Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Maria Goodavage & Gus

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s Gus, on one of our first coffee dates back in 2016. As I had done when my human child was a puppy (she’s now 22), I brought Gus something comfy and some toys to keep him occupied. I live in San Francisco, which is full of dog-friendly eateries with outdoor tables, so I wanted him to get used to chilling out with me at these places early in life.

The other person is me, Maria Goodavage. I’m a journalist, formerly of USA Today, who long ago started writing about dogs. My previous three nonfiction books, Soldier Dogs, Top Dog, and Secret Service Dogs, made the New York Times bestseller list, which made my tail wag. The books are about the brave, faithful, smart, good dogs who protect and save lives alongside their handlers in the military and the Secret Service. My next book comes out October 1, and I’m really excited about it. It’s called Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine. Gus is no doctor dog, but he appears in the book as kind of a representative of the “everydog.”

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I got up early for a taped radio segment about Doctor Dogs. Being on the West coast has many advantages but interviews with people on the East Coast in the morning can be a bit early for my night-owl brain (today’s was at 9:30 Eastern, so 6:30 Pacific). Coffee politely but firmly ushers the sandman out of my brain.

What's brewing?

I graduated into the world of coffee only a few years ago, and for a long time I needed my coffee to taste like melted ice-cream, with loads of cream and sugar. My coffee esthetic has matured slightly since then, but I still prefer a gentle brew, nothing too dark or robust, and have about one-third the amount of cream and sugar as I used to.

Today I’m enjoying “House Blend Wind & Sea” from Andytown Coffee Roasters, which has three shops in my neighborhood near the beach. The description on the little bag: “Sweet, bold, and best paired with a foggy day,” and indeed it’s a foggy morning so far! I grind my beans and do a pour-over. I’m drinking it with a little half and half and honey (ran out of sugar!) in a big “Dutton” mug, which was a holiday gift a few years ago from the publisher I’ve had for my last four books. In the background, the foghorn bellows.

Any treats for you or Gus on this occasion?

I recently got back from a month in rural Japan, and I miss it, so I’m enjoying a couple of flavorful rice crackers. Gus had breakfast and a brisk off-leash walk at the beach after my radio interview, so he’s snoozing. No treats needed.

How were you and Gus united?

I’ve adopted my previous dogs, but Gus has a special story. He is a “Kory Wiens and Cooper memorial puppy” – a living memorial to a fallen soldier and his military working dog. Gus was given to me by the father of Army dog handler Kory Wiens, who was killed by an IED along with his yellow Lab, Cooper, in Iraq in 2007. I didn't have the fortune of knowing Kory, but he was an important part of my book Top Dog. After Kory’s death, his dad, Kevin, started taking in yellow Labs to feel as if some part of his son was still with him. Kory used to call his dog Cooper “my son” because they were so close, and having these Labs literally surrounding Kevin when he sat in his EZ chair in his doublewide mobile home in Oregon made him feel less empty.

Kevin and I kept in touch after our interviews. It turned out one of his dogs was an unspayed female, and he asked some people who were special in his life if they would like to have a memorial pup if he could find a good dog dad. I was very moved when he offered me a pup from the memorial litter. Our dear yellow Lab, Jake, had passed way in January of 2015, and I was finally thinking about adopting another Lab, so the timing was excellent – except for the fact that he would enter my life when I had about one month to go on a book deadline. I don’t recommend that timing to anyone, but Gus was worth it.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

About 20 years ago when we were staying at a cabin near Lake Tahoe for the holidays, a giant shaggy dog, mostly Lab I think, walked into our cabin when the door was open. He made himself at home by the hearth, next to our Lab, Jake. I looked at his tag to see who this fellow was, and it said “GUS.” On the back, where the phone number would normally be, it read, “Just say ‘Go home Gus’ and he will.” We thought that was pretty cute, and it turned out he lived really close and knew his way around. The name “Gus” fit him perfectly, and I decided that if I get a dog who is anything remotely “Gussy,” that’s what I would name my next dog. Our Gus’s name is perfect for him. He’s a big, happy guy, always smiling, very friendly and very Gussy.

Does Gus do more to help or hinder your writing?

When I first got him, he was nine weeks old and I had a month to go on a book, so that was not ideal -- to put it mildly. It was almost like having a newborn on deadline. I’d get up two or three times a night to let him out, and when he slept during the day I’d try to be productive, but when he was awake and chewing everything he could get his mouth on, my productivity plummeted. I managed to get the book in on time, but wow was I tired! These days he’s a joy to have near me as I write. And because of him I’m forced to pry myself away from my computer in the morning and in the evening when no one else can walk him, and to go to the beach or the park, which clears my head. When I return to my desk, I’m usually re-energized.

I enjoyed the one-minute Doctor Dogs book trailer. Please tell us more about your new book.

I’ll let my press materials describe it, if you don’t mind! “This groundbreaking book is an in-depth and engaging investigation of the cutting-edge science behind how dogs are able to detect disease and aid people who suffer from a wide range of physical and mental health conditions, including cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, sleep disorders, autism, and schizophrenia. Doctor Dogs is Goodavage’s most personal book to date, as she has a difficult-to-diagnose cancer threat in her own family. Dogs have been shown to be able to detect this cancer in laboratory samples in its earliest stages. The dogs’ primary tool for their medical feats? Their astonishingly sensitive noses, which can sniff in parts per trillion, as well as in 3-D.”

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Raccoon. Our backyard seems to be part of the Raccoon Superhighway. Every night there’s inevitably a raccoon or two or five walking along the top of our wooden fence. Gus does not like this. At all.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Yes! (He is a Lab, after all.)

Who is Gus's best pet-pal?

This is absolutely his sister Kaia. My friend whose dog Gracie – my old dog Jake’s previous “girlfriend” – had died the same month as Jake – was talking about the fact that she and her family were almost ready for a new dog around the same time Gus was born. I asked Kevin if Gus had any brothers or sisters who were not spoken for yet. He decided that Gus should have a friend in San Francisco, and ended up giving one of his sisters to my friend, who lives ten minutes away. She was over the moon. Gus and Kaia see each other all the time, and Kaia often spends the night here.

What is Gus's best quality?

His loving friendliness and his happiness. And not just at home with loved ones. Almost everyone is a loved one as far as Gus is concerned! He makes so many people smile just by bouncing down the sidewalk with a smile on his face and a wag in his tail whenever someone looks at him.

If Gus could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?

The lines people wait in to get coffee. He would make them longer so as we walk by he’d get even more love and attention from people who are just standing around staring at their cell phones.

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

Please describe in rich detail a day in your life in the world of scent. Bonus question: Do you know I’m coming home when I have to go away on long trips?

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

Long ago we had Ed Asner play the voice of our old dog Joe for a children’s video called Here’s Looking at You, Kid. He was perfect. But for Gus, I’d have to say maybe Chris Evans, of Captain America fame. His voice is kind of gentle, but youngish, and has a positive yet thoughtful feel about it.

What advice would Gus give if asked?

Be here now. Be present.

Visit Maria Goodavage's website, Facebook page, Instagram home, and Twitter perch. Find Gus on Instagram, too.

--Marshal Zeringue

3 comments:

  1. thanks for great article i have written article on dogs behavior read it and suggest me changes
    Dogs Live Longer

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gus is one handsome dude. Keep writing great stories about dogs. Love them!

    ReplyDelete