New Adventures

I’m back after a long hiatus, the result of my website having mysteriously disappeared while I was offline dealing with other matters. The site fell into a technological black hole and seemed lost. (And before you ask, the site and its contents are backed up regularly. The back-ups proved irretrievable. But that’s a story for another day.) Faced with the options of starting over or abandoning the site altogether, I decided to consider the experience a cue from the universe to focus my energies on other projects. Since then, I’ve been writing, teaching, and planning for change. And while I was busy with all that, my website decided to return from its interstellar walkabout. So, with fingers crossed that the site stays around for a while, I’ll do my best to “catch you up” as an English writing colleague likes to say.

I’ve lived in the Ozarks for 27 years, and every season still holds surprises. Fall dawdled its way through December and the early weeks of winter, teasing us with record high temps, bright sunshine, and gentle breezes. Green shoots appeared long after the garden should have gone dormant. People and dogs crowded the trails and parks through long sunny days reminiscent of early spring. Sasha added tracking (the “I’ll teach myself” version) to her hobby list and learned to sniff her way across the meadows in pursuit of the wildlife that left tantalizing scents through the grass and the woods.

Then came winter.

After spending hours in the yard each warm day (he’s not allowed to go beyond the fence), Buddy the Wonder Cat did not appreciate the wicked winds that brought us freezing temps, and sulked because he couldn’t go out and play. He spends his days watching the squirrels scurry in search of acorns or raiding the bird feeders that hang from the lower branches of the oaks in front of my home office. Most of the time, though, he naps while I write.

“Wake me when it’s spring!”

In contrast, Sasha is showing her Shetland Islands roots by wandering outside for long stretches of time, seemingly impervious to the bone-chilling temps. Convincing her to wear a warm coat is a struggle, but she gives in with a grumble of agreement when I tell her “Wear the coat or stay inside.”

That doesn’t last long, though. Despite straps, buckles, and buttons, Sasha–who seems to have Houdini genes–manages to wiggle her way out of the coat and leave it behind as she zooms around the park. Fortunately, she hadn’t been to the groomer recently, which left her with a super-thick double coat to block the wind.

Then came freezing rain and snow, with single-digit temps and wind chills falling below zero. The street became an impromptu skating rink for the neighborhood kids and our sloping drive looked like a bobsled run. Even the covered patio was layered in ice, causing Sasha to lose her footing and fall while trying to reach the snow-covered grass. We hauled out carpet remnants to give her safe passage.

Smartest command I ever taught Sasha: “Foot.” I tap the leg I’m drying, say “Foot” and she patiently leans against me and stands on three legs while I remove the ice and snow packed between her toes. And since she loves to plunge through the snow (including the drifts) there’s usually ice and snow on her belly and chest as well. So she gets her exercise running around the back yard and I get mine drying her off. After that, it’s treats for her and tea for me.
There are more wacky weather swings in the forecast. We’ll take advantage of the warmer days and set up “zoom” games in the yard before the next round of snow and/or freezing rain arrives. In the Ozarks, every day is an adventure!
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Dangerous Dogs: Fact and Fiction

header-colored-background-with-dog-silhouette.jpg

Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? That’s certainly true for writers–at least, for some of us. I’m frankly awed by those who produce well-crafted novels every year (and sometimes more often than that) and I’m the first to agree I’m not in that league. Instead, I’m comfortable doing things my way in my own time. Since the major plot lines for the series are drawn from both life and legend, the research process for each book is proving to be an adventure all its own.

Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, tackles two hot topics that are rumbling through the region: land fraud and dog ownership. Researching these real-life issues led me to courthouses, community meetings, newspaper archives, legal records (both on- and off-line) and animal shelters. Along the way I’ve interviewed county deputies, elected officials, and environmentalists as well as kennel owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and community activists. Along the way I learned that people are prone to what scholars term confirmation bias–that is, they’re most likely to believe whatever evidence supports their personal beliefs. They’re vocal in expressing their opinions and quick to dismiss opposing perspectives.

Take the issue of “dangerous dogs” for example. You can find plenty of anecdotal information supporting the position that some specific breeds are inherently dangerous and should be banned. Look further and you’ll find scholarly studies disputing that. Based on these studies, it would appear that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a flawed approach while Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) takes a more responsible view. In summary:

The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation – breed-specific legislation (BSL) and breed-neutral legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multi-factorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog’s behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations – regardless of a dog’s appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our breed legislation page. For public safety and to reduce dog bite incidents, the data and scientific studies both validate that the most effective solutions are breed-neutral and address the human end of the leash.

While there are some who may question the value of this source, the inclusion of scholarly studies, reports, and position statements from credible associations suggest it’s worth taking the time to review the information and links before making up your mind.

And despite the plethora of peer-reviewed studies and expert positions, there are many who prefer instead to support boycotts and breed bans.  I’ve drawn upon real-life incidents, actions, and attitudes reflecting both sides of the issue to create authentic conflict for my protagonist as she finds herself in legal jeopardy when an opponent is found murdered on her property. To save herself, Maggie must unravel the web of deceit and discover the truth before nefarious foes can succeed in their efforts to destroy all she holds close to her heart.

