The Jail Bird Who Saved Christmas

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Killer in the Band is the third installment in the Lovers in Crime Mystery series.

In addition to her series set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Lauren Carr has also written the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, set in Washington DC. The second installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, which features Joshua Thornton’s son Murphy and Jessica Faraday, Mac’s daughter, A Fine Year for Murder, will be released January 30, 2017.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visit Lauren Carr’s website at to learn more about Lauren and her upcoming mysteries.

On Thursday, December 8, 2016, my heart was broken.

After two months of battling a brave good fight, my handsome guy, and best canine friend, Gnarly passed away from cancer.

Cradling his head in my lap, stroking his soft fur, I broke down. Man, I didn’t know the human body could hold so many tears.

December 8 marked the climax of a very rough two months.

It all started in October when I got the flu shot—and was in bed with the flu two hours later! A couple of days later, my husband joined me. He had strep. We spent five days in bed together—and romantic it was not. From the flu and strep to colds and bronchitis. Even Tristan, my son, came home from college for a week because he was sick with the flu, which he passed on to me, sending me right back into bed.

But the worst casualty was Gnarly, my beloved German shepherd, was diagnosed with cancer. Yep, my constant canine companion, my best canine friend, my muse who I dedicated Candidate for Murder to, was sicker than any of us.

At first, I was in denial. Gnarly was only four years old. He was a big strong dog. It wasn’t cancer. Burying my head in the sand, I blew my nose, sucked on sore throat lozenges, and plunged away on A Fine Year for Murder while praying that God would prove me right. Writing the second installment of the Thorny Rose mystery series was not easy. Often, I would find myself curled up on the sofa with Gnarly’s head in my lap.

Gnarly...up to something.

Gnarly…up to something.

Stroking his tall ears, I prayed that God would bless this beautiful dog with a miracle to save him. It wasn’t like I was asking for a big miracle. Gnarly was just a dog—but he was my best friend—my muse. God, can’t You bless me with this one little miracle?

Among the research online and friends who were dog experts I would talk to was Deb, the breeder who I had gotten Gnarly from as a pup. Deb and her late husband have been friends for years. As time wore on, and Gnarly’s health deteriorated, she offered that, if the worst was to happen, that when I was ready, I was welcome to the pick of the litter for a new puppy.

No, I insisted. It’s not cancer and Gnarly will get better.

I was in such a funk over Gnarly’s illness that I wasn’t even aware that it was the Christmas season. Usually, I would be the first to put the tree up—the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I anticipated Cyber Monday the way others look forward to Black Friday.

But this past December, I didn’t even notice that we were in the midst of the Christmas season. All I could see was a looming deadline with an unfinished book, an editor frantic to finish the project before she left for the holidays, and my best canine friend wasting away before my eyes.

On Thursday, December 8, I let Gnarly go.

That afternoon, I called my sister to blubber out the news of Gnarly’s passing. After a long talk, Karen asked, “Are you going to take Deb up on her offer for a puppy?”

Not that she was suggesting that any dog could possibly replace Gnarly. However, we also had another German shepherd, Storm, a two year old female who had enjoyed Gnarly’s company. At this point, however, we were uncertain if she would be able to adjust to being an only dog.

“No,” I said, “we don’t really want to go through the puppy training stuff.” I went on to explain that we weren’t even going to actively look for another dog. My heart needed time to heal. “I’m leaving this in God’s hands. When the time is right, He’ll send the perfect dog my way.”

The next day, December 9, I called Deb to give her the sad news about Gnarly’s passing. Kindly, I declined her offer for a free puppy, explaining that we did not want to go through the puppy training.

“Well,” Deb said, “if you don’t want a puppy, maybe you’ll be interested in Gnarly’s nephew.”

Gnarly’s nephew!

On Thursday, December 8, the very same day that Gnarly had passed away—his nephew landed in an animal shelter.

Gnarly’s sister, Morgan, had been adopted by another dog breeder, Vicki.  One of her puppies, Sterling had been adopted by a family who lived one state away. In the midst of a nasty divorce, neither parent wanted the responsibility of the German shepherd so the wife surrendered him to the county animal shelter. During check-in, the animal control officer discovered that Sterling had been microchipped, which was still registered to the breeder, and called Vicki to notify her that they had one of her dogs.

