Who is in the photo at right?
Why, hello. It’s me, Sally J. Pla, debut author of The Someday Birds, with my golden doodle, Leo. He is large. Almost 80 pounds of large. A bit of a jumbo doodle. Let’s call him a Venti.
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Leo jumps heavily onto the foot of my bed every morning. Then he drags me downstairs for coffee, a scoop of kibble, and a wee. Me, I’d rather slide straight from REM sleep right into writing, but it is never to be. So the occasion, here, is our every-morning routine…coffee in the kitchen.
Bella Donovan roast, ordered online from Blue Bottle, in a Bodum French press, with cream and sugar. Leo always asks to lick the cup. I don’t usually let him.
Any treats for you or Leo on this occasion?
There’s a French café/bakery down the road; on weekends, I’ll head down for a croissant to go. They have a raspberry almond variety that’s darn fine. That, on a Sunday, with The New York Times and the sun streaming in the kitchen, is a pretty optimum coffee-with-canine experience.
How were you and Leo united?
When my son was 10, he campaigned like crazy for second dog. We resisted, until the day he developed acute appendicitis. They wheeled my son into the OR, still pleading, hands clasped, suffering, angelic. “All this would be better if I only had a puppy!” he moaned. What monster would say no to that?
We got Leo soon after. And as the two homebodies of the family, Leo and I… bonded. Deeply. It happened almost from day one – while Leo loves my son, he has always been ‘my’ dog, somehow. I feel closer to him than to many people.
Several years ago, I was bedridden for a month after major surgery. Leo never left the foot of my bed. He never left me. My son had to pull him by the collar to get him to go downstairs to eat. Leo guards my bed every night, and is never more than an arm’s reach away from me at all times. When I leave to run errands, he parks himself by the front door until I get back. I can’t even go to the bathroom without him standing guard. It’s really a little ridiculous. But his loyalty and devotion is heart-melting. I’d do anything for that dog.
How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?
He was carefully and lovingly named by my son.
Does Leo do more to help or hinder your writing?
He helps and hinders. He’s missed plenty of walks because I was too deeply in thrall to a scene, too immersed. He is infinitely patient, slumped nearby, sleeping, awaiting the Magical Sound of the Closing of the Laptop. When he hears it—no matter how softly I close that MacBook—he scrambles up quickly in exasperated anticipation: “Are we finally going to do something now?” he’ll asks me. (Yes, he talks.)
Has Leo inspired the creation of any fictional dogs?
There’s a bit of Leo in the three-legged stray, Tiberius, that Charlie and his brothers rescue in The Someday Birds. And Leo’s goofy side is in Albert Einstein, the world’s least intelligent golden retriever of my second middle-grade novel, John Lockdown is in the Building (HarperCollins 2018). I cannot imagine writing a novel without a dog in it. Dogs rule!
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Cat-phobia. Squirrel-perplexion. Postal workers incite frenzied love-attacks.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
He’s a heavy chewer. The only thing that stands up is an elk horn or Galileo Bone, heavy as a rock, and when Leo chews on it, the whole house shakes.
Who is Leo's best pet-pal?
Although Copper, the neighbor’s teacup Yorkie, is fairly well tolerated, Leo’s not a dog’s dog. Leo thinks he’s a person. A timid person. At dog parks, he hides behind my knees like a kid on the first day of preschool.
What is Leo's best quality?
Could it be the intelligence and emotional honesty in his eyes? The warm leathery feel of the inside of his ears? How his floofy feet are the size of dinner plates? Could it be the unconditional mutual love? Seriously, it’s a problem how much I adore this dog.
If Leo could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?
He’d tell them to give homes to more real dogs, not those tiny spoiled yippy purse-toys.
If Leo could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
Are you comfortable and happy?
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Leo could speak, who should voice him?
Some magical meld of Jemaine Clement, Robin Williams, and Greg Kinnear.
What advice would Leo give if asked?
He’d say: “Stop obsessing about the pet hair on your leggings. Concentrate on the good stuff, on treasuring our every moment. A dog’s life is fleeting. Don’t forget to stop and smell the coffee.”
Visit Sally J. Pla's website.