The Dogs in My Life Part III: Ranger

By Judy Penz Sheluk

Ranger with Judy, fishing in Collingwood

In my previous posts, I shared stories of my first dog, Sandy, and my second dog, Einstein. Neither of those stories had a happy ending, though they did come with a message, and hopefully, a lesson that can be shared.

You might think that after our heartache with Einstein that my husband, Mike, and I would find another breed. But we both love Golden Retrievers, and so this time we were determined to do things differently. We were going to do our research.

This was in November 1992, long before the Internet and Google, so we bought books, read lots, and went to dog shows. It was at one of those shows that we met Liz and Bruce Russell, owners of Gowrielea Goldens. As luck would have it, a litter was due in January 1993. We went to the premises, where we were able to meet the mother, as well as several other Gowrielea Goldens. We’d found our breeder.

Gowreilea’s Forest Ranger was born on January 23, 1993. Every Sunday for the next seven weeks, we went to the Russell’s to watch Ranger and his siblings grow. Week eight, Ranger came home with us, pretty much house trained.

Obedience school followed, and Ranger thrived on learning his commands. He was a gentle, bright boy who loved his soft toys and could be trusted alone in the house (though he did like to sleep in his crate with the door open).  In fact, his only real fault was a propensity to pull on his leash (not sure if there were gentle leaders and harnesses then, if there were, we weren’t aware of them). He also had “selective” hearing when off leash, but only if water was nearby. That dog loved to swim.

For more than nine years, Ranger was a terrific dog and wonderful companion.  He particularly loved a cottage Mike and I rented every October in Collingwood, right on Georgian Bay. It was while we were vacationing there in 2002 that we realized something was very wrong. We cut our vacation short and took Ranger to our vet, only to discover he had a large, inoperable tumor. He died in November, in our arms, in his own home, just two months shy of his tenth birthday. At the time, Mike and I truly believed we’d never have room in our hearts for another dog, let alone another Golden Retriever.

Then we met Copper. Stay tuned for Part IV!

In non-dog related news, my most recent audiobook, LIVE FREE OR TRI, is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. And yes, one of the short stories take place in Collingwood!

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The Care and Feeding of the Small Evil One

Pens, Paws, & Claws is happy to welcome Donna Andrews, author of the multiple award-winning Meg Langslow mystery series. She’s sharing about a fictional dog you may recognize.

The Care and Feeding of the Small Evil One

by Donna Andrews

Somewhere in my files I probably still have a set of instructions with that title. It dates from one of the times when I was taking care of the real-life Spike, who served as model for the feisty canine in my Meg Langslow series. One of these days I should try to find it, so I can prove that I’m not maligning the original Spike—just giving him the title his doting owners bestowed on him.

Spike was a stray when my friends Tracey and Bill adopted him. He wasn’t fond of men other than Bill, and his pathological hatred of umbrellas and brooms and rakes clued us in to the fact that he had probably been abused. We never knew exactly what mix of breeds he was—our best guess: part chihuahua, part something else not a lot bigger.

When I started writing Murder with Peacocks, I based a character on him. I changed his name, and replaced his sleek honey-colored coat with long hair. Tracey and Bill still recognized him. So when he died—at what was, as far as they knew, a fairly ripe old age—shortly before I turned my book in, I offered to change the name of my fictional dog to Spike. Heck, it was a better name anyway.

They gave copies of that book to everyone he ever bit—which meant most of their friends and relatives. Had Spike lived another year or two, I could have been a New York Times bestseller solely on the strength of the many books I inscribed to his former victims.

I took a poll once to see which of my characters—other than my heroine—were my readers’ favorites. I wasn’t surprised to find that Spike placed high up in the list—right behind Meg’s dad, if my memory serves, and slightly ahead of her grandfather.

I’m grateful that readers rarely ask that awkward question: isn’t Spike getting a little long in the tooth by now? If I were writing stark realism, I’d say yes. He was middle aged and cranky when it began, and the series has now been running for nearly twenty years. If I’d known it would run this long, I’d have made him a puppy to start with.

But it’s my fictional world. Meg’s children have grown from babies to preteens, and Meg and Michael might eventually develop a few gray hairs. But sorry, fans of extreme realism. I’m never going to inflict an Old Yeller scene on my readers. Spike may grow old and crankier—if that’s possible—but I’m not killing him off.

