Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brian Clegg & Goldie

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Brian Clegg, and with me is Goldie. I write books for a living – popular science titles like A Brief History of Infinity, The God Effect and Before the Big Bang in which I explore interesting areas of science in a way that’s accessible to the general reader. I also edit the website. Goldie is a nine-year-old golden retriever.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Goldie doesn’t often get a chance to come out with me to a coffee shop, but she’s my companion as I work at home alone all day. Whenever I sit down with a coffee to have a break from research or writing, she likes to come and sit by me.

What's brewing?

On the rare occasions we do make it to a coffee shop it’s a skinny cappuccino (more often than not from Starbucks) – but I’m too lazy at home to mess around with a cappuccino maker, so it’s either a straight coffee from a cafetière, or something instant.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I try to resist the goodies as much as possible – being an author is a pretty sedentary working life, and I need all the help I can get keeping the calories off. When I give in to temptation it tends to be either a yum yum or plain chocolate digestive biscuits.

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Goldie’s a touch over weight, so she should be on a strict diet – but it’s difficult to resist those hungry eyes, and if there’s no chocolate involved she usually gets a smidgen of what I’m eating.

How did Goldie come to be united with you?

Pretty straightforward – we bought her from a breeder. Our twins were six when we got Goldie, and it was really she who chose us. We went to sit in the pen with the puppies. One of them came and snuggled up behind one of our daughters and went to sleep – that was Goldie, and we really couldn’t choose any other puppy after that.

How did Goldie get her name?

It’s kind of obvious – we left the naming to the children, and I guess it could have turned out worse.

Does she have any influence on your writing?

Absolutely. I would recommend any writer to get a dog, because it’s very tempting to spend all your time in front of the keyboard, but having a dog means you have to go out for walks, and I get most of my best ideas on these dog walks. One of my books, Upgrade Me, was conceived in its entirety on a dog walk, and opens with a mention of taking Goldie out. I noticed how much easier she found it walking through a cold field with sharp thistles and nettles than I would without protective clothing, and it started me thinking about how we use different technologies to upgrade the basic human capabilities – the subject of the book.

What's an ordinary day like for Goldie?

It usually starts with her either barking to go outside, or coming up to the bedroom and thumping down on our bed. She’ll spend the day between the garden and the house, coming in to provide a bit of company, particularly during coffee breaks. There are usually two walks, sometimes three. She’s always excited when the children and my wife come home from school, so she can get even more attention.

Where is Goldie's favorite place to go for a walk?

We’ve recently moved from a country village to an urban setting, but if anything she prefers walking around the houses and streets. Having said that, we’re right on the edge of town, so our walks often end up back out in the fields. But pretty well any walk is good for her.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

Goldie has no doubt whatsoever that she’s a person, and really can’t be bothered much with other dogs. Pretty well any human being, though is special to her.

What's Goldie's best quality?

An ability to make us laugh. When you’re feeling down and she rolls over on her back to have her tummy tickled, she looks so ridiculous you can’t help smile, and the mood is lifted. Dogs should be prescribed by doctors.

What's your dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

I’m not sure Goldie can claim a lot of reason for pride – but her embarrassment is largely from chewing things up. When she was younger she was always chewing TV remotes. At the time, you couldn’t buy the remotes for the satellite box we used in stores, you had to get them direct from the satellite company. We asked for a replacement so often we felt we had to explain why. The next delivery we were sent not one remote but two, with a note saying that one was for us, and one for the dog.

What’s your dog’s favourite moments of the day?

Although her walks are certainly a highlight, the moment of the day Goldie treasures most is after her evening meal, when she’s given a rawhide dog chew. This treat is her idea of ultimate luxury. She holds it between her front paws and gnaws at it in canine heaven.

Would you recommend having a dog?

Absolutely – for all the inconvenience and cost, we wouldn’t be without Goldie. Apart from the company she gives me as someone who’s at home alone a lot, she has been with us as our children have been growing up and she has been a special part of their lives.

Brian Clegg is the author of A Brief History of Infinity, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, Light Years: The Extraordinary Story of Mankind’s Fascination with Light, Upgrade Me: Our Search for Human 2.0, and Before the Big Bang. He holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines.

Follow Brian Clegg at, and visit his website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tricia Stohr-Hunt & Sydney

Who is in the photo at right?

This is me (well, the back of me!) and Sydney. My name is Tricia Stohr-Hunt and I am on the faculty at the University of Richmond. I have the honor and pleasure of preparing future teachers. I also have the not-so-fun job of chairing our department. (I love teaching, but the administrative stuff is my least favorite part of the job.) Sydney is a doberman-terrier mix. She'll be 12 at the beginning of November.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Saturday mornings are my special time with Sydney. I get up early to write and she always joins me. I settle into a comfortable chair and she lays at or ON my feet. If I don't give her enough attention, she unplugs my laptop (I'm convinced she knows what she's doing) and puts her paws on the keyboard. If I'm writing in a notebook, she tries to grab my pen. Did I mention she's sometimes ill-behaved?

What's brewing?

I don't drink coffee, so it's always loose tea. It's made in Harney & Sons teapot and is either Supreme Breakfast or Earl Grey (also Harney & Sons). In the winter I sometimes drink Hot Cinnamon Spice or Indian Spice. If I'm feeling really energetic, I'll make up my own batch of masala tea.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I don't usually eat while I'm drinking tea, but afterwards I often whip up a batch of banana muffins.

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Sydney gets an extra-big milkbone or peanut butter slathered inside an old bone.

How did Sydney come to be united with you?

We'd been living in Richmond for more than three years, but I'd refused to get a dog while we lived in an apartment. During spring break 1997 my husband and I went to the local shelter. The day we went was cold and rainy and there was no heat in the kennels. The poor dogs were all crying and shivering. I saw a puppy that was sitting up, wagging her tail, and licking folks through the bars. I was immediately smitten. She only had one day left before she was due to be euthanized, so we took her home right then and there. (BTW, I'm happy to report that our local SPCA no longer puts dogs down.)

How did Sydney get her name?

She came to us with the name Honey, but we couldn't see calling her that, so we changed her name to something that sounded a bit like it.

Stick, frisbee, tennis ball...?

Actually, her favorite is a stuffed wiener dog. I can't tell you how many she's had. She loves to fetch it when it's thrown, though she never gives it back. She much prefers to play tug-of-war with it. It's the first toy she brings to all our guests.

What's an ordinary day like for Sydney?

Sleep, sleep, sleep. I swear that's all she does. Her favorite place to sleep is our bed. She does have a dog door, so she can come and go as she pleases. When she was younger she ran outside to chase squirrels, but now that she's older, she's not as active. If we forget to close the bathroom doors she'll wait until she's alone and then dig through the trash and pick at the Kleenex.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

Sydney is a big baby when it comes to interacting with other dogs. She acts tough but they frighten her, so sadly, no other pet-pals.

