Monday, July 5, 2010

Joanna Slan & Rafferty and Victoria

Who is in the photo at right?

That's me, Joanna Slan, with my dogs Victoria (on the left in the pink halter top) and Rafferty (on the right in the masculine blue apparel). I'm the tall one wearing the red sweater. I write the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, the most recent being Photo, Snap, Shot. The first book in the series--Paper, Scissors, Death--was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Victoria is a purebred English Bichon Frise, the daughter of an English Champion, and she's nine years old. Rafferty is part Bichon and part Poodle, and he might be six years old.

This photo was taken by Donna Manz, a reporter for the Vienna Connection. She stopped by the house to interview me, and my canine office assistants had to get in on the act.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

When we first adopted Rafferty, he'd never been through a drive up. We pulled into a McDonald's to get lunch, and poor Rafferty heard the disembodied voice and launched himself at the car window to protect us. This was not good. Not for Rafferty. Not for us. And the fast food workers were definitely freaked. So we discovered that the local Starbucks always gave out dog cookies with human food. Every morning my husband David would take Raffie to Starbucks. This worked well, until we discovered that Raffie wasn't only "digging" the dog biscuits, he was also helping himself to David's coffee. We still love coffee, but we don't share it with Raffie anymore!

What's brewing?

For Christmas a couple of years ago, I bought David an Expobar, and now David makes great lattes. Our favorite bean is from Kaldi's, a coffee company in St. Louis that is my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein's favorite coffee company, too. I like my vanilla lattes cold, no ice. Weird, but true.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I love those flat Almondina cookies, and Grace's Best, a delicious sunflower
seed cookie they make in Parkville, Missouri.

Any treat for Rafferty on this occasion?

Always! He and Victoria both like "cheese yummies," which are small pieces of 2% American cheese. I also slice treat strips into smaller pieces so I can dole out plenty of them during the day. And carrots. Oh, my gosh, do my dogs love carrots! Cold from the refrigerator is best.

How were you and Rafferty united?

At the calf. Seriously, his original owner left him alone outside in a cage so long that the fur wrapped around his right rear leg, cut off the circulation, and the leg had to be amputated. So Raffie sticks to me like Velcro. He even walks with his nose between my calves as I walk. He's getting a lot more secure as the years go on, but if I've been gone on book tour, he's my Siamese twin for weeks.

Oh! You mean how did we "adopt" Rafferