Who is in the photo at right?
I’m Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know, the Gumshoe Ghost mystery series, and four other novels. I’m the one with the goatee—err, the one in the inset photo. Left to right are my companions, Toby, age five; Mosby, age thirteen; and Maggie Mae, age eight. They’re all purebred Labs and proud of it.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
My morning ritual (although the photo above is my pals’ evening ritual waiting for my wife and I to go up to bed). When I work from home, and after their breakfast and some initial work, I take them outside to my back yard and play ball while I have coffee. Yesterday morning it was below 30 degrees. They loved it. Me, not so much.
Regular old decaf coffee—straight and black. I’m not big on the sweet, dessert blends or anything I need spell checker for.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
The morning ritual—ball playing—follows an hour after their breakfast. As they are Labs, extra treats are low fat or they’d be on the treadmill with me every day. Sometimes they get a nibble of my bagel and cream cheese, but mamma would be mad.
[photo left: Mosby]
Do your dogs help or hinder your writing? Have they inspired any dogs on your fiction?
My dogs help my writing and inspire me in more ways than one. First, I work from home quite often and would be strapped to this computer 18 hours a day if not interrupted. My writing takes place before the normal work day, often at lunch, and after work and dinner. The only interruptions I get are the phone, a wayward door-to-door marketer, and my Labs. Hourly, we play ball or keep-away. If I miss my hourly break, Maggie will climb in my lap and demand attention. Toby, the 115-pound black Lab, will even get under my desk and push my chair away from it. Many times, he’s gone paws up on the desk, stolen my wireless keyboard, and made a getaway for a game of chase. Luckily, he has a soft mouth.
My first published novel, Dying to Know, is the story of Oliver Tucker, a dead detective who returns to help solve his murder. It’s not a ghost story, mind you, but a mystery with a paranormal twist. Hercule, a black Lab, helps Tuck’s wife, Angela, realize that Tuck is still around. Hercule also protects her in dark times and helps decide who is good and evil. I wrote this part a year before we got Toby but he truly is Hercule to the bone.
How did your dogs get their names? Any nicknames?
I’m a history lover and the Civil War in Virginia is a significant part of our history. John S. Mosby, the famed raider, is a particular hero of mine and is our Yellow Lab’s namesake.
Maggie Mae is a sweet chocolate Lab and we wanted a southern-sounding name that would resonate with Mosby.
We rescued Toby [photo right] three years ago. He was in the pound because he was just too big for a couple—eight months old and already 85 pounds and growing. Tobias seemed to fit—a great old-fashioned name.
How were you and your dogs united?
We sought out Mosby and Maggie from reputable breeders. We decided to try a rescue when we looked for Toby. Several years ago after my daughter took her dog when she moved out, Mosby was about 4-5 years old. We worried he’d be lonely so we got Maggie. It worked. Years later, age started slowing Mosby down and Maggie was still young and wanted to play. So off we went to find Toby. He keeps Mags young and looks after Mosby in his old age, too.
Where do your dogs most like to visit on an outing?
Lakes, streams, or fast food restaurants. (We do try to keep them from the drive through.)
Do the dogs have any non-canine pet pals?
Yes, our cat, Penny, and our grandchildren. The grandkids are ages 6 months through 8 years. The older children chase and play ball for hours with them. The younger two, 2 ½ years and six months, just sit and cuddle with them. Mosby and Maggie [photo left] will sit with them and allow the kids to roll and climb on them. Toby is my youngest granddaughter’s favorite. She sees him and lights up. He rolls his ball to her on the floor while she plays on a play mat. He barks when she won’t roll it back—which is never, of course.
Squirrel, cat, postman...?
We live in a country suburb and squirrels are more plentiful than people. They are also a source of constant games with my Labs. The squirrels will sit on our back deck and look in the glass door windows and taunt my Labs. When the dogs get out, they scurry away. But it seems a game as if one of the Labs catches up, they stop and let the squirrels escape. Many times they were literally on top of the squirrels but never laid a tooth on them. Fun and games.
Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?
Toby is a ball freak. Maggie loves her stuffed hedgehog. Mosby is all about nylon bones and sleep.
What is each dog's best quality?
Mosby is loyal to me to the core. He is constantly by my side. He is also a rules boy so he barks and tells on the other two when they’re into mischief—there’s a lot of barking. Maggie thinks she’s my girlfriend—sits on my lap a lot (yes, an 85-pound dog) and loves to snuggle up in bed. Toby is the protector and chief-play machine. But he also looks after Mosby in his old age. Mos has trouble with stairs and when he needs to go upstairs to bed or outside down our deck stairs, Toby walks alongside him and leans against him to steady his old body. Humans take note.
If your dogs could change one thing about Virginians, what would it be?
Require people to act more like dogs.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?
None. Hollywood is too self-absorbed and weird to capture the kind nature and heart of Labs.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
Where’s Toby’s ball? (He loses it 50 times a day)!
Visit Tj O’Connor's website, blog, and Facebook page.