I’m open to knocking off a few humans, though. Any suggestions?

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A Calico named Shammy

April 23, 1991 was a very good day. It was the day that Glen and I adopted Shamrock Leah King, a gorgeous long-haired calico, affectionately known as “Shammy.”

We first saw Shammy the day before at the Holiday Humane Society in North Hollywood, California. The shelter required a waiting period of 24 hours before letting us take her home.  When she walked us to the door—no other cat did—we knew that we’d been picked!

At home, Shammy was sweet but timid, with self-esteem issues and a fear of men, including Glen. She came to adore him and became more comfortable with other men. But while her confidence grew, a touch of melancholy stayed with her.

When Glen and I moved from Los Angeles to Virginia in 1996, Shammy accompanied me on the plane. Thankfully it wasn’t full so she didn’t need to stay under the seat in the small carrier the airline required. She was not happy and the tranquilizer the vet had prescribed didn’t seem to take. But she endured the ordeal with her customary dignity. In fact, she fared better than I did!

Eventually Shammy fell prey to that common and dreaded feline condition: kidney disease. By the time she died at home one March morning in 2002, she had lived with us for eleven years. She had always preferred cuddling to lap sitting, but during her last months, she sought comfort in our laps.

We buried her in the backyard of our home in Earlysville, Virginia. I cried for days.

When the Albemarle County SCPA built a new facility, we purchased a brick and dedicated it to our special friend. When we visited the SPCA this past September, we looked for, and eventually spotted, the brick (there were lots of them).

Shammy also lives on in my Hazel Rose Book Group series. Hazel’s backstory reveals that her beautiful calico cat named Shammy accompanied her when she moved from Los Angeles to the east coast and settled in Richmond, Virginia.

Sound familiar?

 

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Our Jake

Years ago, my husband, Murphy, and I enjoyed an unusual, heavy snow storm during the middle of January in Greenville, South Carolina.  Our six-month-old, red-haired, Australian shepherd, Sydney, raced around, his little legs sinking into the fluffy, white stuff.

Murphy had pulled a plastic, red sled to our hilly street. Sydney refused to sit on my lap. Instead, he herded the sled, yipping, as I slid down the mounds.

Ready to go again, a Black lab pup raced from the woods and plopped himself on my lap. His brown eyes stared into mine.  Startled and confused, I glanced around, looking for his owners.

Syd woofed. “Get lost. These are my people.”

The Lab ignored Sydney. I put one arm around the Lab’s chest and down we went. His ears lifted in the wind as we raced down the slope. After a few minutes, Sydney played with the newcomer. We romped until my fingers and toes froze.

“Time to go home, little guy,” He cocked his head. “You’ve got to be hungry and cold.” He sat, staring, his tail whipping the snow. I turned to Murphy. “He has to be a neighbor’s dog!”  After a few steps, I twisted around. “Oh, dear. He’s following.”

In the garage, I noticed his thin body. “He’s mustn’t be a neighbor’s dog. I wonder how long he’s been loose?”                 

Murphy ran his hands over body. “Look. He’s been hurt. And he never showed any signs of being injured. I’ll dry him, while you grab some blankets.”

In the garage, he ate small amounts of boiled rice with chicken broth and small chunks of chicken over a period of time. Murphy cleaned his wounds. We made a cozy place for him to sleep and named him, Jake.

Since our city had no snow equipment, we waited three days for the snow to melt before Jake could get medical attention. I had left messages with the local vets, animal shelters, and the newspaper, giving them our phone number. Jake’s low-key personality differed from our active, noisy Aussie. They became best friends, never leaving each other’s side.

At the Veterinarian’s office, Dr. Hill, believed Jake had been attacked by a pack of dogs and guessed his age of around seven-months from his size and weight of forty-five pounds. We made-up a birthday, gave him a red collar with tags, and he became our first rescue dog.  Jake taught us about patience, resilience, and determination which we would refer to later as we rescued other dogs.

The following week Jake returned for another appointment. One wound hadn’t healed and needed a stint. He had gained fifteen pounds! Every visit after that he’d gained weight. Dr. Hill laughed, saying, “He’ll plateau sometime!”

Jake settled in, and his real personality emerged. Since he had wandered into our neighborhood, we should have known he was a nomad.