What's your dog's best quality?

Sydney loves to be in the middle of things and with people. If I'm cooking, she's lounging in the middle of the kitchen floor. When I talk to her she thumps her tail, sometimes without opening her eyes. When I'm writing, she's on the floor next to my chair. If we're watching a movie, she's in the middle of the living room rug. It's rare that she's not close by. If we forget she's there, she reminds us by nudging a newspaper or book out of the way, licking any patch of bare skin, and sometimes doing her best lapdog impression (which at 50+ pounds, she's not).

What's your dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Sydney's a wonderful dog, but she hasn't done anything particularly special beyond putting up with us and loving us. That in itself is pretty amazing. There are lots of most embarrassing moments, but throwing up on my husband's shoes when he was carrying her outside is probably at the top of the list!

Tricia Stohr-Hunt blogs about poetry, children's literature and issues related to teaching children and their future teachers at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dave Freer & Roly and family

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Roland, the Old English Sheepdog. That’s Pugsley (the blonde) and Wednesday, who are Labrador cross travelling salesdogs and the lap-rug is Buttons the elderly blind Maltese. The lap-rug is sitting on dad, who pretends to be a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In reality, I write the books, but I love him and let him claim the credit. It makes him feel good and that’s good enough for me. He is Button’s seeing-eye human, actually. I let him type for me though, when he’s not too busy doing important stuff like walking or feeding us or petting us. I believe humans call him Dave Freer, and blame him for writing books like Dragon’s Ring, which comes out in October. He used to be an ichthyologist once, but he’s participated in writing 10 books since then.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Well, we live a long way from most commercial coffee places, so we usually meet up at the Hard Rock (in the picture, being leaned against) before we go into the office for Dad to pretend to work (the books are actually written telepathically by my big black nose, while I am asleep at his feet. If only he could type faster they would get written faster). It’s nice to sit in the sun and enjoy a scratch behind the ears, and maybe a treat. We actually also have tea first thing in the morning. It’s nursery tea, mostly milk, but it’s a reward for getting Dad up at first light. I sneak into bed with him for a cuddle, and somehow that makes him get up. I think it is because Puggles also wants to be cuddled. Wednesday just wants him to get up so she can run around and bark. Buttons is allowed to sleep on the bed. Most unfair.

What's brewing?

Dad claims he really doesn’t think he could cope with the famous big black nose being any wider awake. So we get very weak tea with lots of milk. He roasts and grinds some beans he got from someone who grows them near Eshowe. Personally, I don’t think it smells very good, but dad likes it. He says he needs caffeine at first light. I think he needs to stop being so lazy. There's a wonderful world all new-smelling and exciting out there for us to share with him.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Beenos! (Doggie treats)

Any treat for dad on this occasion?

Well, we let dad have a oat-ginger cookie if he’s been especially good. Most of the time he is. He’s very well behaved, but throws some terrible smells sometimes.

How did dad come to be united with you?

I was born on my dad’s lap. My dad had been told that Old English Sheepdogs have 2-3 pups, and the vet said that having pups might help my mum's hormone balance - so he had homes for three. My mother had 9, and dad found homes for the rest. The others are adoptees. Pugsley and Wednesday escaped being put down because Mom and Dad adopted them. Same with Buttons. She was adopted from an old lady who had to move into a place that didn’t allow dogs.

How did Roly get his name?

"Roly-poly pudding and pie, kissed the girls and got a black eye!" That’s me! I’m famous! Even if it was only the other puppies and I had black (grey now) fur over one eye. I’m Roland for formal. Pugsley and Wednesday got famous movie personalities named after them, and Buttons was named for her bright little eyes. She went blind about 15 years ago, and Mom and Dad drove her to a specialist vet 600 miles away, but he couldn’t help either.

Where is the usual place you take dad out for fresh air?

We’re lucky we live on a little farm in the middle of a big farm on Mount West in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. It’s a wonderful place to be a dog. We have a stream and dam with glorious mud. Our garden is 4 acres, and early morning we check the fence for wild pig holes, interloper buck (not allowed to eat them though, just see them off) Rabbits, hadeda ibis and moles. Moles are very dangerous, and you have to dig for them immediately. Dad does not understand, but fortunately Puggle and Wensie do. I go for a snurfle without dad sometimes as long as someone is with him to look after him. We watch him all the time. Then late afternoon we take dad and mom out of the gate and onto Arrochar Hill. That is the best thing in the whole world.

Is Roly’s bark worse than his bite?

You mean you are supposed to bite things besides Pugsley?

Tennis ball, Frisbee, stick, other?

I’m a droving dog. I like to herd things. People will do. I also like to take dad’s sleeve in my mouth and lead him to suspicious objects, like visitors. I eat tennis balls so dad throws pine cones.

What's Roly’s proudest moment? Most embarrassing?

I leapt in to the big dam over the hill to rescue my dad after he’d been kidnapped by a float tube. I love water but all the fur makes me not a great swimmer. And most embarrassing... I sniffed a puff-adder. It bit the black nose and was nearly the end of me.

What's entailed in moving to Australia?

Mom and dad and the boys have got visas to emigrate to Australia. They planned to take us too, because we’re family and they believe in responsibility for their animals. Then they found out about the costs of our quarantine, and they were in a flat despair. Dad even said well then they should not go, which even an Old English Sheepdog thinks is not a good idea. But dad can be very determined. He says we’re his responsibility and he doesn’t think it would be easy or even possible to re-home us after living as we do. So he’s decided to do this anyway somehow, even if we end up in a shed in the outback, or have to do it in stages (We’re going to go and live in the middle of nowhere anyway. It’s where we live now. We’ll be Okay as long as we have dad). So he and a couple of his fans started to sell off one his books and raise some money for moving us. He’s just over half way to the minimum-somehow-it-might-be-possible, and is starting to sleep more at night. He knows that times are tough, but asks dog-and-cat people to at least repost about it.

And I need to stay with dad. Australia is far away, and I don’t swim that well.

Dave Freer is an Ichthyologist turned author "because he'd heard the spelling requirements were simpler. They lied about that." He currently lives in a remote part of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

His first book The Forlorn (Baen) came out in 1999; his A Mankind Witch was published in 2005. He has co-authored with Eric Flint (Rats, Bats and Vats, Pyramid Scheme, The Rat, Bat and the Ugly, Pyramid Power, and Slow Train to Arcturus) and, with Mercedes Lackey and Eric Flint (Shadow of the Lion, This Rough Magic, Wizard of Karres) as well writing as various shorter works.

Dragon's Ring is due out in October 2009. Read the story early and find out how to get a signed copy.

