmly in the middle of the sands, refusing to budge even when we called her. Lo and behold, she was sitting on the missing key! You can bet she got extra treats with her supper that night.

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

I moved my TBR pile onto a shelf after it began to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are 40+ titles there, all sorts of mysteries, also biographies and science fiction and even some poetry. Now I just need one more volume…an instruction book on how to bend the physical laws of space/time so I can double the number of hours in my day.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

First, there are many useful lists of “rules” by eminent people telling you how to write novels, and it doesn’t hurt to read them. Second, having read them, it doesn’t hurt to disregard them if you like. Tell a good story in an interesting way, that’s the only rule you really need.

About Jane Finnis

FYI my married name is Jane Copsey, but I always write and blog as Jane Finnis.

For more information visit my website,  www.janefinnis.com,  or find me on Twitter where my handle is Jane_Finnis.

Brief biog: I was born in Yorkshire, but went to University in London and  then worked in the civil service, in computers, and then for BBC Radio. When I married, Richard and I came back to Yorkshire and ran a craft shop. Now we’re retired and I have time to write fiction.

My novels are available in  print and as e-books. They are published in the USA by Poisoned Pen Press, Arizona, and in the UK and Commonwealth by Head of Zeus, London.

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Welcome, Val Muller

Pens, Paws, and Claws welcomes Val Muller to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

By day, I’m an English teacher. By night, I’m a corgi-tamer, toddler-chaser, and writer. I’ve written a range of work from the middle-grade mystery series Corgi Capers to The Scarred Letter, a young adult reboot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous work.

As an English teacher, I get to talk about writing all day. When watching movies with family, I have a habit of analyzing storylines and writing techniques and, as my husband notes, I have the uncanny ability to tell whether a movie is “good” during the first few minutes.

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

My two corgis, Leia and Yoda, are the inspiration behind the Corgi Capers mystery series. The series follows a fifth grader named Adam and his seventh grade sister. The two corgis in the novel, the fictional Zeph and Sapphie, are modeled after my corgis.

Yoda is afraid of almost anything. Thunder and chirping smoke detectors, strange people, aluminum foil shaken too loudly, a ceramic duck… but he has a heart of gold. He’s protective and concerned: if his sister is up to her usual antics, he’ll run up to me and howl—his “tattle tale.” He’ll even tattle tale on the toddler, which is sometimes a big help.

Leia is almost the opposite. She’s rambunctious and nearly fearless (for some reason, she is terrified of the chirping smoke detector, too. It might be because when we moved into our current house, the detector was chirping). She frequently rolls in and eats dirt, mud, sand, grass, and various other unmentionables. She is the most vocal and the definite inspiration behind my favorite Corgi Capers character, Sapphie, who is always getting everyone into trouble with her playful attitude and lack of judgment.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Funny story. I have the outline done for Corgi Capers book 4. Actually, I had it finished over two years ago, right before my daughter was born. On the release date for Corgi Capers 3, a fire alarm went off at my work, and the fire company showed up. I thought it was a coincidence because book 3, Curtain Calls and Fire Halls, features a fire station and an accidental near-fire.

Fast forward to book 4. It takes place during the winter, and there’s a disabling blizzard. My daughter’s due date was February 7, and I was afraid that if I wrote the book beforehand, she might be born during the storm, which is something that happens to a family member in the novel. Turns out I should have written the book. My daughter was born during the historic blizzard (I blogged about it here: http://www.valmuller.com/2016/02/11/stormborn-by-val-muller/). Now, every time I sit down to finish the novel, I struggle to find the happy magic of snow and am afraid it will become too dark for a chapter book.

In other writing endeavors, I have a novel half written and on the backburner. It’s about some of the issue that arise in the public school setting. I see it as a mix between The Chocolate Wars and a more modern young adult work, with some of The Grapes of Wrath mixed in for good measure. This has been the most difficult book for me to write because it has the potential to be the most serious and hits close to home.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

Growing up, my pal was Chip, a bichon fries. He was probably the most spoiled dog I’ve ever known in terms of being the recipient of constant attention. He had his choice of which bed he wanted to snooze in, he was walked multiple times a day by each of us, he was given custom toys made by my dad (who had previously sworn he had no interest in dogs)… the list goes on.

I made him Halloween costumes (my favorite was when he dressed as a hippie), brought him up to my treehouse, fed him scraps under the table. He had my parents trained to mix gravy or ranch dressing in his food to make him eat it. He really brought us together as a family and solidified in my mind the importance of pets in fostering love, empathy, and community.

