Who is in each of the photos at at the top of this Q & A?
I’m Shanna Mahin, the blonde one [just below, left], at least for now. My hair is a constant work in progress. I’m a writer, which means I spend a lot of time in my pajamas worrying about writing and not actually doing it.
The furry one is Riley. He’s a rescue, so I’m not entirely sure how old he is, but I’ve had him 13 years. Our best guess is that he’s part whippet and part terrier of some kind. The ears are kind of dingo-y, and he probably would eat your baby if he had the chance. Don’t be fooled by his sweet face.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Every day is “coffee with a canine” day at our house. I don’t actually drink coffee anymore, due to boring health reasons too unseemly to discuss in mixed company. But I get up and make myself green tea and a cup for my husband that perfumes the house, so at least I still have the smell. After he leaves for his grownup job, I feed Riley and we get back in bed together so my workday can begin.
My mother-in-law gave us a Keurig right about the time I stopped drinking coffee. I think we’re using Trader Joe’s French roast in it right now. I’m much pickier than my husband is. When I drank coffee, it was fresh ground beans every morning. My tea is Republic of Tea Honey Ginseng. With stevia. Getting old is emotionally rewarding, but it’s hell on the body.
Any treats for you or Riley on this occasion?
Riley and I pretend we’re ascetic in the early morning. Just tea for me and kibble for him. It all blows apart by lunch time, when he gets chicken jerky and I share bits of my bacon and avocado sandwich with him.
How were you and Riley united?
Short version: Before Riley, I had an Italian greyhound named Ruby, who was eaten by a particularly wily coyote at my employer’s house in the Hollywood Hills. (That’s where the story would get long if I let it.) After a few months, I had a rescue group looking for another Italian greyhound and I got a call that they found one at a high-kill shelter 40 miles from my house. I drove out there at 5:30 a.m. the next day and there was Riley. Emaciated, angry, frightened, and not even close to being an Italian greyhound. They were keeping him in with the big dogs because he was bullying the little ones. He weighed 19 pounds and was unneutered. They said he was a puppy, but it turned out later he was probably more like two years old. When they brought him out of the cage, he hugged the wall like a felon in a prison hallway. Even though he wasn’t “the dog I wanted,” I decided to take him and find a home for him. It took about three days before he completely owned me.
How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?
He just looked like a Riley. Oh, god, he has SO many aliases: Squib, Curly Sue, Curly Bean, Snout, Baby Snout, The Doggle, Ghostfaced Killah, Buggle, Boogle, Pippi Dogstocking, Dogzilla, Fuzzbucket, Biter Box, The Lump, Biscuit, Sweet Pea. I could go on for pages, and I’m even leaving out the really humiliating ones.
Does Riley do more to help or hinder your writing?
I’m not sure I could have finished a book without Riley. He sleeps on my feet all day while I wrangle words onto the page, coaxes me out into the world so I don’t become completely reclusive and feral, doesn’t judge me while I rant and sob into his fur. He’s in his golden years now, and I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do when he’s gone.
How much have actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your published work?
The Weimeraner in my book bears a striking resemblance to a Weimeraner I once knew. Riley hasn’t shown up in my work yet, but trust me, it’s coming. I’m a huge fan of several dog-related books which are aspirational to me, including: Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel, and Ron Koertge’s Strays.
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
He’s oddly unmoved by birds and squirrels, and he’s not particularly interested in most cats when we’re out walking. But there’s a gray cat who taunts him by walking along the awning of our neighbor’s house. He will wake from a dead sleep and leap from the bed to the patio in a single bound to make his frustration known. Anyone delivering anything (postman, UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, even the pizza guy) is most unwelcome in our house. We have to lock him in another room before we open the door. And if we’re out walking, he can spot a delivery person at 50 feet, even though he’s practically blind at this point.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
It’s all about the rope. We live in a very small condo, but we can get a good game of hide-and-seek going, wherein I throw the rope and my husband hides. There are literally only 4 places to go, and Riley is exhilarated and baffled every single time.
Who is Riley's best pet-pal?
He’s slow to warm up to new pals, but he does have a long distance love affair with a pitbull named Buddy in Los Angeles.
What is Riley's best quality?
His unwavering enthusiasm for life’s simple pleasures. Every meal is exciting; every time we come home, he’s beyond thrilled to see us. Every treat is as appreciated as the ones that came before it.
If Riley could change one thing about you, what would it be?
My stinginess with people food.
If Riley could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
Tell me where it hurts, sweetheart.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Riley could speak, who should voice him?
It’s a toss-up between Jack Nicholson and Nathan Lane.
What advice would Riley give if asked?
Just relax. Sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action. Why don’t you take a nap and then see how you feel?
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