Visit Dave Freer's website and blog, and the Save the Dragons site.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Merrill Markoe and I laughingly refer to myself as a writer. My dogs are: Jimmy, age 6, Flatcoated Retriever and his wife Ginger, age 6, Golden Retriever, Puppyboy age 12, Tijuana Shepherd and Hedda, age 6, Southern California Shepherd.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

When I am writing, which is always, I make frequent trips to the kitchen to get more coffee because (along with paying bills) it is one of the few acceptable excuses for not writing. That coffee is apparently bad for dogs doesn't prevent all 4 of them from going with me 100% of the time.

What's brewing?

Trader Joe's Cafe Femenino is what I have been making lately. Overwhelmed by their puzzling assortment of oddly named house brands, I have tried various Trader Joe's coffee blends and temporarily settled on Femenino because it is spiky yet mellow. And this is despite the fact that the name embarrasses me. It reminds me of the Dodge La Femme, a car from 1956 designed for "her" which came with a car coat, hat, and luggage that matched the upholstery. Though now that I think about it, that was a pretty good idea. I'd like a car like that. Maybe I better stop being so judgmental.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

None for me. I have been on a diet every second of the live long day since 1926. Which doesn't mean I don't sneak a snack and pretend I didn't.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

My dogs believe that they live in a 24 hour treat cycle. Chances are they just had a treat. But now are ready for another treat. And as soon as I give them this one, they will be ready for another one. I don't want to be an enabler but it may be too late because they believe that if they just stare at me hard enough there will be treats until the end of time. And they're not wrong.

How did your dogs come to be united with you?

The married couple (Jimmy and Ginger) were given to me by my vet after their father was arrested for ponzi schemes. Puppyboy was found at an L.A. nightclub called Largo by my boyfriend, Mr. Andy Prieboy. Hedda was from New Leash on Life, a rescue I visited after I performed at a benefit for them.

How did they get their names?

Hedda came with that name. Puppyboy was named by Andy before I ever met either of them. (Andy, by the way, was named by his parents.) Jimmy and Ginger seemed utterly unfamiliar with the unpronounceable names the Ponzi schemer called them. Jimmy was named because after we brought him home, I kept saying "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Which is (not really) a line from Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. Andy and I have really struggled to re-name Ginger but I guess we've given up. Though not a day goes by that Andy doesn't say something like "Pie! That's what we should have named her!" or "Circus Dog! We should have called her Circus Dog!" Or today he said "Residue! We should have named her Residue!" I wish my parents had put that much thought into naming me.

What's your favorite Stupid Dog Trick?

I would like to answer this with a video of my dog Puppyboy in "I'm Forever Chasing Bottles." (Original soundtrack by Mr. Prieboy.)

What's the craziest celebrity dog behavior you've witnessed?

I don't have an answer for this. I don't know any celebrity dogs. My dog walker does. Once she brought a couple of the Barry Manilow dog children over. They were certainly pleasant enough.

Are the dogs of Nose Down, Eyes Up modeled on your own pets?

Yes, Jimmy is modeled on...uh... Jimmy. Ginger is the model for Fruity. (That's what we should have named her! Fruity!) Puppyboy is the model for Cheney. Hedda doesn't know she wasn't included. Please don't say anything if you meet her.

What's an ordinary day like for your dogs?

They rush in to wake me up at 6 AM even though breakfast isn't served until 9. They like me to get a good 3 hour head start, and also they believe that if they keep waking me up earlier and earlier, they will arrive at a moment where one breakfast melds with another and there is a continuous 24 hours of breakfast.

After that they follow me in to my office and sit in various locations around me, staring while I pretend to write. I always wonder what they think I do for a living. Then 4 times a week two of them get picked up and go off hiking with a dog walker. Her name is Dawn and I used her for the model of Dawn in Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. I used to be able to afford to have her walk 4 dogs 5 times a week. Now it is two dogs 4 times a week and I walk the other two on those days and all four on the other three days. (Boy, talk about more information than you needed). There is hell to pay if I don't schedule any walks so don't think I can just let it slide.

After that, there's a lot of hanging around barking at each other and me and people who work for me that they have met hundreds of times but still do not recognize. Puppyboy checks everyone's ID a lot, especially those of the other 3 dogs. Puppyboy is like a birther. He thinks there is something suspicious about everyone that he needs to check in to.

The day ends with Andy singing a special song written for the last treats of the day. A lot of people I know sing to their dogs, but Andy is a professional singer-songwriter and as such is the first person I have ever met who writes personalized stupid dog songs for our dogs that have a verse and a chorus, then another verse. When Andy starts to sing the "last call for treats" song, for the dogs it is like the Rolling Stones doing Jumping Jack Flash or Bruce Springsteen doing Born to Run. It is that rousing anthem that satisfies the fans.

What are your dogs' best qualities?

Puppyboy is very smart. His penetrating stare makes me laugh. Jimmy is very affectionate. Ginger has the best running dive in to a swimming pool I have ever seen anywhere. And Hedda wins "most enthusiastic." Her boingy springy bouncey thing when she thinks a walk is imminent is not just hilarious but oddly touching, because of how much faith she seems to have in how great this walk is going to be. Makes me want to deliver a really great walk. And I try. Except on the days when she sees a rabbit and pulls me in to a hedge at the speed of sound.

When have your dogs made you proudest? Embarrassed you the most?

Well, this video would have to be my proudest moment. It is my dog Jimmy distinguishing himself by giving his opinions on the issues that challenge our country.

And this would be my most embarrassing moment: The way my dogs responded to my rescue needs.

Merrill Markoe is the author of three books of humorous essays and the novels It’s My F---ing Birthday, What the Dogs Have Taught Me, and Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and Nose Down, Eyes Up. She has also co-authored with Andy Prieboy the novel The Psycho Ex Game.

And she has won
multiple Emmy awards.

Merrill Markoe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 21, 2009

Carola Dunn & Trillian

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Carola Dunn. I'm an author, with 51 books published and another in production--about to start on the 53rd. They include my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (Sheer Folly, the 18th, is just out) and Cornish mysteries (Manna from Hades). My dog is Trillian, a bitch, around 4 years old (guesstimate), mostly border collie with a bit of lab (another guesstimate) mixed in.

What's the occasion for Cuppa with a Canine?

I drink tea all day, everyday, but the best cup of the day is the last. Trillian and I go for a last run on the school field behind our house, then I make a cuppa and sink into my recliner. She comes to sit on the footstool in front of me for a petting. I don't start to drink till she gets down or I'd have hot tea all over me.

What's brewing?

Breakfast: Tetley's British Blend. All day: a mix of Tetley's BB decaf and Tetley's Green decaf, with a slice of ginger root and sometimes a slice of lemon or lime. Late afternoon: various herbal, usually Stash or Celestial Seasonings, usually hot, or sun-tea if the weather calls for it. That heavenly bedtime cuppa: Stash Lemon and Ginger.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Not at bedtime--I've brushed my teeth and I'll be d****d if I'll brush them again. During the day, roast pepitas, choc chips (Ghirardelli's 60%), sometimes almonds, grapes from my garden--I'm trying hard not to bake goodies!