I blogged about the little guy here: https://corgicapers.com/2016/03/02/woof-out-wednesday-chip/

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

In Corgi Capers, the corgis threaten to steal the show! In my other works, animals are more of a passing thought.

In Corgi Capers, the chapters alternate. Some are told in the perspective of one of the humans (usually Adam or his sister Courtney). The other chapters are told in the perspective of Zeph or Sapphie, the corgis. In each mystery, the corgis’ observations are integral in helping to solve the mystery or help the humans gets to where they need to be in order to do so. But the problem is, the humans cannot understand what the corgis are saying, so it sounds like barking to them. The corgis could literally be barking out the answer, and the humans would have no idea. Sapphie and Zeph have to find more clever ways of solving problems.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

My idea to write Corgi Capers started when I lived in a large section of townhomes. I would walk my dogs there daily, and they (being the cute corgis they are) would often attract the attention of neighborhood kids. Each time we stopped for petting time, the kids asked me what my dogs did when I wasn’t home. I shrugged at first, admitting they probably napped. The kids insisted I was wrong: they told me my dogs went on secret adventures. Their names (Leia and Yoda) meant they had special bone-shaped light sabers they used to escape the bounds of my house and defend against enemies. I decided to play along, making up stories about random things my dogs did while I was way. The idea stuck, and it turned into a novel. And another. And another.

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

As an English teacher, I love teaching (and re-reading) The Life of Pi. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, especially since the story can be read metaphorically. But there is a huge Bengal tiger featured in the story, and animals of all types play an integral role.

This goes back to what I wrote about Chip. Whether or not you believe animals have human-like traits and emotions, it’s fairly clear that animals help us bring out our human-like traits and emotions. The same goes for the main character Pi in The Life of Pi. His family ridicules him for assigning human emotions and motives to animals. Whether or not he is correct in doing so, his understanding of animals helps him understand the truth of the universe and the nature of man more effectively than any book or religion.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

I mentioned my childhood dog, Chip. Because of all the attention he got (he was never truly treated like a dog), he developed several quirks. The weirdest one he learned from my sister. I’m not sure how it got started, but we had a bunch of sewers in our neighborhood. They were the kind that contained a grate right on the street, so you could look down and see the little waterways below. Somehow, we got in the habit of dropping pebbles down into the sewers and listening for a “plop.”

Chip got in the habit as well. He learned the command as “look,” and when we told him to “look,” he would run to the nearest sewer and push a pebble in with his nose. It was an impressive trick—until he got to the point that he wouldn’t walk fast (it was possible to actually gain calories on a walk with him—that’s how slowly he went!) unless you continually told him to “look.” In that way, we got him to prance from one sewer to the next, pushing pebbles in each one.

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

As soon as I could write, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. In fact, before I knew how to write, I dictated stories (very bad, long-winded stories about aliens and bicycles and flowers and such) onto cassette tapes. In first grade, I wrote a poem, and my first grade teacher had me read it in front of the fifth grade class. In second grade, my teacher wrote in my “yearbook” that she would look for my work in books and magazines one day. It continued on to the point that two college professors questioned whether I had actually penned some of the assignments in the time allotted (I had, as I explained to them; I’d had so much practice writing that I could crank out “A” work very quickly).

Of course, being a full-time writer is a risky business, so I went into teaching to make sure I had some security. I blogged about the time I made the transition to serious writer: http://www.valmuller.com/2012/02/10/the-mentor-giveaway/

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

I don’t make lists like that. I follow that cliché about the best-laid plans. I had it in my mind to meet my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, but he passed away before I could figure out how to make that work. My birthing plan was very simple—there were literally only 2 things on it, and yet a blizzard caused everything to go awry. From these experiences, I learned to be flexible and simply look for enjoyment in each day.

I also think that as a writer, my mind is a much more vivid place than much of the world. When I used to run track, I followed a strict diet, and I could often convince myself not to eat something delicious (like ice cream) simply by imagining the experience. It’s the same these days: I can use my imagination to transport me to places and times I’d like to experience.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

First, think of the reader. I’d heard so much mixed advice about this, including that a writer should simply write for herself. But I’ve read too many books that don’t seem to keep the reader in mind or respect the reader’s time, background knowledge (or lack thereof), etc. I try now to picture a specific reader for each story and write for them.

