Who are in the photos with this entry?
That’s me Darden North and our two dogs, Valerie and Foxy. Both are hand-me-ups from our daughter. Valerie is a Chihuahua and Foxy a Pomeranian-rat terrier mix, otherwise known as a pomerat. Foxy indeed resembles a fox and Valerie a Chihuahua. I share the feeding, walking, and picking-up duties of these two beautiful girls with my wife Sally, although I do most of the meals and picking-up. As expected, Valerie and Foxy love me more. The two girls are at my heels the minute I get home from my day job as an obstetrician-gynecologist in a busy medical practice in Jackson, Mississippi. After a walk around the block, the dogs follow me to the computer where I write mysteries and medical thrillers. My books are set in the Deep South where lots of folks sport Labrador retrievers, but I leave the lab (our grand dog) to our son in Kentucky.
My fourth novel Wiggle Room is due in June as an eBook and in trade-paper print from publisher Sartoris Literary Group. My second novel Points of Origin was awarded an IPPY in Southern Fiction. The screenplay of my third novel Fresh Frozen is in film development.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine? What’s brewing?
Foxy is the first one up with me at 5:25 a.m. on weekdays. She follows me into a small room off the master bedroom where we keep a Keurig coffee maker. My wife Sally usually has two clean cups waiting. (Sally uses the other cup – not Foxy.) Since most days I am due at the hospital for gyn surgery by 6:45, I need a lot of caffeine. My favorite wake-up brew is Revv by Keurig Brewers, so strong that I choose the 10 ounce selection to dilute it somewhat. I alternate this with Green Mountain Coffee’s Dark Magic. Until about 18 months ago I wasn’t a coffee drinker, except to complement dessert in a nice restaurant. I abandoned Diet Coke and switched to java when I needed to lose the 25 pounds gained while writing three thriller novels. (A lot of sodium is ingested with four Diet Cokes by 9:00 each morning.) We have the same type brewer at the office, and I usually drink a Donut Shop or Our Blend about 3 p.m. every day. (I sneak in a Coke Zero now and then to supplement.) I never drink coffee in the hospital doctors’ lounge --- no reason in particular.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
While I drink about half of the Revv, I take both dogs out for their morning backroom break. (We actually call it potty around our house.) The trick is not pouring the hot brew on Valerie when dragging her from under the covers for the trip to the backyard. The Chihuahua’s wake-up schedule is more in line with my wife’s. Valerie growls at Foxy during this process; I think she resents her sister for being so chipper so early. Foxy’s treat is an immediate breakfast of Science Diet Adult Dog, gulped in less time than the coffee maker can brew, before retiring to my closet for a nap. Valerie’s treat is to get back in bed after a few seconds outside. She burrows under the sheets and bedspread, sometimes without even a nose showing from under the edge. The wife never stirs.
How were you and your dogs united? And how did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
Valerie was originally a Valentine’s Day gift to my daughter when she was in the eleventh grade. Valerie seemed to go well with Valentine, so Valerie Valentine North it was. I doubt if there are many other Chihuahuas named Valerie. Because she was so difficult to housetrain as a puppy, my wife and I became Valerie’s keeper. We’re still working on that seven years later and finally rolled-up the hall rug and put it away. When the same daughter was in college, she secretly bought Foxy from a kennel in Tennessee and gave her a name that I cannot remember. But I changed it to Foxy (Again refer to photo) when the sweet pomerat was still very young and Sally and I became primary care givers. I don’t think we ever gave Foxy a middle name. Occasionally we call them Val and Fox. We love them both.
How do your dogs help, and how do they hinder, your writing?
My two dogs crave attention, but whose dog doesn’t? Valerie in particular will stand near when I’m writing at the desktop and bark the most high-pitched, irritating sound imaginable if I have been late with her second meal of the day. This is a late supper, usually around 10:30 before bed. Breakfast was around 6 p.m. Foxy has a favorite toy, a small yellow pillow – about her same fur color – that she likes to use in games of fetch. If I have ignored her, spending more than an hour or so writing, she appears with the toy and her own version of a piercing, irritating bark. Valerie and our son’s yellow lab (our grand dog Bandit) will play with the pillow when abandoned by Foxy. The toy is very durable, it seems. Sometimes sitting on the den couch and working on my laptop, I can accommodate both small dogs: Valerie in the remaining lap space between the keyboard and my stomach and Foxy behind my head at the top of the couch. She makes a great headrest.
Squirrel, postman, cat....?
Both Valerie and Foxy chase whatever crawls, flies, leaps, or burrows into our fenced-in backyard: cat, possum, squirrel, bird, rabbit, or mole. As I am answering these questions, Foxy is intrigued by a sparrow that keeps flying against the window pane. We both heard the knocking sound and went to investigate. Foxy also nips at the bottom of human pant legs. The other day I noted an unusual aroma while writing at the computer desktop. I looked down to the rug to find Foxy enjoying the remains of a frog head.
What is each dog's best quality?
Sally and I have had smarter pets in the past, but none as sweet as Foxy. I cannot claim that Valerie is not sweet because she loves to roll over for a tummy rub or plant a lick in the face of her mom or dad, but she is the conniving one, the regal one. Fox wins the peppy and cuddly contest. Both dogs are fiercely loyal.
If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?
They would want me to sleep later and not work so hard.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?
No one could play Valerie Valentine North except Joan Rivers. Like Rivers, who also has her own jewelry line on QVC, Valerie loves jewels, particularly rhinestone collars, although she prefers diamonds --- maybe a reward for sparing the rug in the hall? At Christmas my wife wraps both Valerie and Foxy in a necklace of pet-store pearls. Valerie probably knows they’re fake – doubt if Foxy cares. Kristin Chenoweth would be a natural as Foxy North because the actress is soft and peppy and blond.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
“Valerie, why do you like to pose on the furniture like the queen of the neighborhood but still roll around outside in smelly things?”
“Foxy, why do you like to lick expensive upholstery fabric, which stains it and causes my wife to insist on having the den sofa recovered for the third time?”
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