It’s a Dog-Meet-Dog World

I’m editing scenes from Dangerous Deeds in which my protagonist Maggie Porter is leading a Good Dog! class to help owners and their dog prepare for their Canine Good Citizen test. I first wrote those scenes before Sasha came into my life, so I had to rely on information from the AKC, training blogs, and YouTube videos. And while the test items seem relatively simple, achieving consistent results with a dog of my own is a bit more complicated than I envisioned.

Take, for example, test item #8, Reaction to Another Dog. If we take our test indoors, Sasha will (probably) pass this one with flying colors. She’s been close to other dogs in indoor training situations and in retail stores, and she’s been calm and quiet every time. And those of you with Shelties know quiet isn’t common behavior!

But life as we know it isn’t confined to indoor interactions, and many evaluators prefer outdoor venues as shown in the video above. We’ve made progress in reducing Sasha’s over-the-top reaction to leashed dogs but there’s still work to be done. If I see the dog in time I can move us out of the way and put Sasha in a down-stay or a sit-stay until the dog and handler pass by. (Mind you, she usually has something to say, but she tends to mutter rather than bark.)

Our current challenge, though, is the off-leash dog.

Maybe that’s happened to you in the local park, along a trail, or even in your own neighborhood. We’ve been accosted by off-leash dogs on multiple occasions, and most recently just this past week.  We were less than a block from home after enjoying a casual afternoon walk. Two Australian Shepherds bolted through an open garage door and came in low, fast, and silent. If I’d known they were in there I would have crossed the street to give us some distance, but I didn’t see them in time to take evasive action. They ignored their owner’s commands and came straight for us. They’re young, well-muscled, and already bigger and heavier than Sasha. And she most definitely Did. Not. Like. Them.

It didn’t help to hear the owner say “They’re friendly. Just stand still.” Seriously? I have no interest in taking advice from an irresponsible owner. I saw nothing to suggest this was a friendly meet-and-greet, so I backed Sasha up while staring down the dogs. The owner struggled to get handfuls of hair (no collars!) and held them long enough for me to get Sasha safely past them.

In the days since, I’ve worked to reduce Sasha’s renewed hyper reactions around dogs in general and I’ve done my best to keep her away from known trouble spots. Just this morning, though, we came across a dog who was loose in an unfenced yard. Sasha saw him as he headed our way and, predictably, reacted by barking fiercely. The dog’s body language suggested interest but no overt aggression, perhaps because we were in the street and about 20 yards away. I put Sasha in a sit-stay between my legs, held up my hand in the classic “Stop” gesture and said “NO! GO BACK!” The dog halted and immediately turned away when his owner called him. (Excellent recall demonstrated there!) Other than her initial outburst, Sasha sat quietly and, once we moved along, looked to me for approval—which of course she received, along with lavish praise and treats. She looked back just once (a big improvement over previous behavior), tossed out one last bark and then moved on.

If you come across off-leash dogs in your own neighborhood or park, you may find a flexible response strategy to be the most helpful. Consider, for example, these excellent suggestions offered by Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA in her 2015 dogster.com article “What to do when an off-leash dog approaches your leashed dog.”  And you can find more suggestions at VetStreet.com, where dog trainer Mikkel Becker talks tactics in her 2013 article “Managing confrontation with an off-leash dog.

We’ll keep working to build Sasha’s confidence when meeting dogs, whether they’re leashed or loose. Every day brings new encounters with different dogs, and that’s great training for my Canine Good Citizen in training!

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Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, weaves a tale of mischief and mayhem that sets neighbor against neighbor and disrupts the quiet life Maggie Porter longs for. A major part of the plot revolves around a proposed ‘dangerous’ dog ordinance that’s based on breed-specific legislation (BSL) enacted in hundreds of communities across the country and in multiple countries around the world.

For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter shares the AKC position that BSL doesn’t work, in part because it fails to address the issue of owner responsibility. Unfortunately, some nefarious community members have targeted Maggie’s opposition to the proposed ordinance to further their own agenda. Their efforts generate ripples of dissent throughout the community, leading to boycotts, threats, and death too close to home.

Dangerous Deeds is on track for publication this year. Stay tuned!

Reflections of Life in Fiction

fountain pen

I write mystery fiction. I write from experience, from observation, from research. The characters living in the world I create are good, bad, and sometimes both. They have virtues and vices. Some of my characters will share your view of the world and some won’t. In short, they’re the sort of people you already know or might expect to meet. And, like many people you know, some of these characters aren’t shy about voicing their opinions and fighting for what they think is right. And when opposing viewpoints collide, therein lies the conflict at the heart of the story.

