Writing, Dogs, and Change

I’m delighted to welcome award-winning author Sue Owens Wright back to the blog. She is a twelve-time finalist and three-time winner of the Maxwell Medallion–that’s the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious award for excellence. She joins us today to talk about writing and dogs, along with photos and a commentary on life, loss, and change.

It’s been a while since your last visit to dogmysteries.com, and it’s possible some readers haven’t yet discovered your delightful dog-themed fiction. So let’s backtrack a little…what led you to create the Beanie and Cruiser mystery series?

The Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, featuring Native American Elsie “Beanie” MacBean and her basset hound, Cruiser, has been inspired by many things in my life. Since childhood, I have loved dogs and reading books about dogs. I adored the Albert Payson Terhune classics about his Sunnybank collies. I also read all the Judy Bolton Mysteries by Margaret Sutton. Secretly, I dreamed of writing a book of my own. When I was eight years old, I tried to write a chapter of a mystery, but decades would pass before I actually wrote the first novel in what would become an award-winning mystery series.

My writing has been greatly influenced by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series about a Yorkshire veterinarian. I once aspired to be a vet myself, but at college I did much better in English than science courses. In the 1990s, I had the thrill of visiting Thirsk, the picturesque village that inspired the fictional Darrowby, and seeing the location of Alf Wight’s (James Herriot’s) veterinary surgery. [Click to enlarge the photo below for more detail.] I also toured the set where the original British TV series was filmed. (The latest adaptation is currently showing on PBS “Masterpiece.”) I bought several of the author’s autographed books at the village bookstore.

Touring the TV set of James Herriot’s surgery for All Creatures Great and Small (from the first 1970s series); in front of James Alf Wight’s surgery in the village of Thirsk. Photos ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission.

It so happened that the owner of the lovely cottage where my husband and I stayed was a close friend of the famous author. She said he often passed by on his walks up to Sutton Bank, an outcropping that overlooks the breathtaking panorama of the Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet him.

Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire Dales seen from Sutton Bank. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s the setting for your own series?

The setting for my mysteries came about from my love for Lake Tahoe, where I’ve visited since I was a child. My family owned a cabin that was surrounded by the El Dorado National Forest. In the late ‘90s, I began writing the first book, “Howling Bloody Murder” while sitting on the deck gazing out into the dark, mysterious woods, which sparked my wild imagination. The plot began with one question: What might be lurking out there?

Lake Tahoe has a wealth of history and local lore to inspire a writer. Whenever I stayed at the cabin, I worked on my Beanie and Cruiser novels. Many of the adventures I write about in the books were based on my own. One example is the forest fire that breaks out in “Ears for Murder,” winner of the 2018 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. I was at the lake in 2010 with my two bassets when the Angora firestorm forced us to evacuate. It was terrifying! That catastrophic event impressed upon me for the first time since I’d been coming to admire the Jewel of the Sierra, with its pine-covered landscape, that forests can and do burn.

Why Basset Hounds?

I’ve had eight basset hounds over the years, so naturally one or two would end up featured in my series. Cruiser and Calamity are canine characters based on my own dogs. They have provided me with endless plot twists and plenty of humor. My easy-going male bassets, first Bubba Gump and later Beau, were the real dogs who inspired the fictional Cruiser. They embodied all the delightful qualities and quirks of this funny, endearing breed. Cruiser is the star of the first three books, but I later introduced Calamity, who is the polar opposite of laid-back Cruiser. Calamity is a composite of my two most challenging rescued bassets, Peaches and “Crazy” Daisy, as I often called the wackiest dog I ever knew. Crazy Calamity causes plenty of trouble for Beanie. She has many of the same experiences I had with my own dogs, not all of them good.

Like Cruiser and Calamity, my bassets were rescued from shelters. Shelter dogs are often unfortunate victims of past lives with people who don’t understand the breed and can’t tolerate their obstinate nature. Buyers who are charmed by adorable basset puppies with those long, floppy ears don’t do their homework before embarking on becoming a basset slave, as fanciers laughingly refer to themselves. Don’t be fooled by the basset hound’s laissez faire demeanor; there’s a keen mind inside that pointy noggin, and it’s plotting the next assault on your dinner table. They are also champion counter surfers. Truth to tell, basset hounds are much better at training us than we are them.

Peaches, our last in a long line of beloved bassets, sadly had to leave us for Rainbow Bridge on July 3, 2019 at the age of 16, a very long life for a basset hound or any dog. Three months later, my mother passed on. We adopted her dog, Piccolo, an aging Shih-Tzu/Yorkshire terrier mix, or a “Shorkie,” as we call him. In 2011, I took Mom to the local SPCA, where she rescued him, so he’s actually been rescued twice. But who rescued whom? Piccolo turned out to be a 10-pound blessing. He has seen me through the traumatic loss of my mom and Peaches and the deadly pandemic of 2020. I caught the virus early in March, which fortunately did not require hospitalization, but it took me a month to fully recover. Piccolo may be a mutt, but he’s a registered Emotional Support Animal (E.S.A.), or Extra Special Animal, as my husband and I call him. We both adore that sweet, little guy. We’ve downsized from 60-pound hounds to our first toy breed, but I confess I’m still a basset lover to the bone. I fully expect that another one may waddle into my life at some point.

