Friday, January 22, 2010

Matthew Dicks & Kaleigh

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Matthew Dicks, and I am an author, a fifth grade school teacher, the owner of a mobile DJ company, a husband, and the father of a beautiful one-year-old girl named Clara. My first novel, Something Missing, was released in July, and my second book, Unexpectedly, Milo, is due out on August 3, 2010.

With me is Kaleigh, my seven-year-old Lhasa Apso and my best friend.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My wife and I have spent the last two days traveling to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York to visit friends and family. Kaleigh spent time with friends, and so when I picked her up this morning, I decided to lavish her with love and attention.

What's brewing?

I don’t actually drink coffee. In fact, I’ve never had a cup. But I’m enjoying a slice of coffee cake and a glass of caffeine-free Diet Coke. My usual drink.

Any goodies to go with the cola?

The coffee cake is the goodie.

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Kaleigh enjoyed a taste of the coffee cake and a dog biscuit after I put her down. She can have a treat whenever she likes. I fully support the spoiling of one’s dog.

How did your dog come to be united with you?

I met Kaleigh’s sister seven years ago and instantly fell in love with her. I then discovered that the Lhasa Apso breed has hair rather than fur and therefore does not shed. I was hooked. Two weeks later, Kaleigh arrived in Connecticut after a regrettable flight from Iowa.

How did she get her name?

My ex-wife named Kaleigh, and though she grew to not like Kaleigh very much (no patience for training a puppy), the name still fits.

Does she have any influence on your writing?

Writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely process. While my wife is sleeping upstairs or running an errand, I am writing. I love to write, but there are many times when I’d love to have someone sitting by my side, reading my words as they appear on the computer screen or just keeping me company. Kaleigh fills that need for me. When the witching hour approaches and the only sound is the pattering of fingers on a keyboard, Kaleigh keeps a silent vigil by my side, letting me know that I am not alone.

What's an ordinary day like for your dog?

Kaleigh and I climb out of bed around 5 AM for our morning walk. This often involves me convincing her that a walk would be a good idea. This can include nudging, tugging, pleading and the declaration of imaginary squirrels.

I leave for work an hour or so later, and Kaleigh finds her way back upstairs, where she naps until my wife and daughter climb out of bed. She spends her day puttering around the house, napping, eating, and chasing our cat.

Kaleigh and I walk again when I get home from work, usually a more enthusiastic jaunt, and then she takes up a position beside the dinner table, waiting for the leftovers that will eventually come. During the evening, my wife and I are usually working on our laptops, engaged in other projects, and occasionally watching television. Kaleigh hangs out with me, scratching on the trash can and washing machine for treats from time to time. Both are metallic and indestructible, so this is where I have taught her to scratch.

I’m a firm supporter of spoiling your pets. Unlike my daughter, Kaleigh is never expected to leave the house someday and make it on her own. She has no career goals or lifelong aspirations. So what harm is there in spoiling a creature who only gives me love and affection? None, I say. So she gets more treats than she probably should.

As the day comes to an end, I carry Kaleigh up the stairs and place her on the bed. As we fall asleep, she will take up a position between my legs or at my side, her chin resting on my leg or elbow. I’d have it no other way.

Where is Kaleigh's favorite place to go for outing?

Mill Pond Park in Newington, CT, a location that figures significantly in my first two books. Kaleigh doesn’t walk as much as she once did, but when she was younger, we spent hours in the park each week, circling the pond, running in the fields, and taking a dip in the water. Kaleigh would walk into the water until just her head was showing above the surface, and then she would wait as ducks and geese eventually return to the spot, surrounding her. She would just sit there in the water, amidst the water fowl, and smile as only a dog can.

Who is Kaleigh's best pet-pal?

Bailey is a mutt who looks very much like Kaleigh, and the two of them get along famously. Bailey is owned by Jane and Tom, the parents of former students who I have become my good friends. In fact, their names are used in Something Missing and Jane is my daughter’s goddaughter. Whenever either family goes away on vacation, we are thrilled to take one another’s dog, and I always recommend establishing a relationship like this before adopting your first dog. It makes life so much easier. And Kaleigh and Bailey couldn’t be a better match. Kaleigh doesn’t get along with most other dogs. She tolerates them but doesn’t enjoy their company. Bailey is the one exception.

What's your dog's best quality?

Kaleigh wants nothing more than to sit on my lap, lie down between my legs, and plant her chin upon my legs. There’s nothing better than having a friend who simply wants to be with you at all times. But my wife would say that Kaleigh also makes an excellent guard dog, barking at strangers until the moment we make it clear that they are friends. At that point, Kaleigh instantly loves them as well.

What's Kaleigh's proudest moment?

About four years ago we discovered that Kaleigh suffers from a degenerative spinal condition that required surgery. It was expensive and life-threatening, and if she survived, we were told that Kaleigh would only have a 50/50 chance of ever walking again. As Kaleigh went under the knife, my wife and I began investigating doggy wheelchairs and envisioning a lifetime of catheterizing our dog. Kaleigh survived the surgery, remained in the hospital for about a week, and was finally ready to come home. She had yet to walk when we left the hospital, but about fifteen minutes after arriving home, she struggled to her feet and ambled across the dining floor, bringing my wife and me to tears.

Visit Matthew Dicks' website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Matthew Dicks.

--Marshal Zeringue