Monday, May 23, 2011

Elizabeth J. Duncan & Dolly

Who is in the photo at right?

This is Elizabeth J Duncan with Dolly. She's a 13-year-old mix of uncertain parentage. Possibly an Australian cattle dog/lab. However, it is her beautiful blue merle coat that gives her such a distinctive look. People sometimes stop me in the street to comment on her markings.

I write the Penny Brannigan murder mystery series set in North Wales and I teach in the public relations programs at Humber College, in Toronto, at the Lakeshore campus. Sometimes Dolly comes to school with me; she loves the attention the students lavish on her.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My favourite place to drink coffee is right in my own back yard. I live in the west end of Toronto, on the shore of Lake Ontario.

You forget you are in a big city and it's like being perpetually at the cottage. I rarely go to coffee houses.

What's brewing?

I have three systems. Sometimes I grind the beans myself and use a French press. When I do this, my favourite beans are the Holiday Blend, by Second Cup. If I use my manual drip maker, I use President's Choice Great Canadian Coffee or good old Maxwell House. It's just old-fashioned, regular coffee. And then my son brought home a Tassimo, so it's still Maxwell House. It's not latte, frapachino, grande, mocha, skinny whatever or anything else.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

If we are feeling naughty, we love to have a cake from Sanremo, a beautiful bakery on Royal York Road. The quality of Sanremo products is superb and I understand everything is baked on the premises.

Any treat for Dolly on this occasion?

Dolly has a friend who bakes her peanut butter biscotti from a recipe especially for dogs. Dolly loves those! She has also discovered liver treats.

How were you and Dolly united?

Dolly came to me via my ex-husband. He got her when she was four months old from a sign he spotted on a bulletin board in the bank of the small town where he was living at that time. "Free to good home." So Dolly lived with him until she was about five and then he took a job up north that involved travel, so at that time she came to live with me in Toronto. Dolly's been loved every day since he got her and we couldn't have asked for a nicer dog.

Does Dolly have any influence on your writing?

She sure does. In both my books a dog has played a key role and I really couldn't imagine one of my books without a dog. A couple of readers have asked if my protagonist, Penny Brannigan, could have a cat, but that doesn't feel right to me. Dolly actually does me a great service by inviting me to go for walks with her. I do some of my best thinking when I am walking with her. I resolve plot issues, get inspired, and sometimes, ideas come to me when we're out walking that improve or change the nature or direction of a book. When we get home, I head straight for the computer and I know where the story needs to go.

How did Dolly get her name? Does she have any aliases?

That was her name when we got her and Dolly she remained. I would not have called her Dolly but in a funny way, it suits her. Or maybe it's just that in 12 years I've got used to it and couldn't think of her with any other name. Audrey! Camilla! Rosie! No, Dolly it is. But sometimes when we're alone I call her Pet or Treasure.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Definitely squirrel or any other small rodent, like mice. She has a high prey drive, I'm afraid, and she has been known to kill. And then she walks away as if nothing happened.

Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

She is not a fetch kind of dog, although certainly fetching. She likes squeaky toys until the squeak goes out of them and then they no longer interest her.

Where is Dolly's favorite outdoor destination?

It is probably Col. Samuel Smith Park behind Humber College where I teach. We have rambled there for years. There's a lake for a dip on a hot summer day and lots of paths to wander, tall grass to hide in, hunting grounds for mice and endless smells to investigate.

Who is Dolly's best pet-pal?

Dolly has two favourite friends, Trixxi, who is also a blue merle and they certainly attract attention when they're together and little Angie, a Maltese terrier from a rescue group adopted earlier this year by a friend of mine. I would say, though, that Dolly is always more interested in the human creature than the canine one.

If Dolly could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I think she would like me to walk four hours in the morning, then a nice nap, then we'll walk another four hours. However, now that she's getting older, we might be able to cut back on that a bit.

What is Dolly's best quality? Her most frustrating?

Dolly's best quality is her eagerness to please. She has a beautiful disposition and will do things for me that I know she doesn't really want to, like come in the house when she'd rather stay outside. She also has beautiful manners. When I come into the house after being away, Dolly stands up to greet me. Nothing about Dolly is frustrating.

I think dogs are wonderful, beautiful creatures. They are clever, full of fun, and embody the best attributes known to humankind. If there were one thing I could change about dogs, though, I would find a way for them to live longer. They leave us too soon.

Visit Elizabeth J. Duncan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Cold Light of Mourning.

The Page 69 Test: A Brush with Death.

--Marshal Zeringue