One afternoon, the two dogs played outside. I watched from the front porch. Since we lived in the woods, I had made sure the dogs knew where we lived. They’d run up and down our long driveway. I’d call their names and they’d dash back.

But one time, I got no response.

I walked up the drive, thinking they had been distracted by a scent and needed a little prodding to return. But they were nowhere in sight. My heart fluttered. My stomach ached. I paced and grew hoarse calling. I entered the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. Sydney had never been farther than the neighbor’s front yard across the street.

Thirty long, minutes later, the longest minutes of my lifetime, I saw a bedraggled, red-haired puppy limping from the woods.

Crying, I ran toward him and lifted my muddy fella into my arms. He burrowed his face into my shoulder.  I cried in his ear. “Oh, Sydney. Where’s Jakey?” His worried, golden-eyes stared into mine.

After a bath, I called the neighbors, leaving messages for those who weren’t home. Then I drove with Sydney, down a street behind our woods and up the first driveway I spotted. A woman gardening glanced at me. I stuck my head out the window. “Any chance you’ve seen a small, Black lab? We live right behind this area.”

She pushed her straw hat up and smiled. “Matter of fact, I have one on my back porch. Showed up a few minutes ago. He seems mighty friendly. Go on back and see if he’s yours.”

A head poked out between the wooden railings. It was a Black lab with a red collar. “Oh, Jakey. It’s you.” He pulled his head out and raced down the stairs.  I opened the car door, and he leaped in. Sydney barked and nosed him.

I thanked the neighbor and explained how Jake had found us three weeks earlier. I gave her my phone number, just in case he ever appeared in her yard, again.

After that scary incident, Murphy decided with eight acres of land, an electric fence might be the answer. We took one day, draping the wire around our property and sticking white flags in the ground. The flags marked the boundary, and as they approached closer, a chirping signal warned them to back-off.

Sydney learned after one crossing of the line and being zapped. But Jake took days and many zaps to be deterred. He never went any farther than the cul-de-sac and played with the other neighborhood dogs, and always came home for dinner.

He whined and barked, hating to cross the line. I’d pull him across, letting him get zapped, and telling him, “NO.  You must stay here!” He learned, but never one-hundred-percent!

While Murphy and I were at work or on an outing, Jake stayed in our yard, and got bored. Being very much a mischievous puppy, he uprooted entire azalea plants, leaving gaping holes in the ground.  He chewed the branches off the trees as high as his body could reach. One tree trunk had a hole as if it had been devoured by a beaver. The tree survived, but was deformed. Jake ate the electrical wires to the garage door opener, the boat trailer, and the tongues from Murphy’s yard shoes. Jake couldn’t be trusted in the house, alone, or our furniture and rugs would have been devoured.

During a dog class, the trainer shared ideas that would not harm the dog, but deter them from trouble.  Murphy blew up colored balloons and popped them. I screamed. Once the dogs seemed afraid of the balloons, we taped them inside our azaleas, and on the electrical wires, and on Murphy’s work bench.

The neighbors laughed when they saw our colorful yard. But as the air dissipated, Jake would rip off each balloon and eat it. We’d find balloon poop on the grass and decided balloons could be dangerous.

Our daughter’s wedding invitations and decorations arrived one afternoon, and Jake’s curiosity destroyed the box. When our son arrived home, he spent hours cleaning-up purple confetti from the shredded napkins, and invitations.

Education is a wonderful tool. We learned later, Jake suffered from separation anxiety. If we had crated him, we could have prevented these problems.

As you bring home a rescued dog, you have no idea about their past. Jake watched our interaction with Sydney, and over time, he longed for affection. His tail wagged all the time. By age two, he weighed ninety-two pounds, and trusted that we’d never abandon him. He lived to be thirteen-and-a-half.

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Pet Cloning — Yea or Neigh?

by Barb Goffman

Cloning is one of those things people joke about. Or maybe just I do. On busy days, I wish I had a clone to order around. Clone, do the laundry. Clone, edit that book. Clone, cook something. Anything!

Alas, the reality is there is no human cloning. And even if there were, an actual clone would not be like a robot you could order around to do chores. A clone is, essentially, an identical twin, simply born at a later date. The twins should look the same, but they’d have separate minds and thus separate personalities.

