Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Claire LaZebnik & Harvey, Lula and Mabel

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Claire LaZebnik, book author, mother of four, and wife to a Simpsons writer. I have three dogs: Harvey (a male yellow Lab—he’s thirteen), Mabel (a female boxer/German Shepherd mix—mature adult but I’m not sure how old), Lula (female small terrier mix, also mature adult). And there’s Juno the cat but she doesn’t get to join us for coffee today.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Thought I’d grab my laptop and work a bit at a table outside of Starbucks, while Lula hangs out in my lap. She likes to sit in laps. I’d say her entire being is focused on getting into someone’s lap. She’s not picky about whose, although she prefers mine to anyone else’s.

What's brewing?

Black iced Americano. The most refreshing drink of all. It’s like slightly bitter water. If I’m hot and thirsty, it satisfies me like nothing else. You need the perfect ratio of ice to coffee though—too much coffee and the ice melts and the drink goes warm, which is unpleasant, and too much ice, you only get a few sips of coffee before it’s gone.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Starbucks sous vide egg whites—hot and smooth and delicious and as good for the pup as for me.

How were you and your dogs united?

We got Harvey, our old Lab, at a school fundraiser; I guess someone had asked his breeder to donate a puppy. Harvey was being passed from arm to arm and he was so calm and gentle, even my husband (who doesn’t always like dogs) was attracted to him. We’d both had a glass of wine, so I said, “Let’s bid on him,” and he said, “Sure—we’ll be outbid instantly so why not?” We bid and no one else raised a hand after. We were shocked. We thought tons of people would want him. We went home with him that night and our kids have never been more excited than when they discovered we had gained a dog while they were asleep.

Lula and Mabel are both rescues. My daughter fell in love with Lula when she was volunteering for a dog shelter and begged us to adopt her. Mabel’s also adopted but her story is long and complicated—I tell the whole thing in a book of essays and recipes I edited, called SisterWriterEaters. If anyone’s interested, it’s available on Amazon.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Harvey was named after the invisible rabbit Harvey from the play, because he was big and goofy and sweet. Lula is short for “Cholula,” my husband’s favorite hot sauce (we wanted him to like her). She had been named “Mandy” but we didn’t like that so we changed it. And Mabel came with her name—we liked it so we kept it.

Do your dogs do more to help or hinder your writing?

Oh, hinder, definitely. They’re always barking at something and distracting me or needing walks or attention. Sometimes I have to leave the house and go to a coffee shop to write just to get anything done. On the plus side, they’re good for my health—I wouldn’t walk so much without them. And of course I love them.

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

Yes, there’s a sweet big dog in one of my novels (If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now). She’s named “Eleanor Roosevelt.” I wish I’d named a dog that. It’s a great dog name. Anyway, she definitely has some Harvey-like characteristics.

Cat, postman, squirrel…?

Harvey loves the world and refuses to chase anything or anyone. We had ducks living in our pool and he did nothing to dissuade them. Lula only pays attention to humans and wants to sit in all their laps, but Mabel will chase and bark at absolutely everything. The poor UPS guy is terrified of her.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick…?

Ball. Harvey used to fetch for hours but he’s too old now to run. Lula doesn’t play with anything, and Mabel likes to run after balls but doesn’t bring them back.

Who is each dog's best pet-pal?

Harvey and Mabel are very close—they’re rarely far apart physically. Lula isn’t interested in other pets. Just people.

What is each dog's best quality?

Harvey is pure goodness. He would never hurt a fly. Our kitten used to swat at his tail and he would just let her.

Lula is like a living stuffed animal. She curls up with you when you sleep or work and makes every space feel cozy.

Mabel was probably abused in her previous life and is less overtly lovable, but the fact she has bonded to me and trusts me completely is really touching and meaningful.

If your dogs could change one thing about Angelenos, what would it be?

Mabel would like all the friendly people who come near her to stop putting their hands in her face. People do it to introduce themselves—we’re all taught that with a new dog—but I think some owner must have hit her in the face because it’s scary to her.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

I would ask Mabel about her previous life. I would ask Harvey whether anything hurts (he’s getting old and moving stiffly), and I would ask Lula why she likes to be held so much. And if the cat could speak, I would ask her about her nocturnal adventures.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs--and Juno the cat--could speak, who should voice them?

Harvey would be Morgan Freeman; Lula would be Kristen Schaal; Mabel would be Julianna Margulies; and Juno would be Scarlett Johansson.

What advice would your dogs give if asked?

Don’t step in the poop.

Visit Claire LaZebnik's website.

--Marshal Zeringue