Who is in the photo at right?
I'm Gayle Mansfield Irwin, author of inspirational dog books and stories for children and adults, and freelance writer for various magazines and newspapers. I write a monthly pet column that appears in a few publications, and I'm also a contributor to several Chicken Soup for the Soul books. This is Mary, a 10-year-old female springer-cocker mix who my husband and I adopted in February 2013, about a year after the passing of our blind springer spaniel named Sage – Sage was the catalyst for my book writing.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
This is my home writing space, complete with a bench near the east-facing windows. I am a morning writer, and I start the pre-dawn hours with coffee. My office has several banks of windows that look onto the front yard where I feed the neighborhood songbirds and squirrels. The early-morning is quiet and prime time for me to write and for Mary to join me in my office – she likes sitting on the bench and watching out the windows. We both seem to enjoy watching the sunrise.
I enjoy World Market Fair Trade Costa Rican blend with Truvia and a chocolate-mint or chocolate-raspberry creamer. I usually drink from my springer spaniel mug or my “Rescue Mom” cup, reminding me of part of my life's purpose: to help, love, and adopt dogs.
Any treats for you or Mary on this occasion?
Bagels and berries for me and bacon or chicken-flavored jerky for Mary. I'm working on two children’s books right now, one called BobCat Goes to School. It's based on an actual event in my parents' small Montana town when the neighbor's cat got locked in the school building for a weekend. The story is filled with mischief and humor, and a reminder to children that school is a great place for kids to go and learn but it's not the best place for a kitty!
How were you and Mary united?
I began writing books in 2007 based on life with my blind springer spaniel named Sage. My husband and I adopted Sage in 2001 and by 2003 she was completely blind due to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). She was an incredible dog, persevering and courageous, and she taught me many lessons in life. I wrote my first book Sage's Big Adventure based on her life, including losing her for several days in a forest that's home to bears and mountain lions. How she survived, blind and alone, was/is a miracle! So, I wove those lessons of courage, perseverance, adaptability, and self-confidence into the story, hoping to inspire children (and adults) who face tough situations in life. I enjoyed more than a decade with Sage. She passed away from cancer in 2012. I've been a supporter of various pet rescue groups for years, often transporting dogs into foster care or to their new homes. One of those organizations is English Springer Spaniel Rescue. Mary came up for adoption in early 2013, and though my husband and I weren't sure we were ready, we decided to go and meet her. Within two hours, we knew she was meant for us and so we brought her home. Mary's special human had died suddenly a few months before, and she needed a new family … and we were ready for a new dog. She's been a wonderful addition to our family! Mary is trained as a therapy dog, and that's something I had wanted to do with Sage and never did, although she visited libraries, schools, and bookstores with me and was fabulous! Mary does well one-on-one or with small groups, such as a library setting; she's more nervous in larger group settings, such as classrooms. We've shared many library visits together and I hope we'll continue to do so for several more years.
How did your dog get her name? Any aliases?
Mary was almost 7 when we adopted her, and she already had that name, so we kept it. I sometimes call her “Pumpkin” or “Sweetie” and my husband refers to her as his “good girl” – they are very bonded.
Does Mary do more to help or hinder your writing?
Mary helps my writing, and she is a part of my two dog devotion books. However, she barks at people who walk by the house, so when kids walk to school and Mary is watching out the window, I get disrupted. But, then I take the time to make and eat breakfast, so it all works out! I can usually get in about two hours of writing time before the barking begins! Mary will have her own book someday, just like my other dogs, Sage and Cody, as I'm also writing a dog rescue book for children, and will highlight some of the dogs I've helped rescue and re-home, including Mary.
Please tell us about your books.
Currently I have three children's books: Sage's Big Adventure...; Sage Finds Friends; and Cody's Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. All encourage kids in some way, weaving lessons about friendship, courage, perseverance, and self-confidence. Cody's Cabin... teaches about the plants and animals in a Rocky Mountain forest, as experienced through the senses of a dog, and it includes several activities and other nature educational tools. My other three books are faith-based devotional-style publications about the lessons we learn from dogs, including appreciation for nature, loyalty, and kindness. Those books are: Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog; Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God; and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice – Lessons from a Blind Dog and Other Canines I've Known. I've also written and published a Kindle book for owners of blind dogs, providing tips and encouragement on traveling the journey of blindness with a special canine; the book is called Help! My Dog is Going Blind – Now What Do I Do?
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Mary loves people and other animals, although she gets overly excited sometimes to get to know them and to play with them (people, cats, and other dogs) and that can be off-putting by some. She is also of a bird-hunting breed so chasing squirrels is a fun activity for her.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
She was given a squeaky-chicken for her birthday, and that has become her favorite toy. She still has her previous favorite, a squeaky-penguin, as well as a rubber ball. But, the chicken is the beat all to end all at this moment in time!
Who is Mary's best pet-pal?
Sadly, she has lost her favorite pet friends recently: Cody, a cocker spaniel my husband and I adopted in 2008 when we still had Sage (Cody was nearly 18 when he died in January of this year); and Chewy, a shepherd-mix who belonged to one of my best friends – Mary and Chewy were both therapy dogs and we would all go to our local library about four times a year to conduct programs for kids and have them read to the two dogs; Chewy died about a week after Cody did – Chewy was more than 10 years old and had been diagnosed with cancer last fall.
What is Mary's best quality?
Her kindness and affection toward people – she loves people and wants to be with them. She enjoys sitting next to someone's legs or lying near them on the couch. She makes a great therapy dog, for me and my husband, our friends, even strangers. She just wants to be with you and to love you in her special doggie way.
If Mary could change one thing about Wyomingites, what would it be?
To not let people put their dogs in the back of pick-up trucks.
[photo left: Sage & Gayle, 2008]
If Mary could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?
“Do you remember your other human family, the one before Greg and I, and do you miss them?” I've always wondered, being part of pet rescue, what animals remember about their previous lives. Change can be very difficult and they must wonder why there are shuffled from home to home, whether that be via foster homes with rescue groups or cages in animal shelters.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Mary could speak, who should voice her?
Pauley Perrette of NCIS – I love her character in the show and in real life (Pauley is a huge animal lover!!)
What advice would Mary give if asked?
“Treat every person and every creature with kindness, respect, and compassion – everyone has problems and shortcomings, no one is perfect. But, we are all loved by and bound to the Creator.”
Visit Gayle M. Irwin's website.