Saturday, April 13, 2019

Laura Testino & Rita June

Who is in the photo at right?

This is Rita June and I! I’m Laura Testino, a life and culture reporting fellow at | The Times-Picayune. It is ridiculous that my job exists, because it requires that I write about some of the most interesting and entertaining people and places in New Orleans, coincidentally one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world. Rita and I are both from the South; her from Alabama and myself from Georgia, but I adopted her a couple of years ago when I was living in New York City. She’s a spunky and energetic cattle dog mix, but gets along great in the city. The best guess for her age is around 5 (she celebrates her birthday in October), but most people who meet her think she is much younger.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Rita loves walking to this library in our neighborhood. It used to be an old home (once the residence of film star Marguerite Clark!), so it has a large and hilly lawn with several pockets for her to sniff and explore. While we lived in New York, her favorite place to go was the steps of the MET Museum, because she liked to watch the people and the cars travel orderly (read: herd themselves) down 5th Avenue. I think there’s a similar attraction for her, a herding dog, to sit on the steps at this library and watch the streetcar and other cars and people. She thinks she is very fancy, I’m sure.

We walk over to the library a few times each week, and I either bring my own coffee or make a pit stop at French Truck Coffee, which is on the way.

What's brewing?

On this coffee date, it was coffee brewed at home. I like the routine of coffee each day and save the frills for special occasions. I usually brew about 4 cups of Trader Joe’s medium roast for a serving, which probably means I have a very unhealthy addiction. If I’m drinking iced coffee, it gets a splash of almond milk and extra ice.

From French Truck coffee, I like their NOLA Iced Coffee, but order it half sweetened.

Any treats for you or Rita on this occasion?

Yes! My family was in town, and my mom brought me some homemade blueberry muffins. Rita loves blueberries, so she got to have a few pieces herself.

How were you and Rita united?

I chalk that up to a knowingly irresponsible decision that I, truthfully, have been lucky enough to not ever regret, (except maybe on the weekend mornings when I’d rather not be awake before 8).

Rita was on Petfinder a few weeks after I’d moved to New York City from Alabama, where I graduated college, and I had wanted to have another dog for a long time. My first dog, Daisy, was a gift for my kindergarten graduation, but died right when I started high school.

I went to the shelter with the intent of just visiting Rita. Her Petfinder profile pegged her at the perfect apartment size (about 35 pounds), and I liked that she wasn’t a puppy but still a young 3-years-old. Once I got there, I found out she’d been adopted and returned a couple times, and it crushed me. When I found out she was from Alabama and born on a date that was special to me, I knew I had to get her. She came to her new home a week later.

How did your dog get her name? Any aliases?

Rita was Rita in the shelter, and I added her middle name, June. There, they nicknamed her “Ri-Ri,” but from me she gets: Rita, Rita J, Rita June, RJ and Rita bean.

When you're writing, does Rita do more to help or hinder your work?

If Rita is awake, she probably wants attention. She once sat for half an hour in the tiny barstool seat in my kitchen next to mine while I was writing. Her wet nose often pops up under my elbow while I’m typing to remind me that Hello, My name is Rita and you haven’t pet me in, like 5 whole minutes.

Even though it’s not productive to work in the same room as her, having her to keep me on a routine is great. I catch up on reading while we’re out at the park, and taking a couple walks each day is a great work break to look forward to and recharge from.

Your article "New Orleans UPS driver shares photos of the pups on his route" blew up in my social media feeds. Has Rita met the driver?

Ha! I wish she could meet Jay. Unfortunately, we don’t live on his route.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Cats are public enemy number 1. She’s been known to chase a squirrel’s shadow, though, also.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

“Green ball” is her favorite to play with inside, but she has squeaky pig, duck and snake toys that she’ll make music with for attention. Rita loves to find a stick to munch on for a while at the library.

Where is Rita's favorite outdoor destination?

She loves going to any park, or anywhere else where there’s lots to sniff and room to run in circles at a million miles a minute. Specifically, though, any place with springy grass to roll in is Rita Heaven.

Who is Rita's best pet-pal?

