...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Getting to Know Goldie (A Not-so-minor Character)*

as told to Sheila Webster Boneham

Good morning! Oh my, I’m so honored to be here. I mean, how did you even get my name? Oh, wait, I’m sure Janet gave it to you, yes? Or maybe Tom? But let me back up a step. I just wasn’t prepared for this, and look at me, I’m a mess. I’ve been out in the garden since before dawn. Like to beat the heat, you know. Here, have a glass of mint-basil iced tea. All fresh from the garden, except, of course, the tea. I order that from Charleston Tea Plantation. Did you know that it’s the only place in the U.S. that grows tea? Mmmm, that hits the spot. It’s their green tea with my own fresh basil and mints, pepper and spear. Made it this morning.

Okay, well, about that step back. I’m Goldie. Golden Sunshine on my various papers, but just Goldie to my friends. You found your way here, so you know that I live next door to my best friend, Janet MacPhail. Such a lovely person, and a talented photographer. When we’ve finished our tea I’ll show you some of the wonderful macro photos she’s taken in my garden. I have several framed in the living room. Most of her photos are of animals, of course. Most of her life is about animals! I think it’s great, and I adore her critters. 

Oh, here's Totem. Isn't he the most gorgeous kitten you've ever seen? Careful, though -- he gets a bit rambunctious, and he'll leave little black hairs all over your clothes! I wouldn't have this guy if not for Janet. Her handsome Leo taught me about cats. He's a beautiful ginger…is that right? Ginger? Or is he red? Or orange? I think I’ll call him golden. Leo is the best cat, other than Totem, of course. Leo's quite the courageous little guy, too, as he has proven more than once. He helps me in the garden and keeps me company on the patio when I’m reading, and he's been teaching Pixel how to be a proper cat. When Janet is away for a dog show or something, Leo stays with me. 

And then there’s Janet’s dog, Jay. He’s just the most handsome, smart, funny, lovely Australian Shepherd. If I see he’s outside in the morning when I’m making my toast I always make him a piece, too. I bake my own bread, you know, so the toast isn’t like store-bought toast, well, you know, toasted store-bought bread. I think Jay especially likes my sunflower seed whole grain with homemade cinnamon clove butter. It’s one of my favorites, too. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. Except Totem. Janet begs me not to bring her any because she’s trying to lose a few pounds. Has been ever since she met Tom, although I don’t think he really cares.

The Money Bird
That’s Tom Saunders. He and Janet both train and compete with their dogs, and they’re a perfect match, although they sure are slow to do anything about it. Funny thing is, I knew Tom years before Janet did. He’s an ethnobotanist and I took a class from him many moons ago. Didn’t know he was a dog-sports guy or I’d have introduced them back then. He has a terrific black Lab named Drake. Isn’t that a brilliant name for a duck dog? Ha! Tom’s become something of a confidante, although there are some things I won’t tell him. If Janet wants him to know what she’s been up to, she can tell him herself.

Maybe one of these days I'll get a dog, too. We shall see.

Hang on a minute while I take the cookies out of the oven. Ooooh, they smell pretty good, don’t they? Ha! I’m experimenting again. You can tell me whether they work. I like to put edibles from my garden into my cooking, and not just the usual suspects, either. These are lemon with bits of home grown rose hips and violets. I didn't grow the lemons, of course, but the flowers are fresh from the backyard. Here you go. Don’t burn yourself!

Drop Dead on Recall
I’ll say one thing—I found adventure in my younger days all by myself. Got arrested in Birmingham, I’m proud to say. Worked with different social programs in the Bay area for years. But I’ve been pretty quiet and well-behaved and, frankly, boring the past few years. Until Janet started playing Miss Marple from time to time, and I aided and abetted. That’s something else I won’t be telling Tom! What fun! But I don’t have time to tell you the whole story right now. I need to go clean the Japanese beetles off my roses. Do it by hand, you know. No chemicals in my garden, other than the ones the plants make themselves.

Here, take some cookies with you. They’ll be good to munch while you read about Janet and Jay’s latest adventure. And let me show you those photos in the other room.


Sheila Webster Boneham the Animals in Focus Mystery series. She is also the author of seventeen nonfiction books about animals, including the highly regarded Rescue Matters!How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion AnimalsHer work has appeared in literary and commercial magazines and anthologies, including the forthcoming 2015 Best Science and Nature Writing anthology edited by Rebecca Skloot.  Sheila’s work has won numerous honors, including the Prime Number Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award and multiple Maxwell and MUSE awards in fiction and nonfiction.  Sheila also writes narrative nonfiction and poetry, teaches writing workshops, and, yes, competes with her dogs. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com, or keep up with Sheila’s latest news on Facebook or at Sheila”s_Blog .