Candidate for MurderLuckily for Sterling, his adopted family never bothered changing the microchip registration. Otherwise, Vicki would have never discovered that Sterling was in jail. She has every one who adopts her puppies sign an agreement that they will not turn the dog into the pound or shelter. If the new owners can’t keep the dog, they are to return it to Vicki who will find the dog a new home.

Vicki had a cow! She called everyone from the humane society to the sheriff in an effort to get Gnarly’s nephew released into her custody. Unfortunately, fighting the doggie jail system is not that easy.

Luckily, one of Vicki’s calls was to fellow breeder Deb, who told me the news:

Gnarly’s nephew was in jail!

Yes, I know I was emotional, but immediately I saw the love connection that God had in mind for us. I lost Gnarly—my best friend—on the same day that his nephew lost his family and his home—all right before Christmas.

I had to save Sterling.

Vicki and I connected on Facebook. She hadn’t seen Sterling since he was a puppy, but she did send me pictures of Morgan, Gnarly’s sister, who looked just like her brother.

For eleven days, we battled the system for Sterling’s release.

The microchip registration said he was Vicki’s dog. The people who brought him in didn’t want him. She did and he was registered to her. So why not release him to her? No, the shelter said, they could only release him to the people who surrendered him. Meanwhile, the shelter would hold Sterling for eleven days. After which, they would put him up for adoption. At that time, Vicki could pick him up—after paying the adoption fee and having him neutered.

Yet, the shelter said, they could release Sterling to Vicki if the owners who had surrendered him instructed them to do so. For almost a week, Vicki alternated between begging and threatening Sterling’s family with legal action for them to simply call the shelter to tell them to release the dog to her.

Sterling’s owners had signed an agreement that they would turn him over to her if they could not keep him. Therefore, she informed them, she could sue them. Yet, she didn’t want to do that. All she wanted was to get her dog out of jail.

Their response: See you in court. They knew Vicki didn’t have the money or time to bother with a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Gnarly’s nephew was locked up. I prayed that the family would pick him up and turn him over to Vicki, who accepted my offer to adopt him. Then, my husband pointed out that after all the fuss Vicki and I had been causing, Sterling’s family could pick him up and give him to someone else. Both Vicki and I changed our prayers to that Sterling would remain in the shelter until Day 11, at which point my son Tristan offered to bail him out for my Christmas present.

Suddenly, I was filled with the Christmas spirit. God had declined my prayer to save Gnarly, because He had a better plan. He was bringing Sterling who needed a family who wanted him, and me with my broken heart together.

Knowing that I would have my hands full with Gnarly’s jail bird nephew upon his release, I dug in to finish A Fine Year for Murder and get it off to the editor. I sent it out the night before I went to get Sterling out of jail.

On Day 11 of Sterling’s incarceration, I was at the animal shelter one hour before they opened. After all of my phone calls to them, they knew I was making the hour and a half drive to complete all the paperwork and pay Sterling’s bail for his release, so they let me in.

After completing the dozens of forms and paying all of the necessary fees, the animal control officer explained that Sterling would need to be transported to their vet to be neutered before I could pick him up the next day. “Do you have any questions?” she asked after we had wrapped up all the bureaucratic paperwork.

“Can I meet him?” I asked.

The animal control officer’s eyes got big. “You haven’t met him?”

Sterling--Prisoner #227

Sterling–Prisoner #227

That’s right. I was so set on adopting Gnarly’s nephew that I had just signed dozens of adoption forms and paid fees for the German shepherd sight unseen. Remember, Vicki had not seen Sterling since he was a puppy. Neither of us had any idea about his temperament.

All I knew about Sterling was that he was Gnarly’s nephew and he lost his family and home on the same day that I lost Gnarly. We were meant to save each other.

So, I waited in the reception area for them to bring out the jail bird who I had just agreed to take home to my family. Sure, there were a dozen things that could be wrong with him. Sterling could be a vicious dog who didn’t like people. Maybe he didn’t get along with other dogs, which would create chaos with Storm, our other German shepherd.