Rita June is one intense lady, and playing is no joking matter. She doesn’t have one best pal in particular, but welcomes any other pup who enjoys being chased at lightning speed.

What is Rita's best quality?

She’s spunky and smart! It’s great to have a furry companion that is so observant and attentive.

If Rita could change one thing about New Orleanians, what would it be?

Ha, probably to keep their cats inside unless said cats can be chased!

If Rita could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

I’d really like to know how much different her life is now from what it was before she was adopted. I don’t know much, other than that she was rescued by one shelter from living in a little concrete, fenced-in patio area with a couple other dogs, and then shipped up to the shelter in New York where I found her.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Rita could speak, who should voice her?

Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama accent would do.

What advice would Rita give if asked?

Rita June would say to go after what you want, and to play as hard as you work as hard as you rest.

Read Laura Testino's reporting at | The Times-Picayune.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 29, 2019

Shelley Sackier & Haggis

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Shelley Sackier, here with Haggis—seriously, he is the smartest hound I’ve ever had the pleasure of keeping company with. Haggis is a nine-year-old golden doodle who probably shares half my brain, and definitely half of my food.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Haggis is with me nearly 24/7, so whatever I’m cooking/baking/drinking/eating, he offers up his palate as beta taster. Brave of him. And kind.

What's brewing?

Usually my cup is full of some small farm organic, Fairtrade, South American grind—something so strong it’ll scrape the tartar off your teeth. Then, once my eyes have gone to their fully opened position, I switch to herbal teas—but punchy, tart, and tangy ones.

Any treats for you or Haggis on this occasion?

Our coffee is always accompanied by a large spoonful of almond butter. Make that two. One for me, and always one for Haggis.

How were you and Haggis united?

I met Haggis about a day after he was born. He was piled up with about 8 or 9 other brothers and sisters—all of them just working on breathing. Necessary skills on day one. I then came back once he’d perfected this, along with the talents of running and tumbling, about 6 weeks later to take him home with me. Happy, happy day.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

Haggis is named after my favorite food. A Scottish dish that’s a little bit like a round sausage. There are a few more bits and bobs than just meat within the “sausage,” but as some of those ingredients tend to make people a teensy bit queasy, I shall refrain from including them in this description. But oh, wow, yum. Seriously. Nearly as scrumptious as my hound.

He is also referred to as Mr. Muttonchops and The Fluffernutter.

Does Haggis do more to help or hinder your writing?

Haggis is a perfect writing companion. My beta reader for sure. He lies in a giant pile of white fur under my feet until he hears the keyboard stop clacking, or he sees the sun slant at a specific angle. Then it’s time for a walk to put some necessary oxygen in our brains.

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

Yup. Haggis is in my middle grade contemporary humor book Dear Opl, but known to readers as “Mr. Muttonchops.”

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Haggis and my cat Smudge wrestle together beautifully. I know that is a challenging thing to envision, but they are the best of friends. Smudge is much braver and will chase Haggis everywhere, but sometimes I think he’s just so big hearted that he’s making Smudge think she’s super courageous to be “attacking” a big dog. It’s hysterically funny.

And throw in bunnies, fox, deer, raccoons, skunk, bobcats, and bear as his other chase-worthy companions. Haggis sees them every day, but realizes that entire group runs much, much faster than he does. He’s also a big birdwatcher, and will sit for hours just enjoying their flight patterns.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Nope. Not much of a toy kinda guy. Mostly he’s just chewing on the remnants of deer bones from the woods. Such a fierce warrior. [snort]

Where is Haggis's favorite outdoor destination?

Haggis and I live on top of a mountain in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. We hike every single day. So any path in a forest is his favorite place to tread. There is just so so much to smell.

Who is Haggis's best pet-pal?

Definitely Smudge. I just love their friendship.

What is Haggis's best quality?

Haggis has the greatest smile ever. He’s the happiest dog I’ve ever seen. You call him, and he comes a’runnin’.

If Haggis could change one thing about Virginians, what would it be?

I think he would ask them to leave a bit more meat on the deer bones they give him as treats. We have a lot of hunters here, and he’s the lucky recipient of anything they might not find a use for.

