Who is in the photo at right?
I’m Ellen Cooney, a novelist. My dogs are Andy, golden retriever, 8; Skip, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, 7, and Maxine, chocolate lab/wire haired terrier, almost 2.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
I’m happy about the publication of my novel about an animal sanctuary for rescued dogs, where a young woman enters a program to become a dog trainer and discovers that the dogs aren’t the only ones with a chance for healing and a better future. It’s called The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances, out this month with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
A big take-out latte from an indie coffee shop about a 20-minute drive each way is a once a week treat—it’s pretty rural around here. If I’m out and about in another town, farther off, there’s a Starbucks with a drive-up window: latte for me, and for the dogs, bowls of whipped cream squirted on ice cubes. They love sticking their heads out the car window, like they’re placing the order themselves.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
In the photo [below right] of my three, they are sitting so nicely! They’re about to get cookies I made for them with oatmeal, peanut butter, apples, and rice. The other photo is of them [photo left] with the baking dish after the cookies came out. I only use this baking dish for their treats, so it’s very special.
How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
Andy is for the boy doll in the first book I ever loved as a child: The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. Skip is for a human Skip, a wonderful man who’s the husband of the woman who arranged for Andy to be my dog. Maxine is for a beloved cat named Max who died a long time ago, but he was quite an unforgettable character. They are also known as Honey Bear (Andy); Little Guy (Skip) and Sweetie Girl (Maxine).
How were you and your dogs united?
Andy came to me from a breeder who had wanted him to be a show dog; he’s descended from a long line of champions—but he turned out too big for that world and yay for me! Skip is from a golden retriever rescue group in Tennessee, and Maxine is from a rescue group in Louisiana. Both of these groups arrange adoptions and transport to homes in the northeast.
How do your dogs help--or hinder--your writing?
Andy loves to have me read aloud to him! He swipes me with his paw if he feels I read too little for that day. Skip and Maxine both hang out in my room while I’m writing, even though I keep telling them I would rather be alone. Sometimes I’m very annoyed when I forget they’re with me and they suddenly start barking at who knows what they see out the window. I make them leave but of course they just sit outside the door like their hearts are broken.
Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?
All my three were deep, important inspirations for Mountaintop. There’s a golden in the novel who’s based on Andy, although the fictional one is much older. Many things that happened with Skip as I was heavily involved with him as his trainer made their way into the novel. As for Maxine, the book was finished when I adopted her—but I know she’s going to turn up in the next one.
Squirrel, postman, cat....?
We live coastal Maine. My dogs and I beach-walk almost every day. Andy falls in love with every seal he spots, and he wants to swim way out to hang around with them. Maxine wants to catch ducks and sea gulls. Skip is totally a tennis ball guy; in fact he’s a genius at finding tennis balls, even if they’re buried in sand.
Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?
They are best friends with each other, especially Andy and Maxine. Skip is more of a solitary kind of guy. But my dogs love meeting other dogs, except, at the moment, Maxine, who’s going through a phase of being fierce and thinking that strange animals are like dangerous aliens she needs to tangle with (we’re working on that).
What is each dog's best quality?
Andy: that golden retriever thing of being brilliant at showing affection. Skip: intuition. He’s incredible at sensing moods, and he’s always hyper-aware of what’s going on; he’s out guard dog, which he takes very seriously. Maxine: she’s complicated and very defensive, but she is often just so happy with everything! She lived all her previous life confined in a high-kill animal shelter and now she’s, “Oh my God, you filled the water bowl! You’re giving me a cookie! You’re loving me!”
If your dogs could change one thing about Mainers, what would it be?
They would like to change what Maine fishermen do with the contents of bait buckets. My dogs believe fisherman should offer their bait to them (and also any fish they’ve caught).
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?
Andy’s movie voice should be Matt Damon or maybe Robert Redford. Skip should be Sean Penn. For Maxine, Sigourney Weaver, absolutely.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
I would have to ask a question that doesn’t include Andy, who wasn’t a rescued dog and didn’t have a traumatic past. I would ask Skip and Maxine if they have any bad memories that haven’t been wiped out yet and, if so, how can I help wipe them out?
Visit Ellen Cooney's website.