A Dog Tale

10 May

When my husband and I were children in Washington State, we encountered a lot of stray dogs. Sometimes our families kept them, other times we weren’t allowed to feed them in hopes they would wander on. At the time, I really only remember one friend who had an inside dog. There wasn’t as many fenced yards and dogs were kept outside on a chain next to a dog house. It wasn’t uncommon to see a neighbor dog get loose and come to your yard from time to time. Occasionally, we would see a dog in the back of a truck, but it was unusual to see a dog riding in a car compared to every other vehicle we pass these days.

Yes, over the years there have been changes in the role of the pet dog, they’ve become an important part, or member, of the family and an emotional support to their owners. Now, I rarely see a dog on a chain as most dogs are inside with some time spent in a fenced yard.

Research says having a dog for a companion can help improve your health and psyche. When compared with those that do not have a pet, dog and cat owners have better mental and physical health and are less likely to be on medication.  If you own an animal you are more likely to exercise as well. Pet ownership has even helped with coronary artery disease, making the patient less likely to die within a year of surgery compared to those without pets. They calm our anxiety, give us social support and can help make social connections with others.

To date, I’ve written five manuscripts. Of that number, four have included a pet in some way or another. In my first two manuscripts, one character longed for a pet, while another had a dog for protection and comradery. My story, A Place to Land, had a well-trained German shepherd at the hero’s side. In Maya’s Gold, I included an old pet collie, named Wonder Dog (which was anything but).  For Wanting Moore, I didn’t include a pet, but the story really did not call for one.

I’ve always been fond of German shepherds; I think it goes back to watching Rin Tin Tin as a young girl. I’ve owned 3 purebreds over the years. My current shepherd is growing old, so we decided to take on another dog in hopes of bringing back a little youth, and for the new dog to take on some good habits already formed in our home. We certainly didn’t want to start with a puppy, so did our search at two animal shelters. We ended up with a nine-month-old shelter dog that’s been trained for two months in a prison program connected with the shelter. He is part German shepherd and part malamute, knows fourteen commands, and loves both people and dogs. We really couldn’t ask for more.

Our new dog, Jack, inspired my current manuscript. Somehow the first part of the story, where the hero meets the heroine… Well, something is missing in the conflict between the two and I know that Jack’s personality thrown into the mix would be believable and add a little humor to the story, too. After all, as I said above, pets can help make social connections with others.

Do you put pets in your stories?


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23 responses to “A Dog Tale

  1. Belinda Pollard

    May 10, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    Thanks for a lovely story. I love animals and have been badgered into writing a “dog memoir” (dogoir?) about my crazy pooch. Only time will tell if anyone other than the badgerers wants to read it… 😉 (I have to finish it first of course.)

    However my thriller contains both a cat and a dog. (important to be inclusive, huh?) They seemed to write themselves into the book as connections of the characters who are their owners/carers/guardians/whatever word you want to use. But I like the way the interactions between person and animal reveal aspects of each person’s character.

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 7:47 PM

      I like what you said, “But I like the way the interactions between person and animal reveal aspects of each person’s character.” Thanks for commenting, Belinda!

  2. johannaharness

    May 10, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    What a great question, Mary. Animals are really important to my stories, but they’re not always pets. The few times I’ve worked with pets in stories, they’re as essential as their human counterparts. Too often I see animals treated as story accessories and it bothers me when authors forget to provide for their care. I lose track of the plot and start worrying about the pet.

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 7:59 PM

      Thanks, Johanna. I’ll be sure to remember to give pets in my stories care.

    • Belinda Pollard (@Belinda_Pollard)

      May 11, 2012 at 5:40 PM

      Just reading and responding to this article reminded me that I’ve left a cat unattended in my WIP while a character dashes off to save her daughter. I went back in today and organised him some neighbours to feed him!

  3. Janis McCurry

    May 10, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Much like you say, Mary, it depends on my story. I’ve done it both ways. But, the pet is always important if I put it in there. As for me personally, I can’t imagine not having a pet.

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 8:00 PM

      It’s hard to imagine my life without a pet, too. Thanks, Janis.

  4. Peggy Staggs

    May 10, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Since my house is filled with the furry little pests…I mean pets they always seem to make their way into my stories. I’ve never written a book without a cat or a dog in it. They’re great for comic relief, a plot twist and on the list goes. Life without pets isn’t full. After all, who else will sit and listen to you no matter what you have to say? And how would I spend my extra time if I didn’t have monster size muddy footprints to clean up?