Second, read a wide variety of works. As a younger reader, I stuck with what resonated with me. But as I read more and more, I realize that reading things beyond my comfort zone help me understand myself as a writer. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to read something I don’t particularly like: this shows me what kind of a reader I am and helps me think more metacognitively as a writer. I recently gave this advice to a teenage writer I often work with, and he started reading War and Peace (despite my warnings). He actually likes it and is learning about the craft of writing—including what he doesn’t prefer as a writing style.

About Val

www.CorgiCapers.com

www.ValMuller.com

www.facebook.com/author.val.muller

https://twitter.com/mercuryval

The Corgi Capers Series:

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Deceit-Dorset-Drive-ebook/dp/B01CIJWVBG

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Sorceress-Stoney-Brook-ebook/dp/B01CILY7AC

https://www.amazon.com/Corgi-Capers-Curtain-Calls-Halls-ebook/dp/B01CIOC4CW

 

 

 

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8 Things I Learned from my Dogs

We share our house with two crazy Jack Russell Terriers.  Disney is the brunette who is always exuberant (even at 2:00 a.m.) and Riley, her brother, is the happy-go-lucky one. I’m sure he would say things like “gnarly” and “dude” if he could talk. They like to chase squirrels, spy on the neighbors, go for long walks, and score snacks whenever they can.

Sometimes, it’s like living with two, perpetual three year olds. But they are smart and fun, and here’s what they’ve taught me.

Live in the now. Today is what’s important. The past and future don’t matter as much.

Be present in the moment. Put down the distractions and pay attention to what’s going on and who’s around you.

Play hard. Life can’t be all work. Everything is a game to a Jack.

Nap when you need to. You need to recharge once in a while.

Don’t waste a beautiful day by staying inside. Go outside and have fun. For the best adventure, bring a ball or a flying disc.

Know when it’s time to cuddle on the couch with a good book. You can never have enough doggie snuggles or books.

Bark if you need to, but not too much. Sometimes, you have to show the delivery driver or that cheeky squirrel who’s boss.

Wag and make friends. Relationships are important.

 

Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, Lethal Ladies Write, and James River Writers. The Tulip Shirt Murders is her second novel in her Delanie Fitzgerald series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and the pair of Jacks.

 

 

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Welcome, Laura Vorreyer!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Laura Vorreyer and Dexter to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Hello. Thanks so much for stopping by and getting to know a little about me.

My book, The Pet Sitter’s Tale, is my first book; it’s based on my 15 years as a professional pet sitter and dog walker in Hollywood, California. I was inspired to write  the book by my many friends and acquaintances that heard my wild and unbelievable pet sitting stories and said to me, “I can’t believe it, you should write a book.” And so, I did.

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

My dog, Dexter, is featured prominently in my book. Dexter is my canine-soul mate. I  recued him when he was just a puppy. He had been thrown out of an apartment window  and run over by a car. I adopted him sight unseen and never regretted it for a minute.  Dexter has been with me through thick and thin, for better and for worse and takes up  residence in the office with me when I’m writing. He often sits under my desk and is a great sounding board for ideas and yes, for snacking inspiration.

My book is collection of stories and in my story entitled, “I Confess” I talk about loving  Dexter more than the person I was in a relationship with at the time. Many women have told me that they can relate to this story.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

A script. My desire is that my book will be made into a major motion picture. (Isn’t it everybody’s?) Even so, currently I am working on a script for the screen adaptation of  The Pet Sitter’s Tale and a children’s book, which is a new concept, altogether. A black Labrador named Leo inspires the children’s book. I used to regularly walk Leo for a client. The client lived in a wonderful neighborhood full of lush greenery and beautifully landscaped gardens. Walking Leo inspired me to write a children’s book about a dog-named Leo that becomes a protector of the Earth and a role model for children.

Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

Ginger was my first dog. I write about her extensively in the beginning of my book. She was my first love and best friend. Coincidentally, Ginger was also a black Labrador. I’ve always felt that people gravitate towards the types of pets they had as children and I’m no different. Even though Dexter is a Chi-weenie, I would love to have a Black Labrador. My second dog growing up was a black Lab; too, his name was King. King also made it into my book. I believe it was when I was a child that my love of dogs was developed. I was quite isolated growing up and created an entire world where just my dog and me existed.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

Animals are mentioned in every single story in my book. Sometimes they are the main character of the story and other times they are not. Having been a pet sitter for so long, I often think of the animals as the main characters, each with their own voice and personality.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I got some great advice once and that was, write what you know. Well, I know animals, after fifteen years a s a professional pet sitter I’ve become a pet expert.

I been fortunate to observe the role of the pet in a family’s life and seen first hand how a pet can become so much more than just an animal living in the house. Amongst its humans. I include animals in my writing because without them, I’d have nothing to write about.

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

I find that many movies, which feature animals, are too sad to watch because the animal   usually dies at the end of the movie. (I hate when that happens!) I love, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective I especially love the scene when Ace is hiding all the pets in his apartment and the landlord comes over, I have definitely been there. I love that movie. The one book that stands out in my mind as having an animal as the central character is, The Art of Racing in the Rain. By Garth Stein. In this book, the narrator was Enzo the dog. What a great book. I think this is the first time I read a book and thought that the perspective of the animal was captured really well and also the dog was so completely loveable in his innocence and loyalty. What a treasure!

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

It’s in my book; you’ll have to read it. Begins on page 102

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

When I was a little girl. I loved to write. I would send long letters, keep journals and enter writing contest (especially poetry) every chance I’d get. As I got older, writing became too much of a time commitment and I stopped writing for the pure joy of it. Instead I became an avid reader and devoured tons of books. About ten years ago I started writing again and haven’t stopped.

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

To vacation in Italy. Not just for a few days but for a few weeks or maybe even more. I would love to spend time in Venice, Italy. This has been a dream destination of mine forever, as long as I can remember. My relatives on my Father’s side are from Sicily so I would love to spend some time in Sicily, too. Put me down for a few months in Italy and I’m good.

What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?

First, don’t compare yourself to other writers. You can be inspired by them, motivated by them and encouraged by them but don’t try and be like them. Copying someone else’s writing style will not guarantee success. Remember, their good writing does not take away from your good writing. Remain true to your own voice. Write the best you can for you. There is a big enough reading audience out there for everyone to have a fan base.

It’s all right to be jealous of someone else’s success, just don’t act on it.

Secondly, have compassion for yourself and for others. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t wake up every morning and pound out 2,500 words before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee. It’s okay. Do the best that you can and enjoy the journey!

About Laura

Laura Vorreyer is an entrepreneur, who pioneered the dog walking industry in Hollywood over 15 years ago, and is the author of the new book, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale.” She is the owner of the pet care company Your Dog’s Best Friend, a premier dog walking and pet-sitting business in Los Angeles. Laura has taught pet-sitting and dog walking classes in Los Angeles and is also a passionate advocate for animal rights. She remains dedicated to pet rescue.

 Laura’s road to pet-sitting began when she packed up her belongings and moved from Chicago to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a make-up artist for big-time movie stars. Rather than dabbing powder on the pert noses of up-and-coming starlets, she found herself without a union card (something she didn’t know she needed for a career as a make-up artist) and, therefore, couldn’t find work. Moreover, it seemed as if everybody she met was a make-up artist. “There were more make-up artists than actresses in Los Angeles!” she quipped.

 Before she knew it, in order to just get her foot in that coveted door, she was heading to the set of a seedy adult film to apply make-up in ways she never – ever – expected. It was at this point she started to question her choice in career paths. A chance meeting on the set of a legitimate film led to a life-changing conversation. A well-known comedienne happened to need a dog walker and since Laura loves dogs, her career showering pets with love and care was born.

 Never dull, sometimes hilarious and occasionally terribly sad, Laura found that her career of looking after the rich and famous’ furry family members was captivating enough for a book. Recognizing this, she got a good chunk of her anecdotes down on paper and produced what is a combination of the books “The Nanny Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada” with the can-do spirit of the film “Legally Blonde.” “The Pet Sitter’s Tale” is funny, inspiring and relatable to anyone who has ever loved an animal. About her path to her career, Laura explains, “I have been many other things, but none as satisfying or rewarding as a caretaker for other living creatures.” Anybody who has loved a four-legged furry family member can relate and will laugh and cry along with Laura’s compilation of stories of her 15 years in the pet care business.