Meet Bubba Gump, the main inspiration for Cruiser’s character. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s next in your Beanie and Cruiser series?

A sixth Beanie and Cruiser Mystery is in the works, though progress on the manuscript has been slow this past year. I do my best writing in coffee shops, and I can’t wait until they can open up again. I have more books to write!

Like my Sierra sleuth, Beanie, I’ve never met a dog I didn’t like, even crazy ones. Other dogs besides basset hounds have found their way into the series, including a Newfoundland, a Pomeranian, and a Scottish terrier. You never know, my little E.S.A. may inspire a new canine character that will join Cruiser and Calamity in a future Tahoe adventure.

***

Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries, in order of release:

Howling Bloody Murder

Sirius about Murder

Embarking on Murder

Braced for Murder

Ears for Murder

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Waterstones (Britain and Ireland), Booksamillion, and Walmart.

Visit www.sueowenswright.com for more information.

Chase Away Winter Gloom With Sheltie Love!

Does it seem as though we’ve been in this pandemic lock-down forever? Sure feels that way in our house!

In search of happy news, I was delighted to see the beautiful Sheltie, Katie, back to tell us all about her latest adventure.  Here she is posing for her mama:

Photo of Katie

©2021 Dawn Kinster (posted with permission)

Just a few lines from today’s post:

She hurried up and packed my adventure bag (treats, water, poop bags, you know, the essentials) and the next thing I know she’s putting stuff in the car and I’m not sure if I’m invited, so I follow her right down the steps into the garage.

Mama laughed and put me in my car so I knew I got to go. I was all wiggle butt. And I was even more excited when I got to get out of the car in a few minutes and we were at my park! Last time I got to go somewhere I ended up at the vet. I was not so wiggle butt there, I can tell you that!

***

My own Sheltie, by the way, shares Katie’s opinion of vet visits. We’re still waiting for Sasha’s coat to grow in after having her flank shaved for surgery in late fall. Until it does, I insist she wear a coat that covers her flanks. Sasha is not impressed. She’s not impressed by snow, either, and would rather stay on the covered patio and watch Buddy The Wonder Cat leap around the backyard whenever it snows, even when it’s just a dusting. Without much exercise, Sasha is likely to gain more than Katie’s “Covid 2 pounds” before we venture out to the park ourselves!

To read the whole post and see more photos of this beautiful Sheltie, go to Dawn Kinster’s blog and you’ll find today’s post here.  Be sure to check out the sidebar which has links to more Katie adventures!

Is A Puppy The Right Gift?

Thinking of giving someone a puppy this holiday season (or any time of the year)? Award-winning Certified Animal Behavior Consultant Amy Shojai offers eight questions worth considering before you make your final decision. Take a look:

    1. Is the recipient already overwhelmed with other responsibilities that require his or her complete attention? A person who is coping with financial stress, sick family members, or a demanding job may not be able to maintain a puppy.
    2. Does this person spend a great deal of time away from home? If so, is there someone at home who can dedicate time to puppy care?
    3. Does the recipient have the space to house another member of the family?
    4. Can this person afford a puppy? Even a healthy dog is a financial responsibility; pet food and well pet care are not cheap. If the puppy turns out to have medical issues, the costs could run into the thousands.
    5. How stable is this individual? A new puppy may seem like a good way to help someone become more responsible, but the reality is that puppies are not training wheels; they need responsible, caring homes from the moment they arrive.
    6. Is this person going through (or about to go through) major life changes? A couple expecting a baby, a recent high school or college graduate, or a senior whose health is declining are all examples of people who probably do not need a puppy in their lives.
    7. Will the new puppy owner survive to care for the dog over the next 10 to 20 years? This question should be asked when you are considering the idea of giving a puppy to a lonely senior. If that individual is not likely to outlive the pet, will you be willing and able to give it a home?
    8. If you are giving a puppy to a child, are the child’s parents supportive of the idea? Children delight in puppy presents for holiday surprises, but breathing gifts cannot be shoved under the bed and forgotten when the latest must-have gadget has more appeal. Remember—even if Fido is for the kids, the parent ultimately holds responsibility for the well-being of the pet. Will the child’s parents have the time to spend on one-on-one attention a new pet needs and deserves?

    Read the rest of the article at The Spruce Pets. And be sure to check out Amy’s website, too. You’ll find great info about her fiction as well as her non-fiction books. In addition to authoring more than two dozen pet care books, she also writes “dog-centric” thrillers.

