Who is in the photo at right?
The human is me, Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France. The canine is Ellie, my Polish Lowland Sheepdog. She’s four years old and only just beginning to grow out of her puppy years.
What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
We’re about to head out for a walk in the Junction neighborhood of Toronto, Canada, where I live with my husband and two young children, as well as Ellie and Sam the cat.
At the farthest point of our walk we’ll arrive at a great independent café called Crema. Ellie has to wait outside while I order, but then we sit together on their patio or, if the Polar Vortex is still raging, we hustle back home with me gulping down my coffee on the way.
I always order a decaf mocha when I’m at Crema. They use a really dark chocolate syrup, and not too much of it, so the end result tastes like a properly bittersweet mocha and not like melted candy bar.
Any treats for you or Ellie on this occasion?
If I’ve had a productive week I may treat myself to a pumpkin muffin. I usually have dog cookies in my pocket so she gets one or two, plus some water from a bowl the nice people at Crema keep for their visiting pooches.
How did your dog get her name? Any nicknames?
My children had been watching the movie Up just before we got the dog and wanted to call her Ellie after the character of Carl’s wife in the film. As for nicknames, the most frequently used is Barky Barkington, for reasons that are lamentably obvious.
How were you and Ellie united?
Polish Lowland Sheepdogs are a rare breed in North America; the closest reputable breeder is in Quebec City, a ten-hour drive away. So we took the kids to visit the breeder – we made a weekend of it, as Quebec City is one of our favorite places in the world – and met Ellie’s parents and got a sense of the breed’s suitability for a house with young children. Ellie was born a few weeks later and as soon as she was old enough to leave her mom, my husband flew to Quebec and brought her home. My children still talk about the night Ellie came home to us.
Are there any dogs in your fiction that are inspired by your dog?
Not yet, but I do hope to include a sheepdog in one of my narratives eventually!
Does Ellie do more to help or hinder your writing?
I’d have to say she helps me, not only because she’s very patient while I’m working – she sleeps in a basket next to my desk – but also because she has a sixth sense as to when we’ve both had enough and need a walk to shake off the doldrums. As soon as she gets up I know it’s time for a break.
Where is Ellie’s favorite outdoor destination?
She absolutely adores my mother-in-law’s garden in the suburbs. It’s far bigger than our postage-stamp-size urban back yard, and it’s full of all sorts of interesting smells and places to dig. We spend a lot of time there in the summer, helping with the vegetables, and Ellie follows us around and gets completely covered in dirt. A dirty dog is a happy dog, after all.
Who is Ellie’s best pet-pal?
We have a lovely cat, Sam, [photo left] who is almost nine years old. He was rescued by my vet and given to us when he was about a year old. I’d say he’s the best-natured cat I’ve ever known, which means he puts up with Ellie’s determined attempts to play with him and groom him without ever getting upset (or only rarely losing his cool).
Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?
Although she loves her tennis balls, I would lean toward squeaky toy. She has several no-stuffing toys that look alarmingly like road kill, and she loves to drag them around and chew on their squeaky bits. There’s Mr. Raccoon, Mr. Fox and Mr. Skunk. I’m not sure why we call them “Mister” – perhaps because they’re her boy toys?
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Well, she hates squirrels with a passion – you only have to say the word and she runs for the back yard, barking at full volume. But she absolutely loathes the postman and all of his compatriots (the guys from FedEx and UPS, the woman who delivers flyers, etc). I’ve taken to putting her in her pen for fifteen minutes or so when the postman starts heading up the block. She still barks, but at least she’s not lunging at the front window like an especially demented reincarnation of Cujo.
What is Ellie’s best quality?
Her absolute, unwavering devotion to the people she loves. She’s intensely wary of strangers, which is typical for her breed, and can come across as unfriendly if she doesn’t know you. But for the circle of people she knows and loves she’s the most affectionate dog imaginable.
If Ellie could change one thing about you, what would it be?
She’d definitely make me more generous at mealtimes. Her breed can easily put on weight, so we have to be quite vigilant about treats, people food and portion sizes. If I go into the kitchen, Ellie is right behind me – and if I drop anything on the floor that is edible, she is more than happy to clean it up!
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Ellie could speak, which actor should do her voice?
I think it would be someone with a really warm and friendly demeanor. Perhaps Drew Barrymore?
If Ellie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?
Are you happy?
Learn about Somewhere in France and visit Jennifer Robson's website.