Who is in the photo at right?
From left to right: Kaiya, 12-year-old female, black lab mix: Giano Cromley, 40-year-old male, writer; Tanka, 5-year-old male, great pyrenees.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Robust Coffee Shop is the go-to coffee spot for Woodlawn, so we make a point of stopping by almost every morning. For the dogs, it's a brief layover on their morning walk. For me, it's a necessary pitstop in order to face the day.
My morning drink of choice is a triple-shot Americano, black. On especially good days, the barista adds a fourth shot for free.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
The pups don't get treats during their walks. They usually get a snack either right before or right after. Lately, their treats have veered toward the eerily naturalistic: chicken feet, duck feet, rabbit ears -- which look exactly like they sound and are a little freaky to handle. But the dogs eat them up like potato chips, so I've mostly gotten over my squeamishness.
How were you and your dogs united?
My wife adopted Kaiya from an animal shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina. When my wife and I moved in together, I became Kaiya's de facto father. We adopted Tanka from Great Pyrenees Rescue of Central Illinois last year after we lost our beloved chow-retriever mix, Niko. It was a difficult, emotional time and we were unsure how Kaiya would react to a new brother, but Tanka went right up to her and introduced himself. We knew they'd be a good match, and they've been great together ever since.
How did Kaiya and Tanka get their names? Any aliases?
Kaiya got her name the moment my wife first laid eyes on her in the back of the shelter kennel. It was the name she felt this gangly puppy deserved. And it fits her perfectly. Tanka (rhymes with Wonka) is from the Lakota Sioux word for "great" or "large." Since he weighed in at 120 pounds when we first adopted him, it seemed to make sense. As for aliases, Kaiya is sometimes referred to as "Tiny Dancer" because she frequently tap dances across the floor as she eagerly awaits her meals. Tanka occasionally goes by "White Avalanche" because when he wants to do something, he's a force of nature.
Have Kaiya and Tanka inspired any dogs in your fiction?
The most significant dog in my novel, The Last Good Halloween, is a Schnauzer named Mr. T, who was largely inspired by my childhood dog, Mandee, a loyal Scottish terrier. The protagonist of my novel, Kirby Russo, is a troubled 15-year-old who feels at odds with pretty much everyone he meets. His relationship with Mr. T is the most positive and productive one in his life.
Do your dogs do more to help or to hinder your writing?
My dogs do a couple things that help me with my writing. First of all, they insist on a schedule, which helps give a framework to my day. A nice long walk every morning enables me to clear my mind and get a little blood pumping. Second of all, they'll frequently laze around my office while I'm writing, which makes me feel like I have an audience. While they're not really helping me write, I'd like to think they're contributing ideas, which is a nice way of saying I just enjoy having the company.
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Here on the South Side of Chicago, we have an abundance of wildlife for the dogs to get excited by, including rabbits, squirrels, cats, raccoons, possums, field mice, ducks, geese, and even a coyote or two. Pretty much anything that moves is fair game, literally.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
Kaiya loves a good stick to chew on. Tanka doesn't have an interest in any toys at all.
Do Kaiya and Tanka have a favorite place to go for outings?
We're lucky enough to live close to Lake Michigan, so we get over there at least twice a week. The beaches have an endless amount of stuff to sniff and taste and roll around in. Kaiya loves swimming in the water to fetch sticks. Tanka's afraid to go much deeper than six to eight inches, but he greatly enjoys trying to drink the lake dry -- unsuccessfully thus far.
Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?
Our dogs have a number of friends in the neighborhood who they get to say hi to on their walks. Henrietta is a pitbull mix who they enjoy visiting with on a frequent basis. And our neighbors have a fox terrier mix named Vida with whom they'll regularly exchange pleasantries and sniffs.
What is each dog's best quality?
Kaiya is loving and open to everyone. Tanka is patient and willing to absorb an incredible amount of cuddles.
If Kaiya and Tanka could change one thing about Chicagoans, what would it be?
No question, the single biggest thing they would change about Chicagoans is the amount of salt they use on the sidewalks in the winter. It's hard on their paws.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
To Kaiya: How can I make you more comfortable?
To Tanka: What do you plan to do with that duck/goose/cat/squirrel if you ever actually catch it?
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Kaiya and Tanka could speak, who should voice them?
Right now, my wife does voices for both of them. But if I had to hire Hollywood actors to do it, I'd go with Amy Poehler for Kaiya and James Earl Jones for Tanka.
Visit Giano Cromley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.