If Haggis could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

Could you please tell me if anything hurts? Please?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Haggis could speak, who should voice him?

Bill Murray.

What advice would Haggis give if asked?

Stay away from the small black things that look like wambling, chubby dogs. Their mothers are incredibly mean—they roar and bite.

Also, we should eat more meat. I meant you. You should eat more meat. I’m fine with this stuff in my bowl, unless, of course, you can’t finish what’s in yours. Then I’m happy to help. But there really should be more meat in your bowl.

Visit Shelley Sackier's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Antidote.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Laura Pohl & Vina

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Laura Pohl, here with Vina! Vina’s a two-year-old dachshund who loves to chew toys and sleep. She’s a good company always.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I have coffee every morning sitting next to her. Or in this case, sometimes I get coffee while working and she’s still sleeping in bed.

What's brewing?

I love cappuccinos, but usually have a healthy dose of café au lait in the mornings. Brazilian brands only.

Any treats for you or Vina on this occasion?

I’m eating brownies my friend baked. Vina’s eyeing them in the hopes of getting some, but she’s already had her morning biscuit.

How were you and Vina united?

Vina’s a rescue dog. Me and my roommate rescued her from people who were abusing her and did not want dogs. She was real quiet and scared at first, but she warmed up to us quickly and is very affectionate.

How did your dog get her name? Any aliases?

Vina is slang for “sausage” in Curitiba, Brazil — the city where I grew up. I thought it’d be amusing to name her that. She always answers when I call her “baby” though.

Does Vina do more to help or hinder your writing?

She does both. Sometimes she really wants attention and I need to stop writing and walk with her or play, but usually she stays asleep while I work and is there when I need a break.

Has Vina inspired the creation of any fictional dogs?

Yes! My debut book, The Last 8, has a dog in it – Sputnik is a Bernese Mountain Dog, but she has much of the same personality as Vina. Very chaotic but very cute.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

We live in an apartment building, so it ends up being just the doorman or the neighbor next door (who she deeply despises).

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Her favorite toy is a ball that’s shaped as a meteor.

Where is Vina's favorite outdoor destination?

The dog park a couple of blocks away.

Who is Vina's best pet-pal?

My parents’ dog, Fadinha. She’s also a dachshund, and they get along pretty well.

What is Vina's best quality?

I think she’s very loving toward everyone she encounters. Once she meets them, she’s very protective of people, and likes cuddling and just being affectionate.

If Vina could answer only one question in English or Portuguese, what would you ask her?

Why do you keep throwing your own ball in places you can’t reach only so I have to get it for you?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Vina could speak, who should voice her?

Huuh, that’s a hard one! I feel like Vina would have to be someone a little bit sarcastic as well, maybe like Chelsea Peretti.

What advice would Vina give if asked?

Vina is a firm believer in taking naps and taking breaks. Don’t overwork yourself—you have all the time in the world.

Visit Laura Pohl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Elisabeth Elo & Freddie

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Elisabeth Elo, author of suspense novels, with Freddie, my three-year-old golden doodle (1/4 golden retriever, ¾ poodle).

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Freddie and I go out to get coffee every morning. We drive, and he usually sits on the middle console leaning into my shoulder. Or he sits in the passenger street paying close attention to dogs on their morning walk. By this time, he’s already had a good romp in the dog park.

What's brewing?

Large latte. I heat it up some more when I get it home because I like it very hot. Then I put it in the trusty pink thermos my daughter gave me, and it gets me through a few hours of work. I’m always sorry when it’s done.

Any treats for you or Freddie on this occasion?

Freddie has breakfast at this time. When he’s finished eating, he comes over to lick his chops at me and get patted. If I don’t pay attention to him right away, he swipes my leg with his paw. I think he likes to share the joy of a good meal.

How were you and Freddie united?