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Trillian loves Nutro Greenies and potato stars and practically any dog treats except lamb. Unlike Willow, my previous companion, she rejects almonds and pepitas, but she does like bread scraps when I bake bread.

How did your dog come to be united with you?

My Willow died last November. For a long time I couldn't face looking for another companion, then I didn't want to get a dog when I was planning to be away for a month (with son and grandkids in England). Then I came home and started to haunt the County shelter. Trillian had been there for a week, picked up with no collar, too scared to be given her shots so she was in isolation. I talked to her through the bars, and after backing off at first she came to listen. I was allowed to have her outside one on one, and after I'd sat on the ground just talking for about half an hour, she came and sat next to me and let me hug her. Next time, I brushed her--sadly needed. She had to be spayed, as well as getting her shots, and then they let me bring her home. From being scared of everything, she now loves playing with other dogs and meeting people (mostly--she's still a little nervous at first with some, especially men). She's still very scared of getting in the car, but we're working on it.

How did she get her name?

I'd been rereading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Trillian is the only completely sane, intelligent, competent and practical character in all 5 books of the series. Quite coincidentally, the shelter staff called her Brilliance--so it wasn't a big change when she came home with me.

Has your dog influenced your writing in any way?

Not Trillian, specifically, but my love of dogs in general. There are dogs in many of my books, sometimes important characters, sometimes just passing through. Daisy acquired a mutt, Nana, in Styx and Stones. She found important evidence in Mistletoe and Murder (then ran off with it and buried it!) and discovered the body in Black Ship. Eleanor Trewynn, in Manna from Hades, has a West Highland Terrier, Teazle, very like my mother's last dog.

What's an ordinary day like for your dog?

First thing, I do my floor exercises. As often as not, Trillian lies on her back on the floor beside me and does hers too. Then we go for a three-mile walk by the Willamette River--lots of lovely smells and quite often meeting friends both human and canine. Home for breakfast, and then mostly patience while Mama writes. Unlike Willow, she rarely lies right behind my rolling chair, which is a great help! She likes to lie in the garage, where I had a window of reinforced glass put in specially for Muffin, Willow's predecessor, so that she could see the street. (It was Willow's favourite place, too.) She likes lying in the sun sometimes, in her fenced part of the yard, and being black gets almost too hot to touch. There are often squirrels to chase up trees, and she can see dogs and people on the school field. She can choose where to be as there's a dog flap from utility room to garage and another from garage to outdoors. In the summer I mostly don't take her places in the car, but when the weather cools off, I hope she'll learn to enjoy trips to the store etc, and will come to be sufficiently relaxed in the car to go to the beach once in a while.

Who is Trillian's best pet-pal?

She has lots. On the school field, she loves to play with Sergeant. A couple of times she's stayed with neighbours when I was away for a day, and she loves Oli and Maka.

What's Trillian's best quality?

Affectionate, intelligent, patient--altogether a sweetie-pie. I'm so lucky!

What's your dog's most embarrassing moment so far?

Having to be pushed and shoved and hauled into the car to come home from the pound, with the help of the big boss man because I couldn't manage it. OK--I was the one embarrassed. She was just scared.

Her proudest?

Getting into the car without being dragged in by the leash. Sitting on the back seat without trying to climb onto my lap. Not freaking out when the doors were closed. Going to PetSmart and sniffing all the wonderful smells. --Still had a bit of a battle to get her back in to go home. (Give it time.)

Visit Carola Dunn's website and blog.

She also blogs at Poe's Deadly Daughters about such subjects as the difficulty of changing periods, having just finished writing a book set in the 1960s (sequel to Manna from Hades) and being about to start another set in the 1920s (19th in the Daisy Dalrymple series: the 18th, Sheer Folly, is just out).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2009

Louise Penny & Trudy

Who is in the photo at right?

Trudy and her mother, Louise. I'm at my computer, writing the next novel and Trudy is in full supervisory mode. She's a three year old Golden Retriever.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The occasion is my deep insecurity, which is apparently bottomless. I try to fill it every morning that I write with a big cup of cafe au lait and cookies, or in this case a pastry. A mille feuille, as you might be able to see. When I first moved to Quebec I fell in love with mille feuilles - it has everything I look for in a pastry. Cream, icing and pastry. Yum. My first real linguistic humiliation came thanks to a mille feuille. I was at the pastry shop in Quebec City, my French still rudimentary, so I pointed to the pastry and said, mille fois. I thought that was the name of the pastry. I was wrong. Mille fois means, 'I will take a thousand, please.' The woman behind the counter blanched the shade of custard and repeated. 'Mille fois, madame?' Now, I knew something was wrong. She had the look like she was in the company of a madwoman. Eventually we sorted it out, and I went on shortly afterward to order flaming mice in a very nice restaurant, for dessert.

At home Michael and I have a cappuccinno maker, one of those Nespresso's. With a milk frother. Basically you put a cap of coffee in the machine, close it, press a button and out comes rich, full-bodied espresso or cappuccino, or cafe au lait. Couldn't be easier! So every morning at 11 I make Michael and me a large cafe au lait. And Trudy joins me on the sofa in hopes a miracle will occur and I will suddenly let her have some. It is nice to have a dog of such limitless faith. She has as much faith as I have fear.

What's brewing?

Can't you smell it? For me its a Roma, with its toasted, woody notes, mixed with a Capriccio, with its rich bouquet. Michael has a Decaffeinato Intenso, with subtle hints of cocao and intense body, and a Ristretto with its pleasantly lingering taste.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Most days we dip biscotti into it. I love one made with candied orange rind. But they have disappeared. Trudy? Of course, one of the many wonderful things about having a dog is being able to blame all sorts of strange things on her. From the disappearance of food, to sudden noises, and smells.

Any treat for Trudy on this occasion?

No, we try not to feed her, because while she has completely forgotten what 'no' means, she never, ever forgets when she gets a treat - and expects one every day at exactly the same time. If we feed her from the table, or the sofa, all is lost.

How did your dog come to be united with you?

We had just lost our first Golden, Bonnie. She was our wedding gift to each other, and a beloved family member. We were inconsolable, as was our surviving dog, Maggie. Now, Maggie adored Bonnie, but Bonnie until the day she died kept expecting Maggie to go back to her real home.

It was so strange having just one dog and we decided we would try to get another in about a year. But knowing how rare it was to have our breeder with a puppy ready when we wanted it, we decided to call and see if they had any plans. They didn't, but a friend of theirs had just had a litter and there was one left. A little girl. We called - knowing in our hearts what that would mean. We went to visit ... still kidding ourselves that we could 'just look'. And, of course, we came home with tiny little eight week old Trudy.