My job as a writer, then, is to present those opinions and messages as part of the plot development. It’s far easier, frankly, to write a character whose values and beliefs match some of my own than it is to write a character at the other end of the spectrum. Both kinds of characters, however, are essential to the plot, so it’s my job as storyteller to present each as authentically as possible.

In Dangerous Deeds (forthcoming), you’ll find multiple characters with the common bond of military service but with differing opinions and interests. Writing these characters proved easy because I’m third-generation military. My paternal grandfather served in the Canadian Infantry in World War I, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, and I served in the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted a year after the fall of Saigon and served through the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s right through the first Gulf War before retiring from active duty in the mid-1990s. I was fortunate to serve alongside honorable and courageous men and women; the bonds we forged still hold and inform my writing.

While veterans of all ages share a common bond of service, our experiences vary and every generation has stories unique to their time. That’s where observation and research come into the writing process and allow me to create an assortment of characters of varying complexity. Take my protagonist’s neighbor Zak Henderson, for example, who was introduced in Deadly Ties. His time in uniform included three deployments to Afghanistan. If you were to say “Thank you for your service” to Zak, he’d likely nod and tell you that he was just upholding the family tradition of serving others.  Since leaving the military, he’s done his best to settle into civilian life as a single parent. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, Zak’s ready to stand in defense of what’s right.

Just like any other segment of the population, the military ranks include some who crave conflict and seek power over others. As much as we might like to believe everyone in uniform holds firm to the highest ethical standards, the reality is that some do not. In Dangerous Deeds, you’ll meet the character Karl Shackleford, former second-in-command to Sheriff Johnson’s corrupt predecessor. Karl opted for the Army rather than fall in line with the new law-and-order regime, and only came home after falling afoul of Army conduct regulations. Now he’s back on the job thanks to Veterans’ Reemployment Rights and eager to see his old boss reinstated as sheriff and resume his own position of power. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, legal or otherwise.

Some veterans return with physical or psychological wounds, and more than a few find themselves without a place to call home. Some estimates suggest that nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness because of poverty, insufficient support networks, and housing issues. That’s true for some of my characters, too.  In Dangerous Deeds you’ll meet Martin Grimes, homeless after the family’s hilltop farm was auctioned off while Martin served overseas. Now he’s getting by one day at a time, doing odd jobs that come along, spending nights rough camping in the woods not far from Waterside Kennels and wondering just what he’d been fighting for. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, he’ll have to decide, once again, where his sense of loyalty and honor will lead him.

Three men, all veterans, each with his own story to tell. Although fictional, each reflects some element of reality for military veterans today.

This week, the United States will recognize Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day in recognition of the ceasefire on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918 which ended World War I. If you’d like to learn ways to support military veterans in need, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans or learn about the Lifeline for Vets.

Veterans Day 2015

 

And the Winner is…

congratulations

Congratulations, Barbara Tobey! You’ve won the 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Barbara, please email me (dogmysteries [at] gmail) and let me know where to send your prize! Remember you can keep for yourself, give as gifts–whatever you like!

Coming up: a sneak peek this week at Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Sharing a Love of Mysteries

One of my favorite places in the world is a library. That’s where I’ll be today, visiting with fans and friends at the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Susan Holmes Book Discussion-Signing 10-11-15

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I’ll be back here soon to share more about facts and folktales in regional mysteries. Remember there’s a giveaway in progress, so be sure to leave a comment!

Living on in our Hearts

For many of us, pets are part of the family, and our lives are enriched by their love and companionship. And when they leave us, the loss creates a void that can stay with us for a long time. Some of us are fortunate to have many years with our pets, as I did with my beloved Alix. She gave me 17 years of love and laughter and loyalty. She’s been gone nearly that long, yet I think of her every day and talk about her often. She lives on in my heart and in my writing (she’s the inspiration for Sweet Pea in the Waterside Kennels series).

Since the first book in my series was published, I’ve offered readers and fans the opportunity to share photos of their own pets. You can see those dogs on the slideshow here on this site. I’ve been honored to hear stories from readers and fans about their own much-loved pets. I’ve learned there are many ways to honor the lives of our pets, from stories to eulogies to memorial statues to  photographs and more.  Over the next week or two I’ll share some of the stories and information that’s come my way, beginning with the story of Scooter which came my way via email from Johnny Compton and his wife–both dog lovers who “read all the dog related mysteries we can find.” He sent photos of their Beagles. Here’s his story:

Scooter 7/29/2007 - 8/9/2014

Scooter 7/29/2007 – 8/9/2014

Scooter passed away one year ago yesterday. As you may have guessed, we are Beagle people.  Living in rural area where we have a big fenced yard, dog door, where barking is not a problem (one of our neighbors raises German Shorthair Pointers), and plenty of wildlife plus domestic livestock to keep them busy, Beagles work out very well.