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 8:01 PM

      Comedy for sure, Peggy. My husband and I have laughed a lot more since we got Jack a few weeks ago.

  5. Meredith Allen Conner

    May 10, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    I absolutely include pets in my stories. We have a total of 10 – including 5 chicks. I can’t imagine not having animals in my life or my stories. Great post.

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      Meredith, I loved reading about your pets in your blog. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Liz Fredericks

    May 10, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Nice post, Mary – brought back some great memories. My parents REFUSED to have dogs in the house when I was a kid. Now, they named a recent litter of boston terriors after their children (I was really annoyed they named the roly poly first born after me). My dogs are very important to me – safety and company. I think animals in a story offer a great vehicle for ‘showing’ someone’s character and priorities.

    • Mary Vine

      May 10, 2012 at 8:04 PM

      Liz, my mom refused to have a dog in the house, too. Every once in a while we’d sneak one in anyway.

  7. stephanieberget

    May 10, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    I have horses in two and bulls, cows and a wonderful cow dog in one. Only the dog is a pet, and I’m sure he’d not be happy with that title. He’s his own person. Although the other animals aren’t pets in the traditional sense, they are essential to the stories.
    I love the idea of the prisoner trained dogs. What a great idea for both the prisoners and the dogs.

  8. Mary Vine

    May 10, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Steph, the shelter advisor to the prison program said that it was a great motivator for the prisoners. One prisoner was about to be released and he said, “No, I haven’t finished training my dog, yet.”

  9. Lynn Mapp

    May 10, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    I haven’t put pets in my story, but they are in my life. I have the granddog, Jazzy thanks to Andrew. For two years after Russell died we had Othello, the grandcat cat. We believe a fox or bobcat prevented Othello from coming home, ever.
    I do have stories about these family members.

    • Mary Vine

      May 11, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      “Granddog” and Grandcats.” I like that. Good for you for taking them on, Lynn.

  10. Clarissa Southwick

    May 11, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    I put a dog in the first novel I ever wrote, an Oregon Trail story. Halfway through, I forgot about him. All of the comments were about that dog. “What happened to the dog? What’s the dog doing?”

    Can’t you see the characters have conflict? They don’t have time to worry about the dog.

    I had to go back and add him in. At first, I tried doing it superficially, adding a mention every 50 pages or so. But my readers saw right through it. In the end, I really had to flush out his role the same way I would have with a human.

    Great topic!

    • Mary Vine

      May 11, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      Interesting comments by you and Johanna about fleshing out the role of the animal. Thanks so much!

  11. Patsy

    May 11, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    I’ve used dogs in several of my novels. I remember things that they did and use those characteristics for my fantasy ones! Good post, enjoyed it.

    • Mary Vine

      May 11, 2012 at 4:57 PM

      I put down some of the things a current dog does, seems like. Thanks for commenting, Patsy!

  12. marsharwest

    May 11, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Great post, Mary. Of my five books, I’ve got dogs in only my third, and it was somewhat accidental. The book was over half-finished, and I was attending a writing conference where we made poster collages to show our book. In flipping through magazines searching for pics of characters and locations, (Hate to confess, I’d never done that before.), I ran across shots of my two dogs, and bingo, I knew they had to be in the ms. Yes, I had to go back and layer incidents of them in. As to whether they were integral? One of the characters had Alzheimer’s, and one of the pups was a real comfort to him. I also used them to show how bad the bad guy was. He’d killed people, but then he kicked the dogs (and I nearly threw up writing the scene) when he broke in the house where they lived. Let me be quick to reassure you all, the pups survived just fine.
    Both our current dogs (we always call them pups), have been with us 13 and 12 years respectively. The older dog is a Jack Russell Terrier we inherited from daughter when she finished college. The yonger is a long-haired red Chihuahua was run over in front of us. He’s recently been diagnosed with diabetes. (Just weird, he’s not at bit overweight.) We’re struggling to adjust to giving the insulin shots.
    So way to much, as usual, but it was about pets, and I got to put off doing tough edits. LOL Thanks for making me think, Mary.

    • Mary Vine

      May 11, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      Thanks, Marsha. I always enjoy reading your comments.


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