Maggie - a very competitive, alpha dog - adored Trudy from day one. They played and Maggie even let Trudy, who was the size of one of Maggie's ears, knock her down, stand on her chest and have a go at her throat.

Ironically about a week later old Seamus lumbered up our dirt road and into our lives. He was lost - having run away from an abusive and neglectful home. And he was a Golden as well. We took him in and our home was suddenly filled with them. It was a riot. We have since lost Seamus and Maggie. But Trudy remains.

How did Trudy get her name?

Michael names all our dogs and frankly I'm always baffled. As is he. God knows, I've asked him. But the puppies (we always think of them as puppies even when they're very, very old) get all sorts of nicknames. Bonnie became Bonnie B Huggabug. Maggie became Magoo. Seamus became Seamie. And Trudy is T-pup. Or Giggler.

Has Trudy influenced your writing in any way?

In every way. Many of the characters have dogs including Clara and Peter, who have a golden. And Chief Inspector Gamache has Henri, a German Shepherd he adopted.

What's an ordinary day like for your dog?

Trudy puts her fluffy, stinky, filthy ball into our faces starting at about 5:30. At about 6am we relent and let her up onto the bed. By 7 we're up, getting her breakfast, and taking her around the pond for a walk. She has two 'treat' stations - one by the bench at the far end of the pond, and the other close to the house. We toss a ball with a chuck-it and the Giggler chases it. Often she gets distracted by the bass in the pond, or by 'frogging'. She has yet to catch either. She sleeps, and plays with her toys, and goes for a few more walks, including after dinner at 5pm. Her last out is before bed and that's into a fenced run, where the skunks can't get her. Once you'd have a Golden skunked you never forget it. And it never quite goes away.

Who is Trudy's best pet-pal?

Logan. He belongs to Pat and Tony - friends who also come and look after Trudy and stay at our home when we travel. He's a Golden Retriever and is about 4 years older than Trudy.

What's your dog's best quality?

She's very kind. She never fights and will always give up anything to any person or other dog who wants it.

What's Trudy's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Well, her most embarrassing was when we had a couple over for dinner. We didn't know them well and I was, of course, trying to impress them with my cooking, which is a lost cause really. But I was trying my best and things were going quite well until suddenly there was a retching sound from beneath the table. All four of us froze, then continued to talk as though nothing could possibly have happened. Until the smell, which practically melted the table, appeared. I say 'appeared' because it was almost visible.

Trudy had thrown up all over Dom's foot. Now, Trudy eats not just her kibble but any bit of 'merde' she can find, which in the country is quite a bit. And it all came up on his foot. In the middle of dinner.

That, I believe, was also her proudest moment.

Louise Penny is an award-winning journalist who worked for many years for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her bestselling first mystery, Still Life, was the winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards; her second, A Fatal Grace, won the 2007 Agatha Award for Best Novel; her fourth, A Rule Against Murder, was a New York Times bestseller.

She lives in a small village south of Montréal where she writes, skis, and volunteers.

The Brutal Telling, her fifth Armand Gamache novel, releases this month.

Visit Louise Penny's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jenn McKinlay-Orf & Lucy

Who is in the photo at right?

Hi, I’m Jenn McKinlay-Orf. I’m a mystery writer, writing under two names Lucy Lawrence and Jenn McKinlay. The 10 year old, standard poodle with me is Lucy (yes, that’s where I came up with one of my pen names). She’s my baby girl and loves to walk to our local Dunkin Donuts with me.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

No occasion required. We like to take a nice long walk on the weekend and DD is far enough away that we figure we deserve our coffee and donuts.

What's brewing?

I’m having a caramel swirl.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Donuts, naturally. I’m partial to the chocolate kreme, but Lu likes a plain bagel and water.

How did Lucy come to be united with you?

She chose us.

We went to look at a litter of 10 poodle puppies and she flopped onto my feet – she had me at hello -- and then, she proceeded to flirt outrageously with my husband until he was even more smitten than me.

How did she get her name?

She just is a Lucy. We tried on several names but that’s the one that took.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

Lucy and Rylie (my mother-in-law’s dog), best friends and aspiring Country Western singers!

Has Lucy influenced your writing in any way?

She’s been in one of my books and now I use her name for my pen name. I occasionally discuss plot with her, but if there isn’t a dog in the story line, she is completely uninterested.

What's an ordinary day like for Lucy?

Wake up to a morning treat and a walk, say adios to the family during school hours (I believe this is her nap time). Greet us all at the door as we return one by one. Remain in the middle of everything, cooking dinner, eating dinner, playing and story time, until bed.

What's Lucy's best quality?

She is the sweetest dog ever. She loves everyone unconditionally and with her whole heart.

Stuck on Murder by Lucy Lawrence is Jenn McKinlay-Orf's latest novel.

She is the author of three previous novels under the name Jennifer McKinlay.

And she has another series in the works, under the pen name Jenn McKinlay, set in a cupcake bakery. The first novel in the series, Sprinkle With Murder, is scheduled to be released in March 2010.

Learn more about the books and author at

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 14, 2009

Holly Goddard Jones & Bishop and Martha

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Holly Goddard Jones, college professor and author of the short story collection Girl Trouble (Harper Perennial). I’m with my two children, Bishop (6-year-old cocker spaniel, male) and Martha (1-year old Bassett/beagle/mystery dog mix).

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Coffee is the bridge between our two morning walks. The first walk happens when I’m still grouchy, bleary-eyed, and pajama-clad, and I step out with the dogs long enough to get them to do their business. The second walk, after coffee, is for exercise and quality time. In-between, we usually pile up on the couch together, or they hang out under my desk while I’m on the computer checking email.

What's brewing?

Lately, it’s Earth Fare (an organic grocer in Greensboro, NC, where we just moved) Whole Bean House Blend. On weekends, my husband and I like to pick up iced lattes at Tate Street Coffee, a great local shop near the university.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

When I’m enterprising enough, I have homemade granola on hand, which I serve up with Greek yogurt and fruit. Peaches are my favorite. Lately, because I haven’t had time to make a mess of granola, I’ve been eating boxed cereal. This is disappointing, because I really do depend on the quality of my morning rituals to get me out of bed.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Bishop and Martha always get treats when I leave for work shortly after walk #2. They like anything chicken- or peanut-butter flavored.

How did your dogs come to be united with you?

My husband and I adopted Bishop in Columbus, Ohio, from the Capital Area Humane Society, a wonderful, privately owned no-kill shelter. He was already a year old. I’d never had a pet before, so falling for him—I often say this—was like a religious conversion, complete with me suddenly allowing behaviors (such as face licking) that I formerly detested. We brought Martha home last summer. She was being given away at a farmer’s market in Murray, KY, and I couldn’t resist her. At the time, she was 10 weeks old and about 10 pounds, with a bright pink, spotted belly and soft fur sticking out straight all over her body [photo, above left]. Now she and Bishop, at about 30 pounds each, are very nearly a matched set.

How did they get their names?

Believe it or not, Bishop’s namesake was the android in the movie Aliens. I was watching it with my husband back in our undergraduate days, and I told him that Bishop would make a nice dog’s name. We knew we had the right dog when he matched the name; he’s solid black with a clerical collar. Martha is named for the Beatles song, “Martha, My Dear,” which was about Paul McCartney’s sheepdog.

Do any of your stories include dogs? Do your dogs have any influence on your writing?

Well, they do—and in Girl Trouble, things usually don’t end well for the dog. It’s become, embarrassingly, something I get teased about (or accused of?). The only thing I can say in my defense is that I wouldn’t write about a dog’s death if the idea of my own dogs dying wasn’t so horrifying to me. Interestingly, the book deals several times with female victimhood—there’s rape, murder, a coach who takes advantage of a student, a grown man who tempts a 13-year-old into drinking wine coolers with him—but most readers fixate on the dogs instead of the people. “Why did you have to kill the dog?” they ask me, but never, “Why did you have to kill the girl?”

Stick, frisbee, tennis ball...?

Bishop goes psycho for a tennis ball. He would go after them until collapsing if we let him. Martha, who’s quirkier, doesn’t go nuts for anything, but she has been picking up sticks about twice her length lately and dragging them through the park. She also has two rubber ducks that she carries around and brings to bed at night the way a child would a favorite blanket.

What's an ordinary day like for Bishop and Martha?

An ordinary day includes at least two good walks around our neighborhood—we’re renting this year in Greensboro’s Lindley Park, and there’s a terrific green space just around the corner from our house—two meals (Science Diet, plus some overpriced mix-in: they like Merrick products, canned pumpkin, cottage cheese), treats, and lots of chasing and wrestling. Martha tends to torment Bishop. She’ll push her duck into his face until he finally takes the bait and tries to grab it, then she’ll run away from him.

Who is your dogs' best pet-pals?

I guess they’re each other’s best pals, though Bishop prefers me to Martha, and Martha prefers my husband to me and Bishop to all of us.

What are their best qualities?

Bishop is loyal and earnest; he has a serious, sometimes mournful face, and he wants to be wherever I am. Martha is sassier, more demanding, but she’s also much less high-strung than Bishop. She likes other dogs—Bishop is more of a loner—and she adapts well to everyone. She’s the family’s court jester. The dogs are miniatures of my husband and me. I’m earnest, high-strung, inclined to worry; my husband, Brandon, is laidback, very funny.

What are their proudest moments? Their most embarrassing?

Bishop was so spoiled, and so uncertain around other dogs, that we had serious doubts about bringing home another animal. And he was depressed when Martha first joined our household—stopped sleeping in the bed with us, went off to hide and mope, went off his regular eating pattern. But he’s always been gentle with her, has yielded to her physically, and now they’re a great little pair. I think he’s glad she’s around. We boarded them together last month at place that offers doggy daycare, and we were able to check in on them by webcam whenever we wanted. It was so funny how often they were together on screen; I was proud to see that.

Martha’s most embarrassing moment was also on that webcam. I tuned in one day on our vacation just in time to see her pause in the middle of the frame, “saddle up,” as my good friend puts it, and do her business right in the floor, many months after she’d learned not to “go” indoors. There it was, broadcasted on the World Wide Web for all to see.

Holly Goddard Jones was born and raised in western Kentucky, the setting for her fiction. Her short stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, Epoch, and elsewhere, and they’ve been anthologized in two volumes of New Stories from the South (2007 and 2008) and in Best American Mystery Stories 2008. She was honored with a Peter Taylor Scholarship at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in 2006 and was the winner in 2007 of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a prize of $25,000 given to only six emerging women fiction writers each year.

A graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Ohio State University, she has taught at Denison University, the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference, Murray State University, and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Her new book is the highly acclaimed short story collection, Girl Trouble.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 11, 2009

Adam Handy & Lou Lou

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Adam Handy and this is my pup Lou Lou. I'm a veterinary student at Louisiana State University. Aside from faith and family, school is pretty much my life. Three more years and I'm done though! Lou Lou is my 7 year old black lab. I've had her since her younger puppy days.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Because I'm in school literally all day every day, I have to find time for my after school studies and everything else. Lou hangs out at the house while I'm out all day, so when I get home, I'll try to take her for a walk to a nearby coffee shop. I'll usually have a sit down in the shop's courtyard and get to learning some stuff while Lou pretty much makes friends with everyone else that is there.

What's brewing?

I go to the coffee shop at least three days out of the week to get my work done. Because I’m such a frequent customer there, I have to go for the humble houseblend coffee. I learned very quickly that if I was going to get a fancy coffee that often, I would need to start including my coffee needs into my student loans plan.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

A fresh batch of parasitology notes baby!!

Any treat for Lou Lou on this occasion?

She managed to sniff out a dirty tennis ball out of a thick patch of bamboo alongside the courtyard. She loves those things. It can get a little weird some times. That’s usually when I have give her some privacy…

How did Lou Lou come to be united with you?

Back in undergrad, I worked part time at a veterinary clinic. Some of my coworkers were driving home from Vicksburg, MS one stormy night and found her on the side of the road. They brought her back to our clinic in Monroe, LA , and we cleaned her up and fed her. She happily stayed at the clinic for a couple months while we tried to adopt her out. We had no takers, so I eventually decided to take her home with me.

How did your dog get her name?

There is nothing special about the name. We started calling her Lou Lou after she got to the clinic. I think one of my coworkers had an aunt named Louise or something, so… that’s probably it.

Where is the usual place you take Lou Lou out for fresh air?

There is a dog park near the house, so I will turn her loose over there sometimes or take her with me while I go study. That’s when she gets out the most.

Has Lou Lou ever been a guinea pig for some procedure you're learning in vet school? Do you use guinea pigs as "guinea pigs" in vet school?

Last year in one my electives courses, we were learning how to do eye exams. So I thought it would be good to get a Lou in on it, seeing how she’s getting a little older. She did great for me and my group. She let us check her intraocular pressure and literally take a look inside of her eyeball. I love vet gadgets! By the end of it all, she had pupils the size of quarters. Not really. She did great though.

As far as guinea pigs go, I'm sure they’ve made their way into some sort of lab. Ive never seen them though.

Where is the best nearby dog park?

Raising Canes Dog Park is just down the road by City Park. Pretty nice place.

Is Lou Lou's bark worse than her bite?

Lou has a nice bark on her. Never seen a bite though.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, stick, other?