But even knowing all this, the idea of cloning appeals–especially when facing loss in the face.

Before my prior dog, Scout, got old, I made him promise he’d live forever. Of course he couldn’t live up to that promise. But he’s lived on in my heart and memories during the past four years.  And if I’d had the money to spare, I could have had him live on–sort of–in my house through … you guessed it … cloning. Yep, dog and cat cloning is here.

Scout

It appears there are several companies that offer this service. I recently read about one in Texas, Viagen Pets, that will clone your dog for $50,000 and your cat for $25,000. How does it work? According to Viagen Pets’s website, before (or very soon after) your dog or cat dies, you send a skin tissue sample to them so they can freeze/preserve the animal’s DNA. When you’re ready for your new pet, they take a donor egg, remove its genetic material, and replace it with that of your beloved pet’s. After that, an embryo is produced and then implanted in a surrogate animal. And you wait for your pet’s identical twin to be born.

According to their website, Viagen Pets has cloned thousands of animals. They say that each cloned puppy or kitten will share many attributes with its twin, often including intelligence, temperament, and appearance. It’s interesting that appearance is on the “often including” list because I would think a cloned puppy or kitten would always look exactly like the original (as a puppy or kitten) because they are supposed to be identical twins. But I’m not a scientist, so perhaps I’m missing something.

It’s interesting, too, that the company says the clones are often similar in intelligence and temperament.  I would think these attributes would vary from dog to dog. I would be interested in seeing study results on cloned animals to see how often the clones really are similar, as well as how similar, to the originals. I’d expect a clone of Scout would look like him as a puppy, but since the clone would be his own dog, with his own experiences and own mind, there’s no reason to think he’d act like Scout as he grew. But it’s nice to dream that he would.

And that is what is likely behind the growth of this market. The desire to  essentially keep the essence of the pet you love–his/her personality–alive. I understand Viagen Pets has a waiting list of people who probably have similar dreams.

Of course, any discussion of cloning pets should address the potential inherent problems. Any owners who’d expect an exact duplicate of their beloved pets would bound to be disappointed, which wouldn’t be fair to the clone. And is it right for someone to bring another animal into the world when you can find one of the same breed, likely looking nearly the same as your own beloved pet, through your local shelter or a breed rescue? An animal that’s already alive and needs a home? (Of course, that question would apply to any animal purchased through a breeder.)

Eggs (not the type involved in cloning)

And then there are the logistics of the process to consider. The cloning company says they get a donor egg. How? Does this involve surgery on a female dog?  How hard on the dog is such a surgery? If it’s quite invasive (and I don’t know if it is), is it right to use a dog in that manner? It’s not like the dog is an adult human who can consent. And once the embryo is created, it’s implanted in a surrogate dog. How invasive a procedure does the dog have to undergo to become impregnated? (All these questions also apply to the donor cat and surrogate cat, who may or may not be the same cat.)

For those of you thinking it, I realize that all these questions could be asked of any owner who chooses to breed his or her pet. The dog or cat doesn’t ask to become a parent, to be used for breeding purposes. I’m not saying it’s wrong (or right) to do these things, ranging from breeding your dog to having your dog used as an egg donor or as a surrogate mother. I’m just thinking on the page. As moral questions, there aren’t any hard right or wrong answers. But the questions are worth considering.

So, what say you, dear reader? Would you clone your pet if you could afford it? And what do you think of the issues involved with cloning (and breeding)?

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Meet Sandra Cody

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Sandra Cody and her pets, Missy and Henry.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I grew up surrounded by a family who loved telling stories, but I’m the first to write them down. In the midst of a big, noisy family, I was the quiet one who loved listening to everyone else’s stories. As for my own storytelling, I was a late bloomer – really late. I was a grandmother before I was a published writer. I write mostly mysteries. I love stories where good triumphs over evil and justice is served and that’s the essence of a mystery. I also write short stories which are not mysteries unless you consider (as I do) the bump and jostle of day-to-day life a mysterious thing. There are seven books in the Jennie Connors series. Jennie is Activities Director in a Retirement Community where the residents are lively, alert and just bored enough to love it when there’s a murder to solve. My recent books have featured Peace Morrow, who was abandoned as an infant and, in the process of discovering something about her birth family, has a couple of mysteries to solve. This was never meant to be a series, but Peace needed answers to some questions and I had to help her find them.

