Who is in the photo at right?
The silver standard poodle is 6 year old Sterling and the smaller grey, one year old Miss Molly, his baby Sis, although she isn’t really, but she can be bratty enough to be one. As far as she’s concerned he’s her Big Bro. She goes wherever he goes, sniffs whatever he sniffs and steals his favourite ball then waves it in front of his nose. And I’m R.J. Harlick, Canadian crime writer. I write the Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. The fourth book Arctic Blue Death was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award and the 6th, Silver Totem of Shame, has just been named one of the top ten summer crime fiction reads by the Globe and Mail.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Caffe latte overflowing with foamy milk is my morning reward for having been persuaded, more like forced by two sets of pleading brown eyes to walk through rain, snow, sleet, but thankfully more often sun, though in winter it can be a tad frigid.
My coffee connoisseur husband ensures I have only the best. He is particularly partial to coffee roasted by Bridgehead, a local Ottawa coffeehouse that specializes in fairly traded coffee. For my latte he uses the decaffeinated espresso. And since I am a bit of a klutz with the espresso maker, he makes it for me. He’s especially adept at foaming the milk. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg, chocolate or cinnamon, depending on my mood, and I have one perfect latte.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
Too many treats may spoil the child, but they sure make for well-behaved dogs…well almost. Their extra special treat is a piece of the granola cookie my husband has with his afternoon tea. The minute they hear the paper rustling as he removes the cookie from the bag, they both come running.
How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
Sterling came with his name. He fit it so well with his sterling silver coat, we decided to stick with it. But he has been known to be called Sterls and Bro and in extremis, Bad Dog, which doesn’t really happen often, since he is basically a well behaved dog. We tried many name variations with his Sis when we got her as a puppy. Being a poodle, we felt she should have an elegant name, but she didn’t act elegant, more like a scruffy puppy. A week or so after we got her, Molly popped out of my husband’s mouth, so Molly she became. Then we felt perhaps we needed to give her a chance at being a lady, so we added Miss. She has yet to act like a lady. Jointly they are the Guys and will even respond to the word.
How were you and your dogs united?
Sterling is our second standard. We waited only a few months after DeMontigny, our first standard passed on before seeking out another furry family member. Initially we were going for another puppy, but after seeing Sterling’s almost smiling face on the Internet, decided to check him out. He was a two year old show dog who had been intended for breeding, but a genetic test identified a problem, so that was the end of his life as a stud. I think that was his lucky day. Last year when Sterling was five, we thought it would be fun to have another dog and so Miss Molly came into our family as an 8 week old ball of squirming fur and a female to boot. The first female dog in the seven dogs I have had in my life. And what a charmer she is. Sterling thinks so too.
How do your dogs help--or hinder--your writing?
Other than getting in an uproar over squirrels or dogs passing by the windows they don’t generally bother me. Or if they want something, like dinner, going for a walk or being let outside, more Molly than her bro. Then the paw pesters and the nose prods and she won’t let up until I give in often at a critical moment in my writing.
But I tell you those morning and afternoon walks are great for the writing muse. While they are sniffing this and that and doing their de rigueur business, my mind is focused on sorting out the latest antics my heroine, Meg Harris, is getting up to.
Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?
Readers often ask if any of the characters in my Meg Harris mystery series are based on a real person. And I say Sergei, Meg’s black standard poodle, is the only one who has a counterpart in real life, at least he did until DeMontigny passed on. And it looks as if Miss Molly will also be making an appearance in the Meg Harris book I am currently working on.
Squirrel, postman, cat....?
Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel. I can’t even say the word without getting a reaction. In our household these critters are commonly referred to as the S-word. Sterling is ever on the watch for them. Unfortunately Miss Molly has learned from him that they are more than fun to chase.
Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?
Each other. It’s amazing how attached they have become. Though Sterling tries to remain aloof, he will search her out and she of course clings to him, when she isn’t attacking him. She particularly likes grabbing onto one of his long ears or the scruff of his neck.
What is each dog's best quality?
Sterling has the patience of a Buddha and is just as calm. He will stare at his favourite ball for what seems like hours hoping someone will come along and throw it or wait longingly with his mournful eyes beside the door as walk time approaches. And nothing seems to bother him, other than squirrels, and his little Sis when she is being particularly bratty.
Miss Molly is everyone’s friend. Wagging her tail she runs up to other dogs to play or to people for a pat. She doesn’t have an aggressive cell in her body. In fact she is a bit of a scaredy-cat and will come running back to ‘Momma’ at the least hint of a threat.
If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?
What me change?! I’m perfect. But I suppose they would say I don’t play enough with them, particularly Sterling. After dinner has become playtime. The minute I put the fork down on the plate, Sterling is running to the living room to wait patiently by his ball for me to come and play grab-the-ball. But sometimes I’m too busy and will ignore him or will play only for a few minutes. He never complains, just gives me one of his mournful stares.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?
Sorry, I’m not much into movies, so I’m not up on my film stars. Maurice Chevalier is the only one who comes to mind for Sterling, but that is reaching back in time a little far. I don’t know who of today’s star contingent would be able to roll his ‘r’s with equal panache. Similarly for Miss Molly child actor Haley Mills immediately jumped to mind. But it is many, many years since she was a child.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
Whenever Sterling or Miss Molly raise a quizzical eyebrow in my direction I do wonder what is going on inside their furry heads. Are they asking me for something or are they making a comment on life. I have asked, “What are you thinking?” but so far haven’t received an answer.
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