Friday, January 11, 2013

Linda Lombardi & Lilly and Rose

Photo credit: Paul McRae
Who is in the photo at right?

That is a photo of me, Linda Lombardi, and my Number One Pug, Lilly, in which I'm signing a copy of my second book, Animals Behaving Badly.

Lilly is going to be 14 in a few weeks.

I am a writer, unemployed zookeeper, and recovering academic.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Right now this is a daily routine, as I am writing more or less full time, and also I am stuck at home with a broken wrist. Unfortunately I was injured while ice skating rather than by tripping over a pug, which would have made a great story for the blog. Did you know that 86,000 people a year end up in the emergency room after falls caused by pets?

But you know, I'm a fiction writer, and that reality is kind of boring, so let's make something up. I'm going to pretend it's June and Lilly and Rose and I waiting for croissants at our favorite place in Rehoboth Beach [photo left].

What's brewing?

Tea. Darjeeling. Hot.

I'm not a regular coffee drinker. I save it for a special treat, or for when I really need to be awake. It is an amazingly effective drug when you're not accustomed to it.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

We are trying to resist opening this box of Girl Scout cookies. The peanut butter sandwich kind.

How did Lilly and Rose get their names? Any aliases?

My husband finally agreed to get a dog one day when we slid into the ditch on the side of the road on our way to a cross-country ski center. We made some kind of deal - I can't recall the details - about what kind of car he could buy next if I could get a dog.

So when we got to the ski place I started thinking of a name for this theoretical dog, and they had a poster announcing an event called Tour de Lilly. It was named after the mother of the guy who owned the ski place, an independent cross-country skiing woman back in the days when women didn't do those things. Fitting, I guess, for the independent, sassy girl pug I ended up with.

Rose was already named Rose by the pug rescue we adopted her from. I would never have given them a cute pair of matching flower-sounding names on my own, but it seemed like fate. In her foster home there were two Roses so they called her Piggy Rose, because she made a particularly piggy noise when sniffing at things. We still call her that sometimes. I have always been fond of pigs.

How were you and your dogs united?

After we got the car out of the ditch, I tried to get a pug from breed rescue. Nowadays rescue pugs are (sadly) very easy to find, but back then, the breed was much less popular. For the first few years I had Lilly, people would stop me and say "My grandmother had a pug!" because that was the last time they'd seen one. Now they're more likely to stop me and tell me about all their friends and relative who have one.

But things were very different 14 years ago, so the rescue had very few pugs, and wouldn't adopt to me because I had cats. They said this was because of the danger of claws to big puggy eyes. Which made sense to me until I actually got a puppy and discovered that puppies play by biting each other's faces. Live and learn.

So I got Lilly as a puppy from an ad in the newspaper. This was very controversial among my friends who said I should go to a responsible breeder, but the show dogs have such flat faces that it causes health problems, and I was reluctant to support this trend.

I wouldn't do it this way today and wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but times have changed a lot - I could probably adopt ten great pugs tomorrow from the regional pug rescue.

I didn't get another dog till Lilly was 7, because I was pretty sure she wanted to be an only child. But I had gotten a dog partly because my husband wouldn't go for walks with me, and now Lilly had started to be reluctant to go for walks with me, if I wasn't offering a ride to somewhere exciting to buy dog cookies.

So I decided it was time for an emergency backup pug whether Lilly liked it or not. My argument to her was that now she would have a staff to delegate walks to.

Rose came from pug rescue. She had been a breeder dog in what sounded like a small-scale puppy mill. She was blind in one eye and mostly blind in the other, from an untreated eye condition. She didn't know how to walk on a leash or go up and down stairs. But the adoption listing for her had the most adorable picture you have ever seen, and the description said she was "perfect." I thought, these people must know their pugs. Surely that's not a word they use lightly. So we asked to meet her.

I should say, I am not the sort of person who rescues animals because I feel sorry for them. She was cute and sweet and the right dog for the household at the time - more laid back than Lilly. So it wasn't some kind of good deed. She is in most ways a much easier dog to own than Lilly is, and a really good example of how resilient dogs are and why everyone should consider adopting an adult dog.

Do Lilly and Rose appear in Animals Behaving Badly?

Lilly probably ought to, but no, since the book is not based on my personal experience, but on extensive research. I am pretty sure it's the only book you'll find shelved under Humor that has a twenty-five page bibliography. There is a whole chapter about dogs, though, which I highly recommend as a caution to all dog owners.

My first book, the mystery The Sloth's Eye, features a zookeeper who has two pugs, and they're not exactly mine (for one thing, they're a boy and a girl). But like all the animals in that book, the characterizations are definitely based on my personal observation.

What contribution do your dogs make to your writing?

I generally give Lilly credit for the fact that I have a nonfiction writing career. My first paying gig was writing a pets and animals column for the Associated Press. I appeared to be qualified for this partly because I had worked as a small mammal keeper at a zoo. But I was actually qualified more because of the years I had spent seriously studying dog training on my own, starting when Lilly was a puppy.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

They love the mailman. They announce his arrival with great enthusiasm. Even now that Lilly is mostly deaf, she joins in when Rose hears him.

Cats... we also have two cats. If they had Facebook pages they'd have that "It's Complicated" relationship status with everyone else in the household.

Who are Lilly and Rose's best pet-pals?

Rose thinks that Lilly is her best friend. She loves to cuddle with her. This is kind of pathetic because Lilly actually doesn't seem to care for this much, but poor Rose, with her deprived background, has never had another friend. So she doesn't know what a crummy best friend Lilly is.

What is each dog's best quality?

Lilly is dangerously clever, opinionated, bossy... oh, you said "best"? Actually, I like those things about her. I like a dog that is a bit of a challenge, one that talks back. We're a good match.

Rose is a perfect complement because no matter how much you love the kind of dog Lilly is, two of her would be a bit much. Here's the difference between Rose and Lilly: When I first got Rose, when I came home, she would actually greet me at the door! Just like everyone else says dogs do! I'd never seen that before. Lilly would lie on the couch and thought it was my job to walk over there and pet her.

Rose will also still come for walks with me most of the time because she thinks that anything I suggest will be fun! Whereas Lilly wants to know exactly what's in it for her before she makes up her mind.

If Lilly and Rose could change one thing about you, what would it be?

They would want me to take them to the farmers' market for a brioche every morning instead of just on Saturdays. I'm pretty sure they blame this on me because they don't understand that the market is only there on Saturdays.

If Lilly and Rose could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

I know what Lilly wants me to ask: "Is there any other way I can serve you, madam?"

Visit the Animals Behaving Badly Blog. To read Linda's newspaper and web writing and sample chapters of The Sloth's Eye, visit her website.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. I think I should have MOM check that book out, especially the dog section. And just a side note, those sandwich peanut butter GS cookies are my favorite!

  2. What a great interview! I love this book, LL, and the pugs.