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!

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/

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

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

Tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you know that you wanted to train dogs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you get to name the puppies?

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

How old were they when they started their training?

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

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

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

What breed is she?

She is a Yellow Labrador

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

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

What’s the breed?

She is a black Labrador

Do you have any other family pets? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren and Wheat