    ***

    Let’s close out the year on a high note! Here’s a slideshow of pups in winter, courtesy of photographers who share their work via the website Pexels.com.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

     

    See you in 2021!

    News from the Kennel Club of Philadelphia

     

    If your holiday plans include watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade followed by The National Dog Show on television, you’re in luck! Each grand event is still on the schedule, but expect some changes.

    Biggest changes for the dog show: no spectators in the audience, and no dogs will be “benched” for the public to view. Also missing: vendors, sponsors and media representatives, with the exception of NBC personnel. (Makes sense, as they’re airing the event.) Nurses will be on site; masks, hand sanitizers, and physical distancing between officials as well as dogs and their handlers.

    Here are key excerpts from the Philadelphia Kennel Club’s announcement about this year’s event. I’ve also included links to the most recent updates I could find.

    • With full attention being given to state and local health and safety issues for activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and under the guidance of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and the Montgomery County Department of Health, a single, two-day show will be held on Nov. 14- 15 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.
    • The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show will go forward in 2020 with no spectators and with the approving guidance of regional health and safety authorities. The show will be televised on Thanksgiving Day (noon-2 p.m. in all time zones), Nov. 26, following the telecast of NBC’s “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
    • In recent years, the club has conducted two separate dog shows during the big Philadelphia weekend, but this November the club will conduct just one show divided over those two days. The competition will be limited to some 600 dogs (200 each day), a decrease of 70% from the near-2000 entries usually on hand. Four groups will be judged on Saturday, with the remaining three plus Best In Show set for Sunday.
    • Further information on the National Dog Show and the Kennel Club of Philadelphia Dog Shows can be obtained at www.nationaldogshow.com

    Find updated information at https://nds.nationaldogshow.com/ and NBC Sports.com.

    ***

    New in 2020! According to https://sports.nbcsports.com/2020/11/13/what-to-know-about-national-dog-show-2020-thanksgiving/ we’ll see three breeds make their National Dog Show debut:

    • The Barbet, which competes in the Sporting Group, originated as a water dog in France. The breed has a curly coat that can be black, gray, brown, or fawn in color, sometimes with white markings. The Barbet is a calm dog but was bred to help retrieve birds. The breed’s name comes from the French word “barbe,” which means beard.
    • The rare Belgian Laekenois (“Lak-in-wah”) joins the Herding Group. This strong, sturdy and protective breed has a rough, tousled coat that can be shades of red, fawn or grey. The Belgian Laekenois was originally bred and raised to guard livestock and linens drying outside before serving as messenger dogs during WWI and WWII.
    • The Dogo Argentino, which falls under the Working Group, was originally a pack-hunting dog in Argentina. The breed was known to take down wild boar and puma, among other large game. Dogo Argentinos have short, white coats, but a dark patch near the eye is permitted as long as it doesn’t cover too much of the head.

    ***

     

     

     

    A Safe Haven

    If you’re a fan of the Superman comics, you’ve probably heard stories about his Fortress of Solitude. Depending on which fan group you follow, some believe the fortress to be a stronghold, while others argue it’s a secret weapons cache, and still others see it as a safe haven free of destructive forces. Personally, I like the idea of a safe haven, and not just for superheroes.

    Since late summer, I’ve come to think of my home office as my own fortress–a safe haven from the unpredictable and the scary. One scare in particular has me spending even more time sequestered with my beautiful Sheltie by my side. In addition to gall bladder problems (common, I’ve learned, for many of her breed), Sasha developed a large mass on her side which grew so rapidly our veterinarian recommended removal. The surgery and subsequent use of a Penrose drain at the surgical site meant Sasha stayed in my office so I can watch her closely. I set up her portable crate next to my desk, and Buddy The Wonder Cat promptly claimed the top. (Have I mentioned he considers Sasha “his dog”?) She’s ignored the crate for the most part, preferring instead to stretch out on the floor on her Thomas the Train blanket.

    Overall, she’s been a real trooper, accepting the entire process with grace and, recently, a resurgence of her good humor, although she’s no fan of the T-shirts I’m using to cover her torso, and has managed–twice– to wiggle out of a securely-pinned shirt. (She demonstrates her disdain for the shirt by pushing it into a far corner of the room.) Fortunately, she hasn’t bothered the incision (and it’s a big one) even when it’s not covered. As for me, I’ve started a countdown calendar and am longing for the day when my girl can resume squirrel patrol in the yard and long walks in the park.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

     

    ***

    You’d think with all this time in the office I would have made progress on Dangerous Deeds, wouldn’t you? I’d like to say I did, but I confess I’ve channeled most of my energy into helping Sasha. Along the way, though, I did spend some time on Book #3 in the series. Watch this site for a forthcoming sneak peek at what’s ahead for the gang at Waterside Kennels.