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

Our only pet at the moment is Missy, a cat who was dumped in our son’s front yard. He already had 5 cats, 2 dogs, and a ferret, so his house was getting a little crowded. However, it was unthinkable that Missy not be taken in, so … well, I don’t have to tell you what happened.

 

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

Peace Morrow has a black Lab named Henry. I’ve already told you that Peace was abandoned as an infant. The woman who found and adopted her was led to her by a barking dog (a big, black Lab) who had become the baby’s protector. Since then, Peace has never been without a big black dog. Henry is as much a character as any human in Love and Not Destroy and its sequel, An Uncertain Path.

What are you reading now?

Right now, I reading The Silkman by Robert Galbraith. which I’m pretty sure you will recognize as the pseudonym of J. K. Rowlings. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. This woman can tell a story!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I just released An Uncertain Path so I’m not really into my next project. I do, however, have it in mind. I’m planning a new Jennie Connors mystery. That series is set in Memphis and I plan to have some fun with Elvis Presley connection. I have a title in mind – Love Me Deadly.  I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, but am going to try it out with this one. Real mixed feelings here. I’m not a fast writer and am usually embarrassed by my first stabs at a new story, but I’m excited by the possibilities of the program and hope to move beyond my limitations.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a tough one. If I have to choose just one, I’ll say Louise Penny. I love her characters and the world she has created in Three Pines. I also love some of the older writers, such as Pearl Buck, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, Jane Austen. The list could go on forever. Of course, there’s Shakespeare, Shaw, Twain. Why? When I look at the list, the common thing that jumps out at me is character. And humor. All of them have a knack for slipping in humor in unexpected ways.

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

Yes, always. I’ll tell you about my first pet. I was three when my parents took me to the SPCA to pick out a puppy, which they let me name. It was a mixed breed male. I chose Fancy Ann. They explained to me that this was a boy puppy and maybe a boy name would be better. I stamped my foot (a habit I’ve fortunately outgrown) and insisted – this was my dog and its name was Fancy Ann. What could they do? They’d made a promise and you don’t break promises to three-year-olds. So Fancy Ann it was. I don’t know what other people thought but I remember thinking he was the most wonderful dog ever, with the most beautiful name. Other pets: an Irish Setter named Lady, a Collie named Boots, a Beagle named Billy, cats too numerous to mention. All with unique personalities who added immeasurably to the family’s happiness.

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

As mentioned above, Henry is an important character in the Peace Morrow books. He’s Peace’s best friend, only sibling, most trusted confidant, and, if need be, her protector.

Why do you include animals in your writing?

I think the way people react to animals says a lot about their character, plus it’s a way to bring instinct into a story that could become bogged down with intellectual reasoning and following of clues. It sounds strange to say, but animals make us more human (and humane).

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

The first one that comes to mind is the movie Old Yeller. I don’t know how many times my husband and I watched that with our sons. We all cried buckets each time.

What do your pets do when you are writing?

There’s a really soft blanket on the floor next to my chair and Missy usually settles there – with frequent trips to my lap, where she knows she can get my undivided attention by tapping the keyboard with her paws.

About Sandra:

I grew up in a rural area of Missouri (near St. Louis), attended Washington University, met the love of my life when I cut an Algebra class to go ice skating. Not too long after that, we were married, had two sons. Job transfers have taken us to different cities in various parts of the country and I can honestly say I’ve found something to love in all of them.. Wherever I’ve gone, books have been the bridge to my new community and new friends.

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A Stranger In the House

A Stranger in the House

             The e-mail was brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.” The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted. Word had spread through our Aussie connections that my husband and I were interested in adopting a needy dog.

Through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. I took a deep breath, and requested information.  

Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. They caught the dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy wrapped his arms around him.

The owner pleaded, “You can have him for free!”

Agreeing he needed help, Murphy set him on my lap. On the way home, he smiled. “What do you think about naming him, Mulligan? He needs a ‘Do Over.’”

I grinned. “Perfect!”

We walked Mulligan through the house to our large bathtub. Murphy and I stripped down to our underwear and climbed in with our frightened dog. This had to be a first for Mulligan; being held by a man and being bathed.

During his bath, I discovered he had no stub. Some Aussies are born without a tail, or the breeder did a terrible job of docking. But, it didn’t matter. He’d just never have a wiggle.