Whatever the case, I was prepared to do what I had to deal with it. We were now stuck with each other.

A few minutes later, I heard this loud deep bark as the animal control officer was dragged into the reception area by Canine Inmate #227.

After eleven days of living in a cage, Sterling was bouncing off the walls, overturning water dishes, jumping all over anyone who came near him. This good looking guy clawed his way toward me and I knelt down to meet him eye to eye. As our eyes met, Sterling drop down onto the floor and laid his head in my lap—just like those last moments that I had with Gnarly.

The bond between us was instant.

Stroking his tall bronze ears, I burst into tears and hugged him. He licked my whole face.

You couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present. Even the animal control officer got teary eyed.

The next day, while driving Sterling home from the vet, I realized something:

Christmas was four days away! I hadn’t even put up the tree! I hadn’t bought presents! While I was dragging the trees out of the closet, Sterling was checking out his new home and wrestling with Storm, who has become his best buddy. It was much too late to order presents and I sent a text off to my husband who responded, “Everything bot. U just have 2 wrap.” Whatta guy!

Since his release from jail, Sterling has fit into our family like a glove. Of course, it is impossible to not compare him to Gnarly, who had a lot of bad boy ways that endeared him to me—like opening doors, which my husband hated.

Sterling came to us completely trained. He even comes when he’s called—something Gnarly was too much of an antihero to do. Sterling loves people and other animals. He’s smart and gentle. Jack and I just keep looking at him and wonder why anyone would dump this dog at a shelter, which led to an interesting exchange with Vicki.

After giving my progress report to Vicki, she said, “But the family that dropped him off at the shelter said that he was horrible! They said he was nasty and bad and—are you sure you got the right dog?”

“Well, if I got the wrong dog, I’m keeping him.” Still, I checked the registration number on the microchip and compared it with the number Vicki had for him.

Yep, I had the right dog. This was Gnarly’s nephew—the jailbird. Maybe, I concluded, he landed in doggie jail because he was meant to be with me.

I still really miss Gnarly, but Sterling is helping to heal my broken heart. I feel like I still have a piece of him here with me—laying at my feet—taking on Gnarly’s role as my muse.

That’s my Sterling—the Jail Bird That Saved Christmas.

Sterling Under the Christmas Tree

Sterling Under the Christmas Tree


A Fine Year for Murder

Praise for Lauren Carr Mysteries!

“Although Carr places all of her books primarily into the mystery genre, I’ve become intrigued to see her take off into complex, diverse stories that “tip over” into multi-genre categories that leaves me wondering if there is anybody out there producing the wealth of divergent and dissimilar areas of interests into which Carr is willing to travel…and achieve!” – Reviewer: Glenda Bixler, Book Reader’s Heaven


a-fine-year-for-murderWill This Case Spell the End of the Thorny Rose Couple?

After ten months of marital bliss, Jessica Faraday and Murphy Thornton are still discovering and adjusting to their life together. Settled in their new home, everything appears to be perfect … except in the middle of the night when, in darkest shadows of her subconscious, a deep secret from Jessica’s past creeps to the surface to make her strike out at Murphy.

When investigative journalist Dallas Walker tells the couple about her latest case, known as the Pine Bridge Massacre, they realize Jessica may have witnessed the murder of a family living near a winery owned by distant relatives she was visiting and suppressed the memory.

Determined to uncover the truth and find justice for the murder victims, Jessica and Murphy return to the scene of the crime with Dallas Walker, a spunky bull-headed Texan. Can this family reunion bring closure for a community touched by tragedy or will this prickly get-together bring an end to the Thorny Rose couple?


10 thoughts on “The Jail Bird Who Saved Christmas

  1. What a wonderful story! My condolences on the loss of Gnarly–no matter how old they are when they leave us, it’s always too early. Hope you have many years to make good memories with Sterling, to remember along with those of Gnarly.


    • Thank you, Linda. I am looking forward to many years with Sterling, who has some clownish qualities that will certainly make their way into a book or two.


  2. Warning for tissues.. after working in Animal Control I love stories like this. You can never judge an animal by its past behaviour because a lot of times its not the animal. Enjoy him!


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