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Pet-Friendly Travels

Alix The Great Traveler © Susan Holmes

Years ago, I was traveling with a group and we’d checked into a pet-friendly hotel. I left my spaniel, Alix, in the room while I retrieved the rest of the luggage. One member of the group–one of the few traveling without dogs of her own–wasn’t paying attention and left the door open. My dog decided she didn’t want to stay in a strange place unless I was with her so she slipped out of the open door and set off to find me. By the time I tracked her down, she’d charmed everyone she’d met and the front desk clerk was sharing her lunch. “She looked hungry,” the clerk explained. Fortunately, both staff and guests were amused by my dog’s antics and quick to accept my profuse apologies for an unleashed, unsupervised dog in the hotel.

I learned a lot from that experience, and I’m happy to report that Alix went on to become a wonderful travel companion. Far better, in fact, than I suspect my Sheltie will ever be. If Sasha ever got loose in a strange place, I seriously doubt I could catch her. Beyond our yard and whatever the destination might be, Sasha is always leashed and properly secured.

If you’re traveling this summer by vehicle or planes or even on foot, there are some basic practices that can make the adventure an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone.

© American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club staff present some great suggestions that can help you plan for your trip. You’ll find excellent information about health, safety, crates, and best practices in the article titled The Complete Guide to Travelling With Your Dog.

Jenna Stregowski, RVT has a thoughtful article titled How to Travel With Your Dog that addresses different types of travel accommodations. The article also includes a handy “what to pack” checklist.

Lisa Bernier at Barkpost offers 18 Ridiculously Easy Travel Hacks That Will Change How You Travel With Your Pup. Some of these might surprise you, so be sure to check them out!

And for a totally different perspective, check out How I Bring My Dog With Me While Traveling The World and Working Remotely

If you’re planning to travel on foot with your dog, The American Hiking Society has great information online at the site Places to Hike With Your Dog.

Although fractured bones have kept me off the trail for the past several months, reading about a hike with a dog is almost as good as the real thing–especially when the writer is as gifted as Jim Warnock. If you’ve never hiked with a canine partner, check out the 12 qualities of a good trail partner.  And for more great reading, check out his blog post Just Perfect

Hiker-Dog Photo © Jim Warnock

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Wherever your travels take you, I hope the information included in the links above will help you enjoy a peaceful–and safe–adventure!

p.s. If you’re looking for a pet-friendly hotel, these resources might help:

https://hotels.petswelcome.com/

https://www.bringfido.com/lodging/

http://www.pet-friendly-hotels.net/

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha © S. Holmes

Dangerous Deeds

One of the most common questions asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?”

As a professor and research geek, I love this question. Maybe I’m genetically wired this way; my dad was brilliant with crossword puzzles and my mother excelled in finding creative solutions to vexing problems. That’s as good a reason as any to explain why I’m prone to wonder who and how and why and what if. I might see a headline, visit someplace new, overhear a conversation, sift through photographs, encounter someone unusual, or dream a tall tale—any or all of these  become grist for the proverbial mill. For me, the answer to  “Where do you get your ideas?” changes from one writing project to the next. The idea of breed bans as a plot for Dangerous Deeds (book #2 in my series) started with news headlines.

The Plot Challenge

Breed specific legislation (BSL) has been a controversial issue in many communities, including mine. A nearby town’s efforts to ban pit bulls caused an argument that went on for months. When unleashed dogs attacked cyclists and joggers on roads and trails, elected officials were challenged to reconsider the county ordinance. They struggled to find reasonable common ground, balancing owner’s rights with public safety. Not an easy task! These and similar events prompted me to wonder how the folks in my fictional world would react to a proposed ban.

Search the Internet and you will likely find hundreds of articles and stories and websites focused on this issue. Tempers run hot on both sides of this controversy, and the thought of researching a topic steeped in such graphic violence left me downright queasy. Still, the idea lingered. I spent months searching for credible information about BSL from advocates and opponents alike, trying to figure out how to tackle the issue in a way that wouldn’t offend readers or my own sensibilities. The AKC’s issue analysis of BSL published in 2015 gave me the hook I was looking for. Read on for a glimpse of how the AKC position and citizens’ comments at public hearings inspired the primary plot line of the book.

Excerpts

There’s a scene early in the book where the sheriff warns my protagonist, Maggie Porter, about a sleazy local attorney:

“Simon Tate claims to have a client whose dog was attacked at the county park.  No witnesses, mind you, and no injury to the dog according to the vet. Still, the suit claims negligence on the part of the county, and he’s demanding we outlaw what he calls vicious breeds. He convinced the Quorum Court to hold a public hearing. My gut tells me he’s after a whole lot more than just a county ordinance, but darned if I can figure out his motive here. Gotta say, that worries me some. Seems like whenever Simon Tate profits, somebody loses.”

Fast forward to the public hearing, where Maggie does her best to explain her opposition to breed ban.  She’s blindsided, though, when Simon Tate uses the event to attack her reputation with a barrage of lies and innuendo. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the scene:

“These breeds have a known history of attacking others. Killing machines, that’s what they are, and you let them in your kennel, side by side with beloved family pets.” Turning to face the crowd, he had to shout to be heard. “Until we get the Dangerous Dog Ordinance signed into law, I challenge everyone to take a stand, show your support for our community. Vote with your wallet—boycott any place that puts profit over safety! Don’t take your business to any animal clinic, pet shop, groomer, or kennel that won’t stand up for our pets, our children, our community!”

Simon pointed to Maggie. “We’re going to shut you down.”

***

Maggie soon discovers the boycott is just the start of trouble. When a body is found on her property, suspicion turns to Waterside Kennels where everyone has motive and nobody has an alibi. Can Maggie unravel the web of deceit in time to save herself and everything she loves?

Dangerous Deeds is scheduled for publication this year. Stay tuned!