Who is in the photo at right?
This is Cherie O’Boyle and Shiner. I am a retired professor of psychology who now writes the Estela Nogales humorous cozy mystery series, including Fire at Will’s (pictured), Iced Tee, and coming in February, Missing Mom. Shiner is an almost eight-year old border collie who plays himself in the mysteries. In real-life, Shiner loves to hike in the mountains. He earned his Canine Good Citizen degree at nine months, and is a certified therapy dog. He’s also a four-second flyball racer, has earned his “started” title in sheepherding, and swims like an otter. These days he’s working on agility and dock-diving, in addition to his duties as Canine Consultant for the mystery series.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Every day is an occasion for coffee for me. While the coffee’s brewing, Shiner and I play fetch in the big backyard. He’s the kind of guy who behaves as though he’s already had way too much coffee, so I down enough fresh brew to half-way keep up with him. Another round of fetch. Another cup of coffee. I write a while, drink more coffee, and take the auxiliary dog for a walk, thinking about what comes next in the plot. After lunch, it’s more coffee, more writing and more fetch. At the end of the day we’re off to agility class, swimming, walks along the river and lots more fetch.
Home brewed coffee with a little milk. I’m not picky about brand-name, but the coffee must be “fair-trade” and strong. And the eggs have to be stamped “certified humane”. Chickens deserve a (reasonably) happy life too.
Any treats for you or Shiner on this occasion?
After inhaling his morning kibble, Shiner can’t waste any more time eating. It’s ball-chasing time! No pastries for me either, as I already bear a striking resemblance to a well-stuffed cheese Danish.
How were you and Shiner united?
After decades of working 60 hours a week and leaving my dogs home alone, I wanted a companion who would hike and compete in dog sports with me. I picked Shiner out of a litter of five when he was just five weeks old. He came home at eight weeks and got right to work running me ragged with his activities. Not surprisingly, Shiner ‘temperament tested’ as the most focused and competitive pup in his litter.
How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?
Check out the face. One big black eye. He started out with one black eye, then as his snout got longer, his black eye got even bigger. He’s my Shining Star or sometimes Mr. Shinerman.
Does Shiner do more to help or hinder your writing?
Both Shiner and his fictional border collie brother, Scout, are critical to solving the mysteries in the quirky village of Arroyo Loco. They don’t talk, or think in human language, or do anything the average dog wouldn’t do. They just behave like dogs and that helps the humans figure out whodunnit. For example, (small spoiler alert) what if a dog, unnoticed, does some dog stuff at what later turns out to be the scene of a crime, and the stuff is stepped in by the perpetrator and tracked around? That would provide good circumstantial evidence, right? Honestly, after I wrote that I started to wonder why real bad guys don’t step in dog stuff more often!
The real-life Shiner also likes to be read to, especially the scary parts. And he really loves to hear the scary parts when his name is in the story! Yikes! In addition to providing a great model for my fictional dogs, Shiner also helps a lot with editing by listening while I read the entire manuscript out loud for a final edit.
Have your dogs inspired the creation of any fictional dogs?
The village of Arroyo Loco hosts a variety of fictional non-human characters. There’s Shiner and his older brother, Scout. They pal around together and protect the protagonist, Estela Nogales. The beagle, Itches, is always running off and getting into trouble. There’s an untrustworthy basenji, Zero, who leaves important clues when he makes an unauthorized visit to the community kitchen. Then there are the cats, Mocha, Peaches, and Spumoni, who have a tendency to scatter on approach. Shiner has learned that three cats are significantly harder to herd than a hundred sheep. There’s a turkey vulture who helps find the murder weapon in Iced Tee. Oh, and there was that skunk...
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Squirrel, definitely squirrel. Grrr ... the very word sends Shiner into an excited romp around the yard to find the cheeky invader. He’ll even spit out his ball to chase a squirrel, prompting a new game called “find” when the ball gets lost. Shiner has never come close to catching a squirrel, which only proves how truly terrified he has them all.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
Yes, yes, and yes!
Who is Shiner's best pet-pal?
Real-life Shiner spends most of his time with his adopted sister, “Dog who fell from the clear blue Sky”, so-named because we found her dumped alongside the highway between snow storms. She’s your typical little sister, an annoying pest who pokes you, gets you into trouble, and is always breaking your toys. Both dogs try their best to avoid the two-year-old kitten. She takes the cake in the pest department. Literally. Her name is Patience, but not because she’s got any.
What is Shiner's best quality?
He is gentle and kind with everything that lives (he’s just kidding with the squirrels). He was even voted the “most gentlemanly square-dance partner” at Camp Winnaribbun dog summer camp one year.
If Shiner could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?
He would ask Californians to stop wasting water giving baths to dogs! Use it to fill up lakes, ponds, and rivers to swim in instead. Dogs who go swimming don’t need baths anyway. Unless they find a delicious rotting salmon, which, since it is salmon fishing season here, is tantalizingly likely.
If Shiner could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
Dogs live in a different universe than humans, a universe of smells. If there are words in English that could describe Shiner's universe, I wish he could tell me what that's like.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Shiner could speak, who should voice him?
Marcel Marceau. Just kidding. Marceau was a mime. Like Marceau, Shiner doesn’t speak. He hardly ever even barks. The very idea of Shiner speaking completely wigs-out his human friends. Like your typical border collie, Shiner is non-stop activity. If he ever started speaking, he’d never stop.
What advice would Shiner give if asked?
Shiner is very concerned about the rate of human over-population and how they are taking over the best beaches, parks and trails. He believes firmly that spay and neuter programs should be instituted and fully-funded for humans immediately. He does admit that baby humans smell yummy, and their cheeks are so lick-able. He just thinks there are too many of them.
Visit Cherie O’Boyle's website and Facebook page.