DO YOU HAVE THE PAW OF APPROVAL?



People often ask why I write dogs into my books. I could offer an easy answer and say I write what I know. Only if you’ve read my novels might it make you wonder why they also include vicious serial killers? I should mention that it’s fiction, except for the dogs.

The truth is, I prefer dogs to humans. They’re a perfect muse when in a creative process. Never would a dog turn up his snout, imply that I write like a third grader or tell me to cut out a page, or God forbid, an entire chapter. They sit and patiently listen. For a treat, they’ll agree with every one of my word choices; and for a bone, nominate me for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Studies have shown that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression, have lower blood pressure in stressful situations, and have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-dog owners. Heart attack patients with dogs, it’s been said, survive longer than those without. I’ve also heard rescuing a dog raises your IQ by twenty points. Okay, I may have made the last one up to make sure you were paying attention.

Not long ago, our local rescue needed good homes for puppies found abandoned in a box on the side of a busy highway. I picked the one with a white patch on his chest from the small wiggly balls of black fur. It was the fourth of July, and I wanted to name him something patriotic, after a former president who wouldn’t offend anyone. My new fur baby became Rutherford B. Hayes, after a likable man who no one remembers.

It wasn’t until we settled in the car, with Rutherford nestled on my lap, that I noticed his polar bear-sized paws. His insatiable appetite was impossible to ignore, and in just two weeks, my puppy had grown out of his crate. I replaced it with the largest Amazon would deliver, a size that could easily house a lion, and every time I put him in it, it seemed he doubled in size. Did I buy a crate or a bread oven?

               When I enrolled him in a series of age-appropriate puppy-training classes, they asked Rutherford to leave during the second one. Although he was by far the youngest, his classmates seemed petrified of his enormous size. I watched them climb up their owner’s legs when they heard his roar.

At nine months, long-legged, broad-chested, and hovering at one hundred pounds, the question was always the same. What exactly is he? Since I watched him leap effortlessly over the couch and then found him relaxing on top of the washing machine, I just assumed my gentle giant was part raptor and part kangaroo.

A DNA test proved me wrong. My rescue is half Black Labrador Retriever and half Treeing Walker Coonhound, which means he runs fast and will continue to grow. No matter his size, this happy, loveable, floppy, sloppy, magnificent boy will stay in my heart, home, and books. Maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll give me his paw of approval.

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