Soon his thick black fur shone like patent leather and his white shimmered like new fallen snow. He was beautiful. His soulful eyes reached deep into my heart. Standing patiently, he panted, and allowed us to rub him dry.

Later, I read about anxiety in dogs and learned panting, yawning, and not eating a treat indicated being overly fearful. Those behavioral signs would help me understand his stress levels.

Four days later, Mulligan had his first appointment with Dr. Hill. “I know why his original owners neglected him so young. One testicle hasn’t dropped. They could never have shown him in ‘Best of Show,’ as beautiful as he is, he wasn’t worth keeping.”

Mulligan was like a child who had been held hostage in a dark closet, with no sensual or intellectual stimulation. I pulled out my Aussie books. I had to change him from being a stranger to someone I understood. I needed to crawl into his fur, look through his eyes, and feel his quandary. Every day was an experiment.

At our first puppy training class, I wanted Mulligan to connect with Murphy. I passed the leash to him. Mulligan looked at Murphy and then to me. His eyes said, “What are you doing to me?”

The trainer walked over to Murphy. “He’s too far away from you. Jerk him. Make him walk closer.”

Murphy halted. “This is a rescued dog and has had nothing but abuse. I’m not jerking him.”

Surprised by what he said, the trainer’s eyes widened. “So, you’re going to let this dog have control over you?”

Murphy fumed. “This dog has been abused. Jerking him will not get him to trust me.”

After two weeks, Murphy confided in me. “Sheri, Mulligan’s probably always going to be your dog. And, I’m okay with that. But, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to need another puppy.”

My heart sunk.  Another puppy! I collapsed on a chair. “I’m digesting what you said.”

Murphy found a kennel with Aussie puppies two hours away in Georgia. Mulligan played with three older dogs in a fenced yard while we chose the new puppy.  One little guy, they called Cowboy, came out of his pack and waved his paw as if he was saying, “Howdy. Pick me. Pick me.”

He was black and white with a pink butterfly nose and no copper markings. I drove home while Murphy snuggled with his new playmate. That night, as soon as we settled into the den, Murphy sat on the den floor, playing tug with Slater.

Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting. Then Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and into the den.  His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I held my breath. My hands covered my racing heart.

Mulligan sauntered right up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso, facing him.  Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater, and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. After a few seconds, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.

Murphy’s eyes filled with emotion and tears dripped down our faces.

This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined.  Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.

Mulligan and Slater
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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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Cats and Dogs and Groundhogs, Oh My!

By Barb Goffman

Actor W.C. Fields once famously said, “Don’t work with children or animals.” Well, children and animals might be hard to work with in the movies, but in fiction, they’re a dream. You want a dog to bark, alerting the family to an intruder? It barks. (Or in the case of a famous Sherlock Holmes story, it doesn’t bark.) You need buzzards to circle a dead body in a field, giving sleuths a clue of where to look? They do it. Even simply the presence of an animal can be important to a story. Showing someone who loves or hates a pet tells so much about his character. Indeed, animals can be such a big help with fictional plots, I use them often.

In my short stories I’ve had three dogs, two cats, a groundhog, and coming next spring, cows! My newest story is called “Crazy Cat Lady.” It’s a psychological suspense tale in which a woman comes home to find her home looking perfectly in order, yet she feels certain someone has broken into her house. Amongst her biggest clues: Her orange tabby, Sammy, doesn’t greet her at the door. If Sammy is hiding, she knows, something is wrong. Sammy plays an important role in the story, which you can read at the first issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, which was published earlier this month by Wildside Press.

If you like funny capers, you’ll enjoy my story “The Shadow Knows,” which involves a plot to kidnap Moe, the official groundhog of a fictional town in Vermont. Some people think that whether a groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd depends on what his handlers decide. Well, not my main character, Gus. He’s certain that Moe has special powers, and Moe is the reason his town always has long winters. Gus decides he has to save his town and get rid of Moe. But, of course, things don’t always go as planned. This story was a finalist for the Agatha, Macavity, and Anthony awards. You can find it in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, which has stories set on holidays throughout the year.

