Who is in the photo at right?
That's me, Tracy Libby, and Pony -- one of my four Australian Shepherds—enjoying a brisk, sunny December day in the Cascades. I'm a freelance writer and photographer living in the great Pacific Northwest, so I take every opportunity to swim, hike, and hang out in the high country. It rains a lot in western Oregon, so when the sun shines it's a real treat. We never miss an opportunity to head to the high lakes to blow off the stink, take in the gorgeous scenery, photograph dogs, and re-energize our creativity.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
We're celebrating my newest book—Reporting for Duty. True Stories of Wounded Veterans and Their Service Dogs—that hits bookshelves on October 27, 2015.
I come from strong English stock, so I'm a tea drinker (but don't hold that against me!) I'm always game for new teas, but one of my favorite go-to teas is Earl Grey, but I also love a good Chai tea.
Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?
My pockets are always loaded with tidbits of cheese, liver, turkey, etc (and the dogs know it!)
How were you and your dogs united?
I've owned Australian Shepherds and been involved in the sport of pure-bred dogs for three decades—exhibiting them in conformation, obedience, and agility. Pony was born in our spare bedroom and has spent every day of her life with me and my husband. Moses and Jiggs were bred by separate yet very responsible breeders in California. Haven was bred by a longtime breeder friend in California and came to live with us when she was one year old. It was love at first sight.
How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
When it comes to naming and registering pure-bred dogs, breeders and owners take that task very seriously. We're always on the lookout for fun, catchy names that have never been used, which is challenging. Of course, you also try to come up with a call name that plays off the registered name. Pony weighed 6 ounces at birth (compared to her siblings who weighed in at nearly 12 ounces). So tiny, she reminded me of a newborn filly—so we named her Pony, and it stuck. Her registered name then became Dancin' Eyes Pony Up at White Mountain. I'm pretty sure she's the only dog named Pony. Moses had already been named Parkhills Justice from Heaven, which we couldn't change, so we named him Moses, which I think is a super cool name for a dog. Haven was already named when she came to live with us. Her nickname is Miss B Haven because she can be quite the mischief maker. I loved the name Jiggs, so that's what we named him, but it has nothing to do with his registered name Lakehills HapyHour at White Mountain, but that's okay. It happens. His slew of nicknames include Jiggy, Mr. G, G-man, Red Dog, and Supermodel—because he loves posing for pictures.
Do your dogs do more to help or hinder your writing?
They disapprove of my working because when I'm working I'm not playing with them. They try their best to be patient, but I regularly give in to their pitiful looks and we head outdoors for some training, retrieving, swimming, etc. It's just part of loving the dogs that we keep. In a weird way, that helps with creativity because it gets me outside, clears my brain, and gets me thinking in a new light.
Please tell us about your new book.
In my newest book Reporting for Duty. True Stories of Wounded Veterans and Their Service Dogs you will meet 15 wounded veterans who unselfishly volunteered to protect our freedom, and in doing so, paid an enormous price. The meat and potatoes of the book are the 15 wounded veterans who share their stories of adversity and triumph and who benefit daily from the assistance, companionship, and unconditional love of a trained service dog. You'll also read about the history of guide dogs and dogs for the hearing impaired, as well as the history of therapy dogs, canine co-therapists, puppy prison programs (puppies who are raised and trained by prison inmates and then placed as service dogs), and the selection and training of shelter dogs as service dogs.
Do you have any favorites among the dogs you met while working on Reporting for Duty?
Picking a favorite is like asking a parent to pick his or her favorite child! All of the dogs are incredible, as are their owners. What I found most remarkable is that with all of the medical and scientific technology available to rebuild body parts—hands, arms, legs—it is the dog who saves the veterans' life. The dog who pulls them back from the brink of suicide. Getting to know the veterans and sharing their stories has become part of the deepest, happiest, most cherished part of my writing career.
Who is that on the cover of Reporting for Duty?
The editors picked this photo. It was taken by photographer Don Burk, and it appeared in the Florida Times-Union. An editor saw the photo, fell in love with it, and, as they say, the rest is history. It ended up on the cover of the book. A perfectly emblematic photograph, representative of the power of dogs.
What is each dog's best quality?
All the my dogs have beautiful, kind spirits and are nothing short of perfect. At five years old, Pony's happy-go-lucky personality and goofy sense of humor make my heart sing every single day. She fills my life with endless kisses, cuddles, and giggles. At 13 years old, Moses is retired and has slowed down just a tad. He still does everything with gusto—from retrieving to swimming to riding in the truck to eating. His enthusiasm for life is contagious. Jiggy is a gentle soul. Kind. Considerate. Calm...he overflows with intelligence and empathy. For nine years he has remained wonderfully loyal and fiercely protective when the need arises. Haven has two speeds: fast and go faster! Her high-drive and high-energy are quintessential Australian Shepherd. She's serious, focused and determined with a quirky, yet dry English-type sense of humor. I love that that she's head-over-heels in love with me.
If your dogs could change one thing about Oregonians, what would it be?
Jiggy, Moses, and Pony would insist on endless play—all day every day. Haven would round everyone up and herd them to California.
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
They're Australian Shepherds — speaking English would be dumbing them down. They already think they're smarter than I am—and most days they are.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, who should voice them?
Yikes. I'm a bookworm. I haven't been to the movies in years. For the boys—Moses and Jiggy—he would have to be very manly, someone like Sam Elliott, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Gary Grant, or, my favorite, Gregory Peck. For the girls, definitely Katharine Hepburn.
What advice would your dogs give if asked?
Drive faster, mummy! We're going to be late for the show.
Visit Tracy Libby's website.