The tennis ball is definitely her favorite. She would go fetch one for hours if I let her. It's amazing how focused she can be when she waits for you to throw it. Her eyes aren’t on anything else the entire time she waits for you to pitch it. It's nothing more than a simple, small spherical object that does nothing but roll on the ground. That’s it. I have a hard enough time keeping my mind on class work for 2 minutes, much less, stare at a fuzzy ball all day.

What's Lou Lou's proudest moment? Most embarrassing?

Every day Lou steps into the public eye is her proudest time. She’s so popular with my friends that I thought about making a fan club page for her on Facebook. As far as embarrassment goes, Lou has no shame. For some reason she always chooses to do her “business” in the most public places when I take her for walks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bruce Coston & Starr

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Bruce Coston. I am a veterinarian first and, as of September 1, author of the new release "Ask The Animals: A Vet’s-Eye View of Pets and the People They Love" published by St. Martins Press. With me is my dog, Starr. She is an 11 year old female spayed mixed breed dog who is often accused of being a Golden Retriever puppy, but is in reality more likely of the Cocker Spaniel persuasion. She hasn’t ever revealed the truth; and I’m far too polite to ask.

What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

You need an occasion? This is just a relaxing interlude at sunset on my deck overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. I have just finished another newspaper interview about the release of "Ask The Animals" and have just returned from seeing my book on the New Releases table at Books A Million. Additional caffeine could have little effect in comparison to those mind rushes.

What’s the brew?

Sorry, nothing overly exciting. General Foods International Suisse Mocha straight up. I’m easy to please.

Any goodies with the coffee?

A beautiful cool fall evening, clear sky, wonderful view, adoring companion ... That’s not enough goodies? No, nothing else.

Any treat for Starr on this occasion?

The camera adds a few pounds. But so does my neighbor. Starr has beautiful brown eyes and she knows how to use them. She gets her treats by going to the next door neighbor’s door and boofing. Though Foelke (my neighbor is very German) no longer has a dog of her own, she still buys treats for mine. Every day is Halloween for Starr.

How did Starr come to be united with you?

She was presented to my office by a dog rescuer for spaying. I thought she was exceptionally sweet and bonded with me more than most. We had promised our two boys a dog when the right one came along and she was it.

You are the author of "Ask The Animals: A Vet’s-Eye View of Pets and the People They Love"; what’s your dog’s relationship to the book?

Starr is mentioned in the book in a chapter called “What’s In a Name” in which I explain our family’s method of pet nomenclature and outline some of the more interesting pet names I have encountered over the years. Other than that, Starr is only tangentially related to the book. It is through my relationship with Starr and our cats (currently Webster, Flinn and Phelps) that I can empathize with the depth of feeling invested in my patients by their devoted owners. I know because I am as sappy with my pets as any of my clients are.

You practice in the Shenandoah Valley. When I lived near there I had many encounters with wildlife (like deer and skunks). Has Starr had any interesting experiences with Virginia’s fauna?

Let’s just say that when your dog is hit with a direct, point blank smart bomb skunk attack to the face, the intensity of the odor is so acrid that you are tempted to question whether it’s really a skunk. Of course, this event must occur at 12:30 AM on the night before you are leaving on vacation and the remnants of skunkicity travel with you like a clinging child on the airplane all the way to San Diego. On the up side, there were uncharacteristically more empty seats beside you on the plane. Woodchucks and squirrels also enjoy an on-going game of tag with Starr who always seems to be optimistic, but always IT.

Who is your dog’s best pet-pal?

Without question, it’s Flinn. Flinn is our 12 year old male domestic short hair kitty. He has never met a stranger and has loved Starr since she first came to the house. There’s an inordinate amount of head butting and butt sniffing and I think both are signs of friendship. Or so it seems when I head butt the kitties. That’s where I draw the line, though.

What’s Starr's best quality?

Ignorance and a limited sphere of friends. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she still thinks I’m number one in the universe.

What’s your dog’s proudest moment so far?

When she was able to effectively protect the house from the dangerous Christmas lights. One day upon our return from church she proudly led us to the yard where she had carefully pulled every string of Christmas lights down from the eaves then meticulously chewed and broke each bulb along the string just to be sure they would not pose any further danger. She expected a medal.

Her most embarrassing moment?

When she went to greet a group of teenage girls who were lounging in a ski boat tied to the dock. Apparently she had not considered what occurs when you put your paws on the gunwales and the boat edges away from you, causing you to straddle ever-increasing distances between boat and dock. Only one outcome: wet dog.

In March of 1992, Bruce Coston and family moved to Woodstock, Virginia, on a Sunday; he opened the doors of Seven Bends Veterinary Hospital the next day. Today the hospital has a staff of more than twenty, with four veterinarians practicing in a new, state-of-the-art facility.

The simple and true stories in his new book, "Ask The Animals," came from his practice life and first appeared as monthly articles in a regional newspaper.

Read excerpts and some of the early praise for "Ask the Animals," and learn more about the book and author at Bruce Coston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 7, 2009

Laurie Sandell & Violet

Who is in the photo at right?

Laurie Sandell, contributing editor at "Glamour" and author of the graphic memoir "The Impostor’s Daughter," with Violet, her four(ish)-year-old Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I often write at this coffee shop in my Brooklyn neighborhood; it’s called Bittersweet. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed inside, so on special occasions like this one, we hang out on a bench in front of the shop.

What's brewing?

Decaf Americano. I like it hot—even in the summertime.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

They don’t have much in the way of food, here, but when I do order an item it’s usually made out of bread and has the same calorie count as a Double Whopper.

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Violet turns her nose up at treats, unless you’re offering steak.

How did Violet come to be united with you?

A friend of mine, Alison Smith, who wrote the memoir "Name All The Animals," was fostering her after finding her on a euthanasia list at a Bronx shelter. I met Violet (then named “Susan”) at an animal hospital where she was recovering from kennel cough, and she jumped into my lap. The vet said, “Wow, she really likes you!” Later I realized she leaps into everyone’s lap the moment she meets them.

How did Violet get her name?

This is a little embarrassing. A week before I got Violet, I interviewed Jennifer Garner for the cover of "Glamour." She has a cute little daughter named Violet, and, well…you do the math.

Has Violet influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, I have to force myself to write about other things, when all I want to write about is Violet. She appears on my blog a lot, but I try to keep the posts short and casual. I don’t want to turn into the crazy dog lady online…I already am that, in real life.

What's an ordinary day like for your dog?

I’m on contract with "Glamour," which means I get to work from home, so we spend lots of time together. But I also spend part of the day working in coffee shops. When I’m away she watches "Ellen," suns herself in a window seat and makes dozens of long-distance calls. We’ve had a few stern conversations about it.

Who is Violet's best pet-pal?

Sigh. She’s not a big fan of dogs—she doesn’t even let them sniff her. When they try, she tucks her tail tightly between her legs, arches her back like a cat and throws a look over her shoulder like, “Ex-squeeze me?” Thankfully, she loves humans.

What's Violet's best quality?

She doesn’t bark, chew, lick, or destroy things. She has zero separation anxiety, and arrived from the shelter completely wee-wee pad trained. From time to time, she growls in her sleep, which is the cutest thing ever. She also likes to bite her leash [see photo, left], which I’ve been told is a behavioral problem, but I find it adorable.

What's Violet's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

Her proudest moment was when she sat perfectly still in her bag all the way from LAX to JFK. Her most embarrassing moment came a few hours later, when I took her out of her bag at JFK and she pooped on the floor of the terminal with about 100 people watching. I’ll tell you something, though: As I squatted down and attempted to scoop it up with my boarding pass, she didn’t look sufficiently embarrassed.

Laurie Sandell is a contributing editor at "Glamour," where she writes cover stories, features, and personal essays. She has also written for "Esquire," "GQ," "New York," and "InStyle," among other publications.

"The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir," her first book, has been praised by such writers as Nathan Englander, Carole Radziwill, and A.J. Jacobs. Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief," said "'The Impostor’s Daughter' is funny, frank, and absolutely engaging. It’s about truth and consequences and families and men and women and fame and, well, life itself. It’s wonderful."

Visit Laurie Sandell's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 4, 2009

Staff Sgt. Joshua Washington & Jings

Who is in the photo at right?

I, Staff Sgt. Joshua Washington, am a U.S. Army Military Working Dog handler assigned to the 221st Military Police Detachment at Fort Eustis, Va. I’m responsible for the overall care and work of my MWD. I’m currently partnered with Jings, a five-year-old male Belgian Malinois who specializes in patrol and explosive detection. MWD handlers rotate MWDs depending on the operational needs of the unit and the duty station changes of the handler. Only MWDs and their handlers with expertise in specialized searches remain together throughout the career of the handler. I have had two other MWDs in my career, Britt and Clara.

What is the Jings' rank? How long did it take him to achieve his present rank?

Jings is a sergeant first class. All MWDs are one rank higher than their handlers. Ranks for MWDs are assigned this way so that it is considered a major offense if a handler ever mistreats his MWD; it is the equivalent to an assault on a superior. When a MWD retires, they retire at the highest rank they held in their career. Jings has held his current rank for two years and it is currently at the highest rank he has achieved.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Early morning training. 221st Military Police Detachment MWD handlers usually start their day around 3 a.m. opening the kennel and training the MWDs.

What's brewing?

Dunkin Donuts regular cup of Joe.

Any treats to go with the coffee?

Dunkin Donuts assorted doughnuts.

Any treat for Jings on this occasion?

MWDs are usually not rewarded with food treats due to their strict diets. They are weighed twice a month and held to weight restrictions just like Soldiers are. Rewards are typically given in the form of verbal praises and, on occasion, toys. On special occasions like birthdays or holidays, MWD handlers are allowed to give their MWDs special food, like dressing on Thanksgiving, mixed with their regular food.

How did Jings come to be united with you?

The kennel master (the 221st Military Police Detachment MWD kennel master is Staff Sgt. Joseph Secrist) is the ultimate deciding figure in pairing MWD handlers and MWDs. The decision process is based on a MWD’s expertise and a MWD handler’s experience. For MWDs that specialize in explosive detection, like Jings, more experience is required due to the high-stress situations the team can find itself in. Junior MWD handlers usually start out with drug/law enforcement or health and welfare MWDs. This also helps Soldiers with less experience interact with commanders from a company level, eventually working up to interaction with commanders of higher levels.

How did Jings get his name?

MWDs are given their names when they are purchased by the Department of Defense from a breeder. They also have a National Stock Number (something like a Social Security Number) that is tattooed in their ear. DoD purchasing teams are tasked with locating breeders throughout the world that meet the strict criteria to produce dogs that can be considered for the MWD program. The dogs are sent from these chosen breeders to the DoD Military Working Dog Training Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Once MWDs graduate from the training school, they are sent to kennels on military installations around the globe.

Has he earned any special medals of commendations?

Jings has been awarded with the 8th Transportation Brigade Commander’s Coin.

I understand MWDs are trained in areas like narcotic and explosive detection, building searches, open area scouting, and special search missions. Does your dog have a specialty or specialties?

Jings is a Patrol/Explosive Detector Dog. He is trained to find explosives and assist his handler in military police patrols.

Do you participate in competitions against other MWDs? If so, how did you do at a recent one?

The 221st Military Police Detachment MWD Kennel recently competed in the 2009 Military Working Dog Warrior Police Challenge in May at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The event brought MWDs and MWD handlers from all the services together to compete for top honors. The 221st Military Police Detachment MWD Kennel had three MWDs and their handlers in the competition. All three teams placed consecutively in the top five of all the events, which included scouting, explosive detection, obedience, handler protection and endurance. The 221st Military Police Detachment MWD Kennel received the overall Top Kennel award.

Since I was only recently paired with Jings, I competed in the event with another MWD, Clara, a six-year-old female German Shepherd who also specializes in patrol and explosive detection. Together, Clara and I won first place in the endurance challenge and third place in the explosive detection challenge. With another MWD handler, Jings placed third in scouting.

Which branch of the military has the best MWD?

The Army, of course.

Somehow I knew you were going to say the Army. Which branch has the second best MWD?

In my opinion, the U.S. Marine Corps does because they train on a level closest to the Army’s.

Have you and the dog been posted in a war zone? If so, can you briefly tell us something about the high point and low point of that experience?

I have not yet deployed with Jings, but I will do so in September to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Before I was stationed at Fort Eustis, I was assigned in Germany where I worked with another MWD, Britt, a five-year old male German Shepherd who also specializes in patrol and explosive detection. We deployed to Iraq in 2007-2008. Jings deployed with another MWD handler to Iraq in 2008-2009.

With Britt, my low point was leaving him in Germany when I permanently changed stations of duty. During a deployment, it’s like having a brother with you 24/7; you eat together, you sleep together, you do everything together.

What's your MWD's proudest moment?

I was very proud with Clara to take Top Kennel in the 2009 Military Working Dog Warrior Police Challenge. With Jings, we passed our certification to deploy in just 15 days when it usually can take up to 90 days to pass. The program manager doubted our ability to do this, but we worked hard and we accomplished it.

Among the other MWDs at Fort Eustis, who does your dog best get along with?

Jings’ buddy in the kennel is a male German Shepherd named Gudy.

Special thanks to Monica Miller Rodgers, Fort Eustis Command Information Officer/Fort Story Public Affairs, for her assistance with this interview.

--Marshal Zeringue