We got Scooter when he was ten weeks old, the runt of the litter but the little guy stole our hearts when we first laid eye on him.  We brought him home with us and we all bonded almost instantly.  He loved everyone and every other animal he met.  When he was about three months old, we got Skeeter (eight weeks).  He only took a short while to accept her and the two for them bonded.  Scooter turned out to be a 15″ Beagle and weighed just over 30 pounds as an adult (Skeeter is 13″).  He loved to ride and let me drive “his” pickup when we went on a drive together.  He was funny, loved to play but I could always see the wheels turning in that sharp mind of his.

He met his early demise as the result of an encounter with a deer.  The doe had jumped our yard fence with a fawn outside the fence.  Scooter was at the back of the house and probably surprised her.  All we know is he came flying in the house with a small cut right between his eyes and after a month of treatments and pain medication, he went down due to severe pain and we had to have him put down.  He probably wanted to befriend the deer as he had tried many times in the past.

He is missed and we now have Bree to help fill the void.

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Have a story of your own? I invite you to share in the comments!

Advice From Hiker-Dog’s Trail Partner

In addition to featuring dog-related fiction and information, I also showcase writers, photographers, and bloggers who live and work in the Ozarks. I find it’s a great way to introduce readers to the beauty of this place I call home, and readers tell me they enjoy learning more about the Ozarks region.

Hiker-dog says, “The less you carry, the better you move.”

Hiker-dog says, “The less you carry, the better you move.”

As I’m working on Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, I’ve been researching hiking trails across the Ozarks. Many are on private lands, accessible with permission to individuals and groups for hiking and camping, often in exchange for trail maintenance. Other trails, including the famous Ozark Highlands Trail, are almost completely on public lands, with private landowners granting OHT easement for the rest. Much of that trail is maintained by volunteers. One of those is Jim Warnock of the ozarkmountainhiker.com blog. Longtime followers of this blog might remember I shared Jim’s story of how Hiker-dog came into his life last year with an update here. Since then, Jim has generously shared his expertise and experience on the trails, making my research much easier. (Thanks, Jim!) With his permission, I’m reblogging his advice to novice hikers. Even if you’re a veteran of the trails or live beyond the Ozarks, you’ll find some good information here.

“Hike anywhere your feet will take you.”

What do I wear? What do I take with me? Where should I go?

When should I go? What are the dangers? Will a bear get me?

Many questions come to mind when you consider taking a hike for the first time. We’re going to consider these questions and be sure we have some simple answers before heading out. A few good questions can keep us out of trouble and ensure that we want to continue hiking after our early experiences.

Disclaimer: This is not an all-encompassing day hiking guide. These are just my thoughts based on personal experience and a few mistakes along the way.

What do I wear?

You can wear almost anything and get away with it on the trail. Don’t worry about fashion, but function. We’ll look at this from the ground up since feet are very important to hikers.

Oboz hiking shoes

Oboz hiking shoes

  1. Socks are among a hiker’s most important pieces of clothing. I use SmartWool socks, but there are other options. Don’t wear cotton socks unless you like blisters and soggy, smelly feet. Any tennis shoes of reasonable strength are fine for day hiking. Don’t go purchase a heavy pair of hiking boots unless you just want to. I don’t even wear heavy boots when backpacking. I use low-top hiking shoes. I like Oboz right now, but whatever feels good on your feet should guide your decision.
  2. Pants – If the weather is nice, any pants will do. If it’s cold, I prefer anything but cotton pants. Cotton gets wet (making you colder) and then will not dry out in the humid Ozarks until a few days later. When hiking in the Ozarks I almost always wear long pants because of undergrowth, briars, and ticks.
  3. Underwear – For a short day hike, you can use cotton, but as you work up to longer hikes, you’ll want a pair of undies made from a fabric other than cotton.
  4. Shirt – A cotton shirt in summer is alright but if there is a chance of colder temperatures, something like an UnderArmor t-shirt will keep you warmer than cotton.
  5. Hat – A hat is good for sun protection and heat retention, depending on the weather. I accidentally left my hat in my car at the Grand Canyon once and was thankful I had a bandana to tie into a makeshift hat. In some conditions, a hat is a necessity!
  6. Rain protection (especially in cooler temperatures) – A light rain jacket can be wadded up in the bottom of your daypack and forgotten about until needed.
  7. Gloves – Anything but cotton and only if needed. I wear some cheap army surplus wool glove liners when I hike, and they’re fine. I also have some nicer gloves for colder weather but am nervous about losing them. They hook together which is nice for storage in my pack. Finding one glove is more irritating than finding one sock in the drawer.

What do I take with me?