Sheila's books are available from retail and online booksellers. You can support independent bookselling and get your personally autographed copies of Sheila’s books from Pomegranate Books – information here: http://www.sheilaboneham.com/autographedbooks.html

*A slightly different version of this piece appeared in August 2013 at dru's book musings.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fact in Fiction: Solving the Mystery of EPI

by Tracy Weber

Bella, the German Shepherd hero in my Downward Dog Mystery series, is very special dog. Like most heroes, Bella is brave, loyal, and willing to make great sacrifices to protect those she loves. But her heroism isn’t the only thing that makes Bella special. Like my own German shepherd Tasha, she lives with an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI).
One of the many unwritten rules I follow when writing a cozy mystery is that no animals shall ever be harmed. Bella will be no exception. But “not harmed” doesn’t mean “not challenged.” In Bella’s case, her challenge is a significant, lifelong, yet manageable health condition.
Keiara in agility. When
she was diagnosed, she
had lost so much muscle
she couldn't walk
Including a dog with EPI in my series was no accident. Like most fiction authors, my primary goal is to entertain. To immerse my readers in a world they would otherwise never experience. But that’s not my only goal. My secondary, not-so-secret goal is to spread awareness of EPI and provide hope to owners of animals impacted by the condition.
EPI is an autoimmune disease that destroys the exocrine cells of the pancreas—the cells that produce digestive enzymes. Without digestive enzymes, EPI-dogs can no longer digest food, no matter how high the quality. Symptoms begin manifesting when the pancreas is 90% destroyed, at which time the dog starts losing significant weight.

Izzy, 6 years after EPI diagnosis
and doing great
The disease is primarily diagnosed in adolescent German Shepherds, but it can occur in any breed, even in cats and sometimes in humans. With lifelong treatment, an animal with EPI can live a basically normal life. EPI dogs go on to be search and rescue dogs, agility champions, therapy dogs, and cherished companions. Without treatment, those same dogs would literally starve to death.
The true tragedy of EPI lies not in the illness itself, at least not in most cases. It lies in the lost lives of dogs that were needlessly euthanized, either because EPI was never diagnosed or because owners falsely believed that they couldn’t afford the animal’s lifelong treatment. While this may have been true in the past, today treatment is much more affordable. Enzyme co-ops can furnish the needed medicine at one-third retail cost, and multiple online support groups have formed that coach owners through the frustrating trial-and-error beginning stages of treatment.
Tasha, still thriving at 10 years old
My own girl Tasha was diagnosed at age two, after losing twenty-five pounds in a month. As I watched her waste away in the weeks before diagnosis, I was convinced that I would soon lose her. Six months after we started treatment, she reached her goal weight of one hundred pounds, which she has maintained for the past eight years. No one who sees her now would guess that she has a wasting disease. Her vet has even nicknamed her “Fatty.”
Strangers used to chastise me because they wrongly assumed I was starving my dog.  Now they stop to tell me how gorgeous she is, even at age ten.  The same can be true for the vast majority of dogs with this condition.
A simple blood test can determine whether or not an animal has EPI. If you or someone you know owns a dog with the following symptoms, ask your vet if a Serum Trypsin-Like Immunoreactivity (TLI) test might be appropriate.
If your dog is a German shepherd, insist on it. 
Symptoms of EPI Include:
Caesar, 3-year-old Spanish Mastiff
  • Rapid weight loss in spite of a voracious appetite
  •  Frequent elimination of greasy, malformed, often yellow-colored stools
  • Rumbling sounds in the abdomen
  • Pica (eating of inappropriate substances)

If you have questions about EPI, please feel free to contact me at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com. Be sure to check out the website EPI4dogs. The before and after pictures will astound you.
Sometimes all it takes is information—and hope—to save a life.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at all of these gorgeous animals, each thriving with EPI.


Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Tracy loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.
Tracy and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. 
Visit her at TracyWeberAuthor.com, friend her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tracywe, or e-mail her at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Safe, Sound, & Up-to-Date by Susan Kroupa

When my phone rang, I was up in the mountains near Kingman, Arizona at the memorial service for my mother. It was snowing, seven inches on the ground and the air clotted with fat snowflakes.
I peered at the screen, not recognizing the number. “Hello,” I said.
“Do y’all have a dog named Shadow?” the voice asked.
“Yes.” My heart started to pound.
The lady was calling from Virginia. Shadow, my very independent labradoodle, had followed the woman’s daughters to her home, about a mile and a half from where we lived.
Fortunately, the story had a happy ending, mostly because Shadow had an ID tag. The very kind lady offered to return Shadow, and my adult son, who’d been (ostensibly) watching him, promised to keep better tabs on him. And we learned our lesson: always kennel Shadow when we travel.
Another happy ending story: a friend recently posted on Facebook the escapades of two dogs, hers and her neighbor’s, who broke out of their yards in pursuit of some deer and vanished. Neither dog was wearing any ID tags or had a microchip, something both owners have since remedied. She and her neighbor finally found the escape artists a few days later at the local animal shelter. 
Most stories about dogs landing in shelters don’t have these kinds of endings.
Just within this last year, three friends in our small rural area have lost dogs. None of the dogs was wearing an ID tag or had a microchip. Only one of the three was recovered.
In Dog-Nabbed, the third book in the Doodlebugged mystery series, Doodle, the trouble-prone labradoodle narrator, ends up in several different shelters. As part of my research, I visited our local animal shelter and interviewed the animal control officer, a compassionate woman with a difficult job. The visit to the place was sobering enough. Long rows of sad and desperate canine faces peered out at me from behind their cages. And during the interview, I learned some alarming statistics. A dog who ends up in a shelter with no ID has half of the allotted time in a shelter as one with identification. That time frame can be very short, sometimes only a few days if the dog is deemed unadoptable and the shelter is crowded. 
An unsurprising headline from http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/shelterchip.htm states “Microchips Result in High Rate of Return of Shelter Animals to Owners.” How high? According to the article, based on researched published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 20 times higher for cats, and 2.5 times higher for dogs. Even so, the study found that “no animal identification is more effective than a tag on a collar that includes the pet’s name and the owner’s phone number.”
An ID tag with a phone number costs about $7 at our local PetSense. It’s inexpensive enough that I buy several to put on spare collars, so that if Shadow’s collar gets wet or, say, skunked, (it can happen!) he’s always has ID.
But here’s the thing about microchips and ID tags: the contact information needs to be current. If your microchip registration lists an address you moved away from three years ago, or the number on an ID tag has since been disconnected, it won’t help your pet at all.
“Often we scan the microchip, but the address has changed and we have no way of contacting the owner,” said the control officer.
As soon as I finished my interview, I rushed home to double-check that all the information listed on my dog’s license and microchip were up to date. They were, but I decided it was worth my peace of mind to schedule a call to Avid every year and make sure. Because I don’t want Shadow to have the experiences Doodle has in Dog-Nabbed. Or worse.
In the excerpt below, Doodle has been taken from one shelter only to land in another.
So, all in all, this new shelter is a much better place. Still, when I burrow down into the sweet-smelling wood shavings at the end of the day, my nose filled with the scents of new people, new dogs, new surroundings, I wish I were back with Molly and the boss.
Suddenly that longing for Molly, for the boss, for home, cannot be contained. I sit up and let out a long, mournful howl. Which might have been a mistake because some of the other dogs respond with howls of their own. And of course I have to answer them. And they have to answer back. Pretty soon we’re howling up a storm, almost sounding like a pack of coyotes, except instead of howling at the moon on a frosty night, free to roam at will, we’re stuck in our cages.
The side door opens and yellow light floods the barn. “Hey guys, take it easy,” Henry grumbles. “It’ll get better for y’all. I promise. Go to sleep.”
And then it’s dark again, and we all curl down into our bedding for the night.
Doodle, of course, has the author on his side, and I don’t think it’s too much a spoiler to say things work out for him in the end. 
But a dog without ID? That story rarely has a happy ending.
Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests.
She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog at http://www.susankroupa.com and visit her Amazon Author page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Varied Landscape of Indiana with Sheila Webste...

Indiana has been in the news all week, and the news hasn't been good. But, as is true for all places, there's more to Indiana than the minority garnering the headlines. Indiana is the setting for my Animals in Focus mysteries, and today I am guest blogging at Annette Snyder's "Fifty Authors from Fifty States" about the varied landscape of the state. I hope you'll drop in!

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: The Varied Landscape of Indiana with Sheila Webster Boneham