Friday, February 10, 2012

Laurie Hertzel & Riley

Who is in the photo at right?

The dog is Riley, a 10-year-old male springer-lab-beagle-coonhound. Today (Jan. 22) is the 10th anniversary of our bringing him home from the pound in Forest Lake, Minn. We got him in order to keep our Border collie, Boscoe, company after our other dog, Toby, died--we always said that Riley was Boscoe's puppy. The other creature in the picture is me, Laurie Hertzel, the books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a writer. My memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, was published in 2010 by the University of Minnesota Press. Riley, sadly, is not in the book, although Toby is.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My husband, Doug, and I take Riley on long walks through our St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood every Saturday and Sunday morning. At about the halfway point, we stop at the Coffee Grounds on Hamline Avenue. This winter has been so mild that we have been able to drink our coffee outside at their patio table all through November, December and into January.

What's brewing?

Doug always gets dark roast, with lots of cream, and I go for the hazelnut blend, with cream. Always lots of cream.

Any treats for you or Riley on this occasion?

They have a little jar of miniature milk bones by the cash register, and Riley always gets two.

On your blog you've shared the sad news that your dog Boscoe very recently died at age 17. How is the household adjusting?

Oh, it has been hard. We got Boscoe the summer we bought our house, so all of our memories here are tied up with him. He was a gregarious, friendly dog with tons of personality--he could work a room like Bill Clinton, greeting everyone, remembering their names, and their children's names, and winning over the dubious. He developed diabetes when he was 14 and lived two and a half years with the disease, but he did great with it--went hiking with us, and stayed cheerful and friendly to the end. He adapted, you know? And he never complained. Our house seems very quiet without him.

Riley has never been a solo dog, so we're interested in watching how he adapts. We might have to get him a puppy in the spring.

How did Riley and Boscoe get their names? Any aliases?

Naming Boscoe was tough. He was a tiny puppy when we got him from a farm outside of Pine City, Minn.--black and white, with beige eyebrows. He was just eight weeks old. We went through a lot of names before we settled on Boscoe--we tried "Smudge," and we tried "Archie" (as in Archie Manning--the beige looked sort of gold), and we tried "Stout" (as in Guinness Stout) but none of those seemed quite right. Boscoe was the name we just kept coming back to.

Riley was easier to name. At the pound, they called him Miller, and he was advertised on their website by the perky slogan, "It's Miller time!" But I didn't want a dog named after a mediocre beer, and besides, we were getting him to rile things up after Toby died. And rile things up he did.

He does have many aliases--when he's being sweet and cuddly, which is hardly ever, we call him Chester. I don't remember why. His other names are Pinecone, Porkchop, and Riley T. Coyote.

How were you and Riley united?

It's funny--we went to the pound that January day to look at Border collie puppies. The website had mentioned six eight-week-old Borders, and we thought one of them would be a great friend for Boscoe. When we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a small black and white dog sitting there next to one of the pound workers. He had short, speckled, slightly bowed legs, a white chest, a red collar, and an absolutely impassive face. When I slammed the door of our Jeep, the little dog looked at me, and that was it; I was a goner. He held my gaze as I walked across the lot and into the building.

We brought the Border puppies out, one at a time, and tried to get to know them. But in the cage next to them was that standoffish puppy with the red collar, staring solemnly, watching my every move. Even as I brought him into the playroom, I was thinking, "This dog is going to be a lot of trouble," but we adopted him anyway. And he was a lot of trouble, at first. He had been rejected by his first family, and he was a very serious, shy, mistrustful puppy--the exact opposite of Boscoe. He didn't play. He didn't wag his tail. It took a long time for him to trust us.

What role have your dogs played in your writing?

They have long been characters in many of the things I write. Toby, as I mentioned, is in my memoir, and his picture is on the back of the book. I have written many essays about all three of them for magazines and newspapers. And I started a blog about five years ago called Three Dog Blog where I write about them quite often. When Boscoe died, people were weeping all over the world.

Does Riley have a favorite place to go for an outing?

