Who is in the photo at right?
That’s me, Julie Strauss Bettinger, and my “editorial assistant,” Lily Belle. I’m an author and she’s in charge of humor breaks, naptime and walks to see her four legged friends up the hill. She just turned four, but, like most yellow Labradors, has no plans to leave puppyhood.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
We work together all week at my home office, but on Saturdays, I like to work from a place called RedEye coffee. My most recently published book about a dog was written mostly in a back corner of that café. So for this occasion, I asked special permission, and brought Lily by for a visit. The baristas loved it. One of them helped me get the photo (which involved many doggie kisses between shots).
Large-caramel-macchiato-with-hazelnut-instead-of-vanilla-and-whipped-cream. Jason is usually mixing it when he sees me walk in the door.
Any treats for you or Lily Belle on this occasion?
Since she was especially good, sacrificing valuable naptime to accompany me, I gave her extra liver treats. Coffee was the only treat her human needed.
How were you and Lily Belle united?
My husband Jim and I were “between dogs” for five years, after an extended illness took our middle dog when she was only eight. When I started writing Encounters with Rikki, all the dog people I interviewed were taking bets on how soon they thought Julie and Jim would be adopting again. It turned out to be about nine months. Our hearts were waiting for Lily!
How did your dog get her name? Any aliases?
Five minutes down the road, as I cradled our just weaned girl in my lap, my husband and I were entertaining names. Her big sister’s name was Daisy Bell, so the flower theme seemed to fit. Plus, it was springtime. And we’re in the south, so she just “had” to have a double name. The writer in me insisted on something unique in the spelling, like a southern belle. And we use numerous terms of endearment. My most common: “Puppy Girl.”
Does Lily Belle do more to help or hinder your writing?
She plays a crucial role in my mental and physical health by forcing me to take breaks for potty time, snack time and play dates with neighbor dogs. The underlying theme of my book is the power of the human-animal bond through animal assisted therapy, and she is a constant source of therapy for me.
Please tell us about your new book, Encounters With Rikki: from Hurricane Katrina rescue to exceptional Therapy Dog.
As my publisher described it, “Lives change when a man discovers his rescue dog’s ability to heal trauma survivors.”
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Squirrels – lots of them. Lily Belle’s playground (our backyard), which we also call her “Queendom,” is full of the rascals. Only one of them ever lost a race with her. So sad. Oh! And lizards, her second favorite. All happy endings on those relationships (that we know about).
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
All of the above, after all, she’s a Lab! But her absolute favorite is a squeaky tennis ball. She chews it like bubble gum and the noise seems to give her an extra sense of satisfaction. You can see it in her eyes.
Who is Lily Belle's best pet-pal?
Her first “boyfriend,” is Cooper. He lives across the street and they were in the same basic obedience class. They still play the best together. It’s like watching a perfectly matched couple waltz, their rhythm in play is spectacular.
If Lily Belle could change one thing about Floridians, what would it be?
I don’t know, she’s pretty content with the ones she’s met so far. They walk by her fence and reach through the posts to scratch her head and smooth her ears. If they dare to ignore her, she barks briefly to summon them over. They’re quite accommodating.
What is Lily Belle's best quality?
Her various sleeping positions. I have more photos of Lily sleeping than I do of waking moments. I just never get tired of seeing her upside-down, spread eagle, with lips dangling to expose fangs and tightly clenched eyes. It’s irresistible to my iPhone.
[photo left: Lily Belle with Dixie, the Black Lab, and Remington, the Golden mix]
If Lily Belle could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?
What are your nightmares made of? This continues to baffle us: exactly what is scary in her life that causes the occasional whimpering in her sleep? Her life sure seems pretty blissful to me.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Lily Belle could speak, who should voice her?
Sandra Bullock. She’s the only actress I know who has re-created a believable southern accent.
What advice would Lily Belle give if asked?
Slow down, enjoy more adventurous walks on the greenway and remember that routines are good for the soul.
Visit Julie Strauss Bettinger's website, and learn more about Encounters With Rikki: from Hurricane Katrina rescue to exceptional Therapy Dog.