As little as possible is my short answer, but there are some essentials you’ll want to have depending on the conditions.  This list is drawn from the ten essentials that are published in many forms. Below is my list roughly by personal priority.

Filtering water from Spirits Creek with a Sawyer Filter

Filtering water from Spirits Creek with a Sawyer Filter

  1. Water and access to water – Put your water in a bottle or a bladder in your pack. One expert hiker friend, Grey Owl, swears by prune juice bottles. He gave me a couple, and I use them all the time. I carry a small Sawyer water filter in my daypack in case I run low. It doesn’t add much weight and has made me a few friends on the trail when others needed water.
  2. Food – Snacks that you’re used to eating are what you should take on the trail. This is no time to try something new in the food department.
  3. Extra clothing – Think protection from the elements. If it looks like rain, carry rain protection. If it looks like cold, carry an extra layer. My all-time favorite is an insulated vest. Stuff it in the bottom of your pack and it’s like a little insurance policy against a cold snap.
  4. Navigation – Don’t assume that you can’t get lost on a well used trail. Like Jeremiah Johnson, “I’ve never been lost, just confused for a month or two.” Fortunately, I’ve only been confused an hour or so, but it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared. A trail map of the area you’re hiking can make or break your trip. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes I just copy the appropriate pages from a trail guide and put them in a zip-lock bag. A compass is important. Even a general idea about directions can save you some grief. Don’t count on the compass app on your phone or GPS. Batteries don’t last. I have a small compass/thermometer that ties to a belt loop or my day pack. It’s always there.
  5. Illumination – A small headlamp or flashlight in your pack can be a big help if a hike takes longer than anticipated and you’re walking the last part of your trail in the dark. I carry a small LED light in my day pack at all times.
  6. Sun and bug protection – A little sunscreen can make you a happy and healthy hiker. Bug spray around the cuffs of your pants can discourage ticks. A little spray around your hat area can discourage deer flies and mosquitoes if you’re hiking in summer. Check for ticks often. If they get attached and stay awhile, your chances of getting one of several tick-borne diseases increase. I can usually feel the little guys climbing up my legs and pick them off before they attach.
  7. First Aid supplies – I like a zip-lock with some bandaids and any medicines I might need if stranded for a while. Keep it simple and light and then forget about it until you need it. Avoid purchasing a first aid kit because it will not be customized for your needs and you’ll be carrying unnecessary stuff.
  8. Fire – I carry a lighter. Don’t smoke, but I always have a lighter with me just in case I need a fire.
  9. Emergency shelter – This is simple to do. Cut a 8-10-inch hole close to the bottom of a large trash bag. I stuff it in the bottom of my pack and forget about it. I can put the bag over me and sit inside for shelter. The small opening allows me to see and breath but protects me from the elements. I’ve never used this but it’s like that cheap insurance policy I mentioned earlier.
  10. Most ten essentials lists include repair kit, but for day hiking I don’t carry any tools other than a small pocket knife. One of my hiking poles has some duct tape wrapped around it for emergencies. I’ve used this twice to reattach a shoe sole for other hikers.

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novice hiker guide photo 4

Link to the rest at ozarkmountainhiker.com, to include an important reminder to always tell somebody where you’re going. Sign in at the trailhead, leave a note, and tell a friend. And as Arkansas Parks & Tourism likes to say: “Go Outside & Play!

Breeds & Bites

This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.  As I edit a scene in the forthcoming Dangerous Deeds, I’m reminded that many people assume it’s always the dog’s fault. Even more often, people assume specific types of dogs are aggressors and push to enact breed specific legislation. Like the AKC, my character Maggie Porter will tell you that breed bans don’t address the real issues of owner responsibility and training. (Read the AKC issue analysis here.)

Having been bitten as a small child I can personally testify it’s a scary experience, but in my own case I was the guilty party. I put myself and the dog at risk. Thinking back, I’d agree with dog trainer Victoria Stillwell’s assertion that many dog bites are the result of  “a perfect storm of situation and circumstance and environment.” She reminds us to focus on the behavior, not the breed. Here’s the entire clip, which I found posted to the AKC website:

This fact sheet, courtesy of the AKC, highlights key facts and statistics we should all know:

AKCDL_DogBite_2015_Infogfx650Here are a few links to help make your community a safer place for people and dogs alike:

Some dogs need space: get the facts

Dog bites: 10 risky situations to avoid

The Yellow Ribbon Project: tie a bow against dog bites 

10 risky situations to avoid

Education and awareness, combined with basic common sense, can help prevent dog bites. The scar on my right arm is a daily reminder to respect dogs and take responsibility for your own behavior.

Take the time today to share this information with your family and friends. And remember: focus on behavior, not the breed!