Riley has all kinds of favorite places. The first day he came into our house, he claimed under the kitchen table as his, as well as the burgundy wing-back chair in our living room. I don't think anyone has sat in that burgundy chair in 10 years, except him. In the yard, he likes to hide under the bridal veil bush, which has big drooping branches that come down almost to the ground. He gets way back there, and all you can see is the whites of his eyes. He likes to spy on people from there.

But most of all, he loves being out in the woods. He's never happier than when we take him up north and he can run free along the trails up the North Shore of Lake Superior. He's a great trail dog. We all love it up there, but there's something really wonderful about seeing Riley running flat-out down the trail, ears straight back, legs a blur. He is the epitome of happiness.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

Oh, man, all of the above. And: vacuum cleaners, rabbits, roller bladers, bicycles, small squealing children. Riley is extremely prey-driven, and he'll chase anything that is small, loud, fast and close to the ground.

What is Riley's best quality?

He's hard to get to know. He's suspicious and shy. But once you get through to him, once he trusts you, there's no sweeter dog. He wants so much to please us he practically trembles. Boscoe loved everyone he ever met, and there's great charm in that. But Riley--you have to work for his affection. And that makes it so worth it.

He also has the amazing ability to run straight up the side of trees after squirrels. When he was a little younger, he could run up the side of a tree higher than my husband's head--and my husband is 6'4". Now that he's 10 he doesn't run quite so high, but it's still very impressive.

If Riley could change one thing about Minnesotans, what would it be?

They would be much quieter. They wouldn't roller-blade. They would always whisper. They would only play cello music, never acid rock.

What is Riley's proudest moment?

He's killed a couple of squirrels in his day. I remember the first time, he chased the squirrel around the yard, caught it, and started swinging it around by the neck. After he dropped it, he seemed absolutely astounded that it would no longer move.

If Hollywood had made a movie last year about your life in which the dogs could speak, which actors would you have suggested for Boscoe and Riley's voice?

That's such a great question. But the voices would have to be done by Doug--he's been channeling those dogs for years. Boscoe's voice is kind of warm and gravelly and friendly, and Riley's is high-pitched and timid. I think anyone who doesn't talk for their dogs isn't a real dog-owner.

Read more about Laurie Hertzel and her memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, and visit the Three Dog Blog.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. How can you not love a person who'd refuse to name a dog after a mediocre beer? And I love reading "How my dog and I met" stories.

  2. I am happy to be featured in this blog. And I think Riley is happy that he landed with us (even though he would never, ever say so).

  3. Great interview! I know Riley much better having read this, and I'm still chuckling over Laurie's "mediocre beer" crack.

  4. Great interview..and laurie is right half the world wept with her at the News of Boscoe's death and we all look forward to Riley coming out of his shell now that he is an only dog:)

  5. Oh I just love these kinds of stories too! And you're right, that is a wonderful picture of Riley. Can't wait to get to know him better...

  6. Great interview! It is so very special when YOUR dog becomes yours...enjoy.

  7. I loved reading this interview! I always thought he was named after The Life of Riley! And yes Laurie, the world cried. I'm tearing up now remembering Boscoe.


  8. I count myself one of the lucky ones who has gotten to know Riley. Maybe it's plying him with homemade dog biscuits.

    1. he does love those biscuits--and homemade garlic stars. indulged dog.

    2. Oh how I love that photo of Riley running flat out toward you on the trail, tongue lolling, all four feet off the ground, the very picture of dog joy! This was a lot of fun to read. I now totally want to see Riley run up the side of a tree!

  9. There is video of Riley running up the side of a tree over on Three Dog Blog somewhere, if memory serves. It is impressive and joyous. I was among those crying when Boscoe left us. If you don'tknow Laurie and Doug, Boscoe, Riley and Toby, go on over. Laurie tells their stories so well.

  10. kim's right, there is video of riley running up trees. pretty easy to find on YouTube. just search for "boscoe and riley."

  11. Oh, I am so pleased to know Riley will get a pal to hang with, soon. You know, Laurie, spring is right around the corner. I look forward to those stories, too.

    Nice hat.