Who is in the photo at the right?
Hi, my name is Susan Sherman and I’m the author of The Little Russian which was published last month. The unassuming canine to my right is Henry Head, a Chow/Aussie mix, 15 years old or thereabouts. Henry was a real rescue, right off the street, so we don’t exactly know how old he is. On the other side is his bratty sister, Bessie Sherman, a lab/pit mix, six years old, named after my grandmother, Bessie Sherman née Berta Alshonsky. Berta is also the protagonist of my novel, which is based on my grandmother’s story set during the Russian revolution and the civil war that followed.
What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Whenever I take my furry kids to the doggie spa for a bath, we always treat ourselves afterwards to an ice coffee and several pieces of dehydrated liver. I usually forgo the liver because I’m watching my weight, but I give my share to the canines.
I’m not real picky about my coffee, but I usually like to stop at Peets and order whatever they’re brewing with lots of ice, soy milk and sugar. Henry always orders a double espresso because he has trouble staying awake. He’s a chow, which means he’s always guarding his toys and needs his caffeine to stay alert. Bessie likes bling, so it’s a mocha latte with sprinkles and two pink straws in a glitter cup.
How were you and your dogs united?
I found Henry when I was working in TV. I used to take long walks whenever I had to come up with story ideas and one day there he was looking terrified and hungry. I tried to coax him with kind words, but he kept running away. I finally gave up and went to Jack in the Box for a plain hamburger, no pickles, no ketchup or mustard. Well, the rest they say is history. Only it’s not really, because Henry had had a terrible life and hadn’t been socialized. He’d growl and show his teeth to everyone he’d meet. The vet said he would never make a family pet and advised me to put him down. But instead I put the vet down or at least erased her number from my contacts and now, after fifteen years, Henry is the friendliest dog you’d ever want to meet. Except if you happen to be another dog and then he still growls and shows his teeth.
Bessie came to us from Downtown Rescue. She had belonged to homeless people who were placed in a shelter that didn’t allow dogs. By now she has completely forgotten her roots and is comfortably ensconced in her pink frilly bedroom, forever texting on her IPhone decorated with rhinestones that spell Bessie!
How did they get their names?
My son Ryan named Henry. As I said, Bessie was named after her great grandmother. We have many nicknames for the kids: Bessie Lou, Bess, Boodal, Bessel and Bessela, Hen, Henri Quatre, Hensgerling, Bud and Buddy.
What role have your dogs played in your writing?
Let me just say right up front, that contrary to statements recently made in the press, Bessie Sherman did not write The Little Russian. Yes, she has an extensive vocabulary, but she is a dog and she doesn’t have opposable thumbs. So I don’t see how she could make the claim that she is the real author of The Little Russian. All right, so she gave me a few ideas, but I didn’t even use them all.
Do your dogs have a favorite place to go for an outing?
Any place where there is a lot of cat poop or horse poop to eat, dead, decaying things to roll in or squirrels to chase. I prefer a nice hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.
What is each dog’s best quality?
Henry is loyal and brave, and although he’s pretty much afraid of everything, including small flying insects, at least he acts brave. Bessie is good with fashion, outgoing and very affectionate.
If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?
Henry would change nothing. He thinks I’m perfect in every way. I often catch him gazing at me as if he can’t quite believe his good luck at having found me.
Bessie thinks I should stop wasting time at the computer and focus on her and her needs.
What is each dog’s proudest moment?
Every morning Henry protects his home and toys from a strange man carrying a large satchel filled with magazines and envelopes, who is evidently up to no good.
Bessie got a genuine plastic gold medal for her precision execution of “down” at obedience school. (this is true!)
If your dogs could speak in the movie about your life, who should do their voices?
Bessie could be played by any of the girls on Jersey Shore. Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt should play Henry, the same bewildered gruffness.
Visit Susan Sherman's website and blog.
The Page 69 Test: The Little Russian.