by Lou Allin
“I wish my dog could talk.” If you’re an author, they’d ask for a role in your books. Limpid brown eyes with questioning brows, a whimper of excitement at keyboard sounds, a paw on the computer table, and a nose snuffling the bookshelf. They want in.
Freya, a German shepherd, was eight when she worked her way into my first series. Belle Palmer was a realtor, living in the Northern Ontario bush in a cedar-sided home on gigantic lake and owned a snowmobile. A companion was important, especially for hikes in bear territory.
So fictional Freya got her favourite chair, kibble and toys, and her idiosyncrasies. The only problem occurred in the final hundred pages, a page-turning chase, lost in a blizzard or in the bush, pursued by the villain. It was impractical to have her with Belle at that point because Freya would have torn a strip from any attacker. So I added ruses like going to the vet’s overnight for a late afternoon tooth cleaning or a trip to the neighbour’s. The only time Belle took a dog along was when she had to babysit a mini-poodle pup called Strudel in Bush Poodles are Murder. Belle and Strudel toughed it out in a snow cave during a blizzard. Strudel, aka Friday, is with me today at age thirteen, blind but running the house, whispering in my ear as I sleep, “Return of the Bush Poodle. Just do it!”
My next shepherd emerged in an academic mystery called A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing. I have a chronicle of Nikon bumping down stairs on his rump like a frog and running off chasing birds. They grow up so fast.
Then I moved to Vancouver Island, Canada’s Caribbean, where Nikon saw his women safely to the island and joined Freya at the Bridge.
Enter a rescue border collie named Shogun. They are not soul mates like German Shepherd Dogs, living for the master’s pleasure and serving without questions. They prefer to be worked or entertained. And often they believe that they know best.
Shogun’s name had been Hogan, then Logan, so Shogun seemed a small stretch and the name matched his mighty bark. Shogun was also a chowhound.
He accepted his agility training, but only for the kibble. He stopped in the middle of the competition ring, demanding the next directive. This tunnel? That jump? The dog walk? Make up your mind! Shogun used that expressive plumed tail like a vampire’s cape, sweeping it over other dogs as if to say, “I never drink...wine.”
He got his own role in my new series with RCMP Corporal Holly Martin in a small detachment west of Victoria. Not long after we got another border collie, Zia, Shogun joined the shepherds at Rainbow Bridge, but in “his” books, he’s still warming up. His fictional character was rescued by Holly’s professor father, and he’s also in agility. In the upcoming fifth book, Shogun will make a key appearance solving the crime overshadowing the series: the disappearance up north over ten years ago of Holly’s mother, a Coastal Salish lawyer dedicated to helping abused women on the island.
As for my other books, Man Corn Murders, a standalone set in Utah, had a Nova Scotia duck toller called Tut. My two Rapid Reads for Orca Books had an old golden retriever, Bucky and a border-collie rescue called Scout. The latest includes a Malinois, who serves as protector for a woman with a suspiciously hostile neighbour.
Pets are not accessories, nor part of the furniture. It’s true that my mini-poodle had her own fleece parka with her initial on pockets for hand warmers over her back, but at -25C? Pets are an integral part of our lives and often reflect who we are, whether the animal is a dog, cat, bird, ferret, rat, or garter snake. Like Janet Evanovich’s hamster Rex in the soup-can house, animals comfort us as companions, help us think things through, and get us out of the house even in snow and rain. But they do not speak English.
There is a time-delay. In traditional publishing, the book may not appear until two years after it’s written. The ghosts of animals past haunt the pages, but what better memorial? Just like the settings of my books are love affairs with a place, giving my pets their own roles is a way of paying tribute to woman’s best friend.
Lou Allin is the author of the Belle Palmer mysteries set in Northern Ontario, and the RCMP Corporal Holly Martin RCMP series on Vancouver Island. Lou also has written That Dog Won’t Hunt in Orca’s Raven Reads editions for adults with literacy issues and in 2013 won Canada’s Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award for Contingency Plan. She lives across from Washington State on the Juan de Fuca Strait with her border collies and mini-poodle. Her website is www.louallin.com and she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.