Give a Dog a Job

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about working, service and companion dogs and the parts they play in her Mary McGill series.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

A little over a year ago my granddaughter decided she wanted to raise a service dog. My oldest daughter had raised a puppy for Guide Dogs as a 4H project and the stories about Kris and Roxie had sparked her imagination, so she got online and researched various options. Ultimately, Believe arrived, an 8 week old bundle of love and destruction.

Canine Companions, the organization who breeds and places the dogs in the hands of people who need them after they are fully trained, had a list of goals that my granddaughter and Believe had to reach, so the adventure began. The dog spent a great deal of time at my house as she wasn’t old enough to go to school and my daughter worked, so I had to follow the list of commands she needed to learn as well. For instance, when potty training, we said, ‘hurry’, not ‘go potty outside, for heavens sake”. I would never have guessed.

Anyway, Believe grew and learned, charmed us and made us furious when the last pair of slippers in the house disappeared. And then the day came for her to go back. We took her to Florida for the ceremony, the puppy raisers passed the leash to the trainers, and the recipients of the fully trained dogs took possession of their new companions. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and the trip home to Georgia was pretty quiet.

I tell you this because the motto of Canine Companions is ‘Give a dog a job’.

Many dogs want one. If you don’t believe me give a Border Collie a sheep and see what happens. German Shepherds love to herd. I know because I’ve had a couple, one who used to herd the grandkids into a corner when they were toddlers and hold them there. Good dog.

Dogs pull carts, pull skiers out of snow banks, find lost children, and on a sadder note, rescue people after disasters, some natural, others man made. They guide the blind, alert epilepsy sufferers before a seizure, and serve the public as police dogs. The list goes on, but I won’t. Why do they do all that? Because we’ve bred them to. The retrievers and the pointers are hunting dogs and are never happier then wading through sticky bushes or swimming in scummy ponds after their prey. We’ve bred them so their coats will protect them and their minds have a single purpose. Then there are the lap dogs. Mostly toy dogs (that’s the category they are shown in), these little guys love to cuddle and will spend any amount of time in your lap. Especially when you’re typing something.

Where am I going with all this?

To canine mysteries, of course, or any book that features or includes a dog. Maybe more than one dog. Dogs have personalities, and goals, as diverse as any two legged characters in the books we write. They need to be portrayed as fully as the human characters. They deserve to be.

I write the Mary McGill canine mysteries. Mary’s dog, Millie, is a cocker spaniel. Cockers were originally bred to be small gun dogs but over the years they have become mostly companion dogs. However, they can be fierce when they feel the need to protect the person they love. Just ask the guy whose leg Millie tried to gnaw off. But there are some things they really can’t, or probably won’t do, like jump a 6 ft board fence and take down a bad guy while being shot at.

A ‘visiting’ dog appears in each of the Mary McGill mysteries, a dog whose breed and talents fit the plot line. So far it’s been poodles, a three legged hound dog, and a German shepherd. I know something about each of those breeds, and have let the dogs I know guide me. So, in the upcoming Mary McGill and Millie mystery, Boo, You’re Dead, I have included a black lab, a certified service dog named Zoe. She isn’t Believe, she’s not a puppy, but I like to think she is the kind of dog Believe will become when her training is finished and she goes on to make someone’s life a little better. This one’s for you, Believe.