I was allergic to the last dog we had and spent twelve years sniffling and feeling scratchy whenever I got too close to him. It was OK because that dog was really my kids’ dog and he got lots of attention from them. I knew that our next dog would be mostly mine, and I couldn’t risk feeling uncomfortable around him, so I figured he would have to be a poodle or poodle mix. I did a lot of research and visited a number of breeders. In the end the search was entirely worth it because Freddie is a fabulous dog and I’m symptom-free.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

Just out of the blue. Freddie feels like someone you’d like to hang around with—a friendly, low-maintenance kind of guy. However, he does have names for different facets of his personality. His formal title is Frederick the Great, and in certain circles he’s known as Freddie Wop.

As T.S. Eliot pointed out in his famous poem “The Naming of Cats,” an animal sometimes has a name known to him alone: “An ineffable effable / Effanineffable / Deep and inscrutable singular Name.” I have reason to believe that Freddie also possesses one of these secret mysterious Names, but of course I’ll never know for sure.

Does Freddie do more to help or hinder your writing?

He keeps me from working in coffee shops because I don’t want to leave him alone for too long. That may seem like a hindrance, but it’s actually not, because I think coffee shops were just a distraction for me anyway. Now that I have Freddie, I just sit at my desk in the morning without a lot of futzing around (but with coffee). We mostly ignore each other until about three-thirty in the afternoon when, without fail, he comes over and swipes my leg with his paw as if to say, “That’s enough. Take a damn break, would you?”

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Freddie loves all sentient beings with the exception of dogs larger than himself. He spends a lot of time resting on the couch looking out the window and, when he sees one of these possible aggressors on the street, he reacts with sudden, protective vigor. I can usually talk him out of this reaction, and he usually complies, but not before he’s looked at me as if I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about it.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Ball, unless there are other dogs around to play with. In the house, he tears up old T-shirts.

Where is Freddie's favorite outdoor destination?

Anywhere with my husband, who often takes long walks.

What is Freddie's best quality?

Unquenchable joie de vivre.

If Freddie could change one thing about you, what would it be?

He’s not judgmental at all. He likes everyone just the way they are, including me.

If Freddie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

What can I do to make your life happier?

What advice would Freddie give if asked?

Don’t worry. We’re not meant to know everything.

Visit Elisabeth Elo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 2, 2019

A.F. Brady & Maurice

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Alex (A.F. Brady) and I am a psychotherapist and author. My dog is Maurice, a seven-year-old French bulldog and unapologetic lover of the finer things in life.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Maurice and I enjoy a coffee (usually cold as we are distracted by the needs of two very small humans) daily, because I can’t function without coffee and he can’t function without snuggles.

What's brewing?

Usually Nespresso with a lot of milk, or if I’m particularly impatient, NesCafe Instant coffee, also with milk.

Any treats for you or Maurice on this occasion?

I usually eat breakfast well after my first coffee, and Maurice usually hovers under the kids while they’re having breakfast in case they drop anything.

How were you and Maurice united?

Maurice was the runt of a small littler of Frenchies at a place in Jersey. He was needy, tiny, and had parasites, and he wouldn’t let me put him down for even a moment for the first few weeks.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

As he is a saucy Frenchman, I named him after Maurice Chevalier. And I usually call him Momo.

Does Maurice do more to help or hinder your writing?

Maurice has been on my lap or at my feet or under my knees for every book I’ve written and all through the editing process. He is an extremely calming influence, so in that way he helps enormously. However, he wants exclusive access to my lap, which is where my laptop goes, and he snores, so in that way, he is a hinderance.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

If a human of any kind approaches, Momo will lick and snuggle him/her to death. He has absolutely no interest in other animals, no matter the variety.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Usually stuffed toys. He tends to destroy them admirably. He cares very little to whom the toy belongs.

Where is Maurice's favorite outdoor destination?

My lap when my lap is outside.

Who is Maurice's best pet-pal?

He thinks he’s human, and he prefers humans.

What is Maurice's best quality?

His silliness and absolutely unconditional love.

If Maurice could change one thing about New Yorkers, what would it be?

They would all have bacon in their pockets, cashmere blankets at the ready and no pets of their own.

If Maurice could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

Is there anything else that you need?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Maurice could speak, who should voice him?

Maurice Chevalier.

What advice would Maurice give if asked?

“Stop caring what other people think. Only care what I think.”

Visit A.F. Brady's website.

--Marshal Zeringue