Monday, August 3, 2009

Lois Lowry & Alfie

Who’s this?

Here I (writer, Lois Lowry) am with my Tibetan Terrier, Alfie. When our previous dog, also a Tibetan, died at thirteen and a half, it was briefly sort of a relief to be dogless. We travel a lot. And it was a constant take-the-dog-to-the-kennel, pick-the-dog-up-from-the-kennel life.

But we lasted about three months. Then, almost simultaneously, Martin and I said to each other, “Let’s get another dog.” And we knew we wanted another Tibetan; they are affectionate, playful, lovable dogs. So we found a breeder—Tibetan Terrier is not a very common breed—and Alfie had just been born. Ta da! The timing was great. We brought him home when he was three months old.

Coffee and Canine?

Mostly in the car. I go back and forth a lot between Maine and Massachusetts: a three hour drive between my two homes. There is a Dunkin Donuts conveniently located at either end of the trip. I give my order: One medium regular coffee, milk, one Splenda. Alfie is awake and alert in the back seat. He watches while I collect my coffee, raise the window, and pull away. Then he curls up, settles down, and goes to sleep. He’s a great traveler. I sip, he snoozes. Last Wednesday there was a terrible accident on the Maine turnpike and the trip took two and a half hours longer than usual. Most of it was at a dead standstill. Alfie slept through it all. But always, as we approach our house on arrival, he wakes up, sits up, and is all ready to jump out when the door opens and to check out his yard and see his pals.


Nope. None for me, none for him. The UPS guy always gives him a biscuit, but we’re pretty strict about no treats. Alfie weighs 26 pounds, just right for a 3-year-old Tibetan, and we’d like to keep it that way.

Did you say "pals?"

Yes, Alfie is a very gregarious dog. He loves all people, including the mailman and the UPS guy, and all dogs. Here he is [above, left] with a Newfoundland friend, appropriately named Bear; and with his golden retriever cousins, Dash and Tillie [at right]. And here he is, too, with a pygmy goat name Minnie [below, left]. Alfie was quite intrigued with Minnie. Not so in the reverse, however. She gave him a good head-butt.

How about the grandchildren?

Well, take a look [bottom right]. They adore him. And he reciprocates.

How did Alfie get his name?

We went around and around about names. But then we looked at his papers more carefully and discovered that his mother was named Georgy Girl. Martin and I are old enough to remember those two British movies—"Georgy Girl" and "Alfie"—and the distinctive songs from them. The name fell right into place. And it’s a good name; it suits him, I think. He’s wry and clever and vulnerable, as Michael Caine was, playing Alfie in the film. And a bit of a ham.

Sometimes, though, we say that we should have named him Elmer. He does stick to me like glue. If I’m in the shower, he’s on the floor beside the shower. If I’m asleep, he’s asleep at my feet. When I’m at my desk writing—he’s on the floor beside my desk, snoozing.

Has he found his way into any books?

Not specifically. But I did write a book some years ago called "Stay!" which is in the first-person, but actually it is not a person, but a dog.

Is Alfie a country dog or a city dog?

We have these two homes, and one is in the city of Cambridge, MA, but luckily we have a large yard. He spends a lot of time in the yard, watching people go by, or in the house, looking out the window at people going by.

In Maine, in the country, it’s quite different. He has several acres to roam, and very few people to look at. But there are critters! Deer in the meadow, chipmunks everywhere, and lots of small things that intrigue. Once he was too curious with a porcupine and it was a disaster. We took 40 quills out of him with pliers.

What’s the most embarrassing thing Alfie ever did?

Well, of course dog embarrassments almost always involve bodily functions, and Alfie is no exception. But this particular moment involved a visiting corgi named Charlotte. The two dogs had been playing together in the yard, and then we brought them inside--they were puppies, still--and I served lunch to Charlotte’s mom. Suddenly, mid-lunch, we heard a distinctive waterfall-like sound under the dining room table. Charlotte had let loose and was peeing on the rug. Her mom was terribly apologetic and embarrassed; I was trying to reassure her that it was okay, when suddenly Alfie went to the spot sniffed it, and lifted his leg to pee on top of it. I thought it was rather a Japanese gesture--not wanting the visiting dignitary to lose face (so when he stumbles on the way to the podium, the next Japanese guy to speak stumbles as well). Alfie just wanted Charlotte not to be mortified at her accident.

Lois Lowry has published over 30 books for children, including the Newbery Award-winning Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994). Her new book, Crow Call, is due out in October.

Of The Giver, she writes:
The Giver - and Gathering Blue, and the newest in the trilogy: Messenger - take place against the background of very different cultures and times. Though all three are broader in scope than my earlier books, they nonetheless speak to the same concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment.
Visit Lois Lowry's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue