Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Richard Fifield & Frank and Oscar

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Richard Fifield, and I’m an author and a designer, and this is Frank. He’s a male, a basenji, and our best guess is that he’s eleven or twelve. He is an anomaly—he seems to be aging in reverse. More spry, no gray, and the vet was astonished that he had less tartar on his teeth than at his first examination, six years ago.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I’ve taken my two dogs, the aforementioned Frank and my elderly chihuahua/dachshund mix Oscar on a walk to the gas station. Where I live, there are no coffee shops, and the streets are filled with feral rabbits, all black. We enjoy walking to the gas station, Frank and Oscar because of the rabbits, and me because of the gossip I get at the counter. Even though I keep both dogs on a tight leash, they pull in opposite directions, and the leads tangle around my legs so often that I’ve gotten used to stopping to unwind every block. There have been a few occasions where the tangle actually caused me to fall, but thankfully, never any injuries!

What's brewing?

At the gas station, the coffee is cheap and plentiful. I love gas station coffee, and at the tiny store, the owners allow me to bring Frank and Oscar inside with me. I must drink my coffee while I gossip with the cashier—walking two dogs on leashes and a cup of hot coffee is a recipe for disaster. Especially with wild rabbits dashing everywhere.

Any treats for you or the dogs on this occasion?

I always carry dog treats with me—every coat (and I have a lot of coats) has a dog treat, even when I’m without my dogs. I’m like a mailman! Because Oscar is sixteen years old, I carry Milk Bone Pill Pouches, because they are soft and it helps when I need to give Oscar his medications every morning. For years, I tried peanut butter, but it was messy!

How were you and Oscar and Frank united?

Oscar and Frank are both rescue dogs—I adopted them from Animal Control, instead of the Humane Society. Animal Control takes the dogs that nobody wants to adopt. Except for me. I want to adopt the most unlovable, difficult cases. I think this is because I see myself in them.

You also had Blanche with you until very recently. Sixteen years is a good, long life for a dog, I know, but.... Are Oscar and Frank adjusting well enough with Blanche gone?

Last year, my third dog Blanche had to be put down. She was sixteen, and she was the first dog I ever owned. I adopted her as a puppy, and she was a bizarre mix of corgi and border collie, so she had a really long body and tiny legs. She had a personality like a disapproving grandmother, even early on. Border collies like to herd, and Blanche was always barking at her brother and sister for being rambunctious and not following her directions. Putting her down was not an easy decision, but it was the right one. Due to her long body and tiny legs, she had a lot of hip and spine problems, and the last year of her life, she had to be lifted to be brought outside to use the bathroom. It was an honor to take care of her, and an honor to be there with her when she was finally at peace. Oscar took it the worst, as he had spent the most time with her, and when I returned from the vet without Blanche, he was scared of me for an entire month. He was confused, and I completely understand. I was confused, too.

How did the dogs get their names? Any aliases?

I named Blanche after Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Oscar already had his name when I adopted him. Frank was a street dog, and didn’t have a home, but the people at Animal Control called him Klaus. I did not like that name, and had recently published my first novel, which featured a wild dog named Frank, who serves as the heart of the book. It seemed too much of a coincidence, so his name became Frank, and it suits him. My dogs always have nicknames—many nicknames, but the most used is “The Tank” for Frank, and because Oscar was covered in scars when I adopted him (he had a hard life), I call him “Oh-Scar.”

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

My dogs actually don’t seem to notice when I’m writing or designing. They are very autonomous creatures, and they do what they want all day. They are both burrowers, so you can usually find them at the bottom of a bed. I gave up making my beds a long time ago!

Have any actual dogs ever inspired dogs in your fiction?

In my fiction, I’ve only featured one canine, the aforementioned Frank. When people meet the real Frank, they assume he inspired the fictional dog, but after spending time with him, they quickly realize that my Frank is not cut out for therapy.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

All of my dogs despise anybody with a package of any kind. They are very, very protective of their fenced yard, and mail delivery and I have an understanding. They leave packages outside of the fence. Just in case there is a new delivery person, I have a sign on my gate. Frank, despite years of obedience school and one-on-one training, goes for the ankle of any person he is unfamiliar with that dares enter the yard, carrying a package. Basenjis were the first dog breed, and pharaohs in Egypt trained them to take down lions, and were buried with their favorite hunter. That DNA is still strong in Frank. He also does not share—he likes to take things from the other dogs and bury them in the yard. We don’t have any toys as a result, just sticks. He can’t dig up the yard to bury a giant stick.

Where is your dogs' favorite outdoor destination?

My dogs love the forests around Montana, but they are both terrified of water. They prefer to walk on the streets of our small town, because they are fascinated by other lives and other homes. They are just like their owner.

What is each dog's best quality?

Oscar’s best quality is his devotion—he is the type of dog that follows you around (when he’s not burrowed in blankets) and needs to know where you are at all times. Frank’s best quality is his personality—I’m sure your readers picture a vicious little creature, but he is the most affectionate dog I’ve ever owned—basenjis are very much like cats, and they like to nuzzle your chin. He is unlike any dog on earth—every person that watches my dogs remarks on how strange Frank is. They all love him, and want to take him home, because he is such a mystery.

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

I would ask Oscar and Frank both to tell me about where they came from, and what their lives were like before they came to live with me. I’m sure they have stories. Both are fighters, and indomitable creatures.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Oscar, Frank and Blanche could speak, who should voice them?

Oscar would be voiced by Patrick Stewart, as he is very self-assured and proper.

Frank would be voiced by Billy Eichner, of Billy On The Street, as he is a comedian and instantly recognizable. 

What advice would Oscar and Frank give if asked?

I think both dogs would give the same answer—accept the love that is given to you, and have faith that you will be taken care of. It’s an honor to be their person.

Visit Richard Fifield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. This was delightful to read, Marshal, and Richard! Love the palpable honor you feel for your dogs, Richard. And I love that you adopted from Animal Control. That is a rough life, in Animal Control.

  2. Clearly your dogs are part of the canine security squad who are firm believers that all postmen, delivery peeps are serial killers. Bless you for your rescuing efforts.