 

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Welcome, Debra Sennefelder!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Debra Sennefelder to the blog. Congratulations on your new release!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

Born and raised in New York City, I now live in Connecticut with my family which includes two slightly spoiled Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy. They are my writing companions, though they sleep a lot on the job. When I’m not writing I love to bake, hang with the pups, read or exercise. Over the years I’ve worked in pre-hospital care, retail and publishing. Currently I’m writing full-time. I write two mystery series, The Food Blogger Mystery series and the Kelly Quinn Mystery series.

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

Susie and Billy are the only pets we have now. Susie is 14 years old and Billy is 13 years old. Susie is full of life. She loves to walk and meet people. She gets miffed when someone doesn’t pay attention to her. She’s so funny. She loves a good game of tug of war and she loves to roll around on the grass. Billy has lost his sight due to genetic condition so he’s not as playful these days, but he enjoys walking outdoors and he’s never too far from me.  He’s a little trooper. Over the years we’ve had pet ducks, 9 in total. We got them as ducklings and raised them and at one point 2 of them needed to recuperate (one had a broken leg and the other had an infection) so they had to live in our house. That was an interesting period of time. The cat, we had Howard for 14 years, was not amused by the ducks. We’ve also had two Prairie Dogs, awesome pets by the way, and a hedgehog we rescued. Her name was Tiggy. Sadly, she’d been sick and died eleven months after we took her in. Right now the only pet that is a model in my writing is Howard. He appears in the Kelly Quinn books. He was a friendly, orange cat that liked to cuddle. It’s been 14 years since he’s passed so I’m able to write about him. I’ve chosen not to include Susie and Billy in any books at this time, perhaps in the future.

 Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?

In The Uninvited Corpse there are two dogs. Bigelow is on the cover of the book and he’s a charmer with bad manners. Bigelow is a Beagle so he’s very friendly and playful and a handful. Buddy is a Golden Retriever who lives down the street from Hope Early and visits during his long walks with his owner. Howard is an orange cat that will be in the Kelly Quinn books.

 What are you reading now?

I’m always working my way through my massive TBR list. I’m reading I Know What You Bid Last Summer, a Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery, by Sherry Harris.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

 ’m working on the third book in the Food Blogger Mystery series. The second book, The Hidden Corpse, will be available in early 2019. I’ve also just submitted the first book in The Kelly Quinn mystery series to my editor. The title of that book hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I have so many favorite authors. I have a bunch of authors who are an automatic buy, when they have a new book I’m preordering it. Those authors include Sherry Harris, V.M. Burns, Katherine Hall Page, Bethany Blake, Krista Davis, Jenn McKinlay, Ellie Ashe.

 Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.

Growing up we had a German Shepard named Lady and a cat named Tiger. Lady was sweet and she was very protective. Tiger only liked my mother. I remember a lot of hissing from her. When I was a teenager we got another dog, a Doberman Pinscher named Coffee, she was a rescue and incredibly lovable.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

When Susie was a year old we decided to get another dog and we brought Billy home. They immediately took to each other and played for 3 days straight. It was like one long play date and then they started to settle down. But the playing continued. One day I found Susie barking at the carrier. She never liked the carrier, still doesn’t, but Billy liked it and would go in there to sleep. She was barking so loud for a couple of minutes I went to look in the carrier. I found Billy had stashed all of the toys Susie played with inside the carrier. I think he figured out Susie wouldn’t go in there. Then one afternoon Susie raced into the living room with Billy following after her, she had a toy Billy was playing with in her mouth, she stopped by the sofa and tossed it up there. Billy tried to get up on the sofa, but he was too small to jump up. Hmm…I think she knew that.

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

That’s easy. I want to go Costa Rica to visit the sloth sanctuary. I think they’re so adorable.

 What do your pets do when you are writing?

They sleep while I’m writing. They each have a bed in the study and that’s where they spend most of their days. If the weather is nice and the windows are open, Susie is perched on the back of the sofa with her face practically pressed against the screen.

Debra’s Biography:

Debra Sennefelder is an avid reader who reads across a range of genres, but mystery fiction is her obsession. Her interest in people and relationships is channeled into her novels against a backdrop of crime and mystery. When she’s not reading, she enjoys cooking and baking and as a former food blogger, she is constantly taking photographs of her food. Yeah, she’s that person.

Born and raised in New York City, she now lives and Connecticut with her family. She’s worked in pre-hospital care, retail and publishing. Her writing companions are her adorable and slightly spoiled Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America. She can be reached at Debra@DebraSennefelder.com

 Let’s Be Social:

Links – Website – http://debrasennefelder.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraSennefelderAuthor/

 

 

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