          

As for dogs, my story “Ulterior Motives” shows how a dog can help serve up a clue, hopefully without the reader even noticing it. In this mystery story involving a local political campaign, the main character has a dog (with a useful doggy door) who alerts her  to noises outside the house at night.  You can read “Ulterior Movies” in Ride 2, an anthology of stories involving bicycles.

And just to bring things back to cats once more, I have a whodunit called “The Lord is my Shamus,” in which a cat–and an allergy to it–plays a key role. This story won the Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2013 and was a finalist for the Anthony Award. It was originally published in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder and was republished in my own short story collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.

I’d love to hear from you about mystery/crime short stories you’ve written or read that involve animals. We hear so much about cozy novels with cats. Well, how about short stories? Readers, please share your favorites!

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Show-Dog Love…A Mystery (of sorts)

Welcome, everyone, to Pens, Paws and Claws! I’m so pleased to be a part of this group – Thank you ladies, for inviting me to play!

Among the many things I’ve done for fun in my life, one of the most fun and most enduring was showing my dogs. I’ve raised, trained and shown dogs for a looooong time (not tellin’ how long ’cause it’ll show my age! Ha!) I was privileged to get to show my Dalmatians as well as to take other breeds in the ring for friends.  I think that’s why almost every book I write has a dog in it. Oh, there are cats too, I love cats as well, but dogs hold my heart.

I started out with a Dal who was always the bridesmaid and never the bride – we got so many second place ribbons, and Best of Opposite Sex ribbons, I could have wallpapered a room with them. Her name was Ch. Ivy Lea’s Russet Herald, call name Talia. That’s her going best of breed under a fabulous judge who loved her because she was exactly what he thought we should have in the breed – drive and movement, shoulder, and great temperament. (For those of you who don’t know, Dalmatians went through a period when the movies came out, where they were NOT known for good behavior or temperament! Then they were overbred and got to where they couldn’t do what they were bred for – running!)

Once she “went breed,” as they say, she was set. She then went Best in Show, garnering that ribbon pictured up above. What a night that was! Wow! I’ll never forget it because those were Talia’s very first points toward her championship.

There was, however a lot of controversy about her because she went Best in Show over some very, very highly ranked dogs. People were NOT happy.

There was tension, angst, and oh-so-much-gossip! Was I  sleeping with the judge? (Ugh, no!) Was there a payoff? (Hardly, I was NOT in the money!) What on earth could have made the BIS judge pick THAT dog!?!?!

It makes me laugh now, to think about it, but as with any kind of pageant or beauty contest, there comes drama.  As I writer, I totally appreciate drama…

Now, every breed–and every dog show!– has it’s idiosyncrasies, and that’s part of the fun of raising and showing purebred dogs. Even if you know nothing else, you probably know that Goldens and Labs are popular and easy going, great with kids, and with a  nearly insatiable desire to fetch.  German Shepherds are watch dogs, as are Rottweilers, and an Old English Sheepdog is about as fluffy and furry as a shag rug.

Another part of the fun of dogs, both at home and in the show ring, is the people who own them. Comedian Steven Wright quips, “If people look like their dogs, who changes?” Snork! I love that. I sincerely hope I DON’T look like my dogs since one of them looks like a mop, and the other has a grey muzzle. Ha!

Recently, I began to consider doing a mystery series set around dog shows.  I’m getting back into that world after a considerable hiatus. (Having kids who play sports kinda puts the kibosh on other expensive hobbies!) About ten years ago now, we adopted an Irish Water Spaniel from a rescue. His name was Diver (He’s the brown one in the multi-dog picture up above!) and he was absolutely fabulous.  When we lost him, too young, at 12, we did our grieving and began to discuss that maybe an Irisher puppy would be just the thing.

Last January, in a snowstorm, we welcomed Tucker, O’Morns Trouble on the Line at Ivy Lea. (That’s him with me in the chair) He’s not hit the show ring yet, but he has everything he needs to be a success. I’m excited to jump back into showing, not only to show, but to immerse myself in the show dog world and see if it’s a place I want to set some stories.

What do you think? Would you read mysteries set in the dog show world? 

Do you watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every February?

If so, do you root for your breed, or just enjoy?

That’s Tucker to the right. Our Lab, Mia, is from Lab Rescue here in the DC area, so if you’re missing having a dog, and are in the DC Metro, look into Lab Rescue and find a friend!

https://www.lab-rescue.org/

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