Who is pictured in these photos?
I’m Tracee de Hahn and I live and work in an old Victorian house in Virginia. Many times I can be found on my front porch with Alvaro, our nine-year-old Jack Russell, who isn’t always a fan of being cuddled. His sister and litter mate, Laika, is always willing to be held…. particularly in this photo [at right], when we were waiting for the vet prior to her cataract surgery (which was a great success…. all the better to see distant squirrels).
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Who needs a reason! They are with me every day almost all day long. They love walking into town for a coffee.
At home I drink tea – Lady Grey by Twinings. Out of the house I treat myself to a cappuccino.
Any treats for you or Alvaro and Laika on this occasion?
Absolutely – I’m having a scone. Laika isn’t at all interested, she’s more focused on the squirrels (which look like a tasty snack to her). Alvaro [photo left] knows that he will get a doggy treat. He’s very food motivated and waits patiently for his reward.
How were you and your dogs united?
Alvaro and Laika were true life savers. We had a pair of Jack Russells and the girl, Sabatchka, died. She was the sweetest dog in the world and her brother fell into immediate depression (as did my husband). I found a girl puppy all the way up the coast at the top of California (we were living in the center of the state) and we drove there right away. During the seven hour drive we kept saying ‘them’ and not ‘her’. And sure enough we just couldn’t leave the final pup (a boy) there. For many years we had three Jack Russsells and I’m convinced that once our older dog was accustomed to them, they were the mainstay of his life for the next seven years.
How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?
Our boy dogs are traditionally named after famous architects. Alvaro is in honor of Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. The girls have Russian names – in honor of my love of Russian literature. Laika was the first dog in space. The terrier who went up in Sputnik.
Do Alvaro and Laika do more to help or hinder your writing?
That depends on their mood. Many days they sit nearby in their bed or on a chair looking out the window, waiting patiently until we have a walk. Other days they want to be closer, which means I must abandon the desk and sit on a sofa so they can cuddle nearby. Occasionally Laika is only content if she is literally on my lap – with my computer or notebook balanced on top of her.
Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?
The Great Dane in Swiss Vendetta plays a critical role. He is based on a Great Dane I met once in Franklin, Tennessee. A gorgeous harlequin.
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Laika wants to be friends with the neighborhood cats, but they aren’t very willing. Perhaps because they see how desperate she is to catch the squirrels.
Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?
Alvaro love his toys, particularly tennis balls, but really any toy. Squeaky toys lose their squeak after five minutes but that’s five minutes of pure joy so it’s worth it! Now he’s nudging me as a reminder that the rats from Ikea are his favorite. Intended for human children, they don’t have squeakers but they are fun to carry and sleep with.
Who is each dog's best pet-pal?
They have always been together so the bond is strong. With each of our pairs of dogs, the female bonds with my husband and the male with me.
What is each dog's best quality?
Laika – when not obsessed with the squirrels – is very affectionate. Alvaro is playful and loyal.
If Alvaro and Laika could change one thing about Virginians, what would it be?
They love everything about the state. The weather – love that snow! – and how friendly people are. Plus there are lots of dogs, which makes them feel at home everywhere.
Laika was particularly happy when we moved here two years ago because she had terrible skin allergies in California and had to wear a shirt to prevent scratching. Horribly embarrassing for her.
If Alvaro and Laika could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
What could we do to make their routine even better.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, who should voice them?
Kate Winslet for Laika, because of her beautiful voice with a bit of spunk.
Alvaro might be Matt Damon, good humored but also serious.
What advice would your dogs give if asked?
To enjoy every day, that’s their attitude toward life and I think it’s working out for them.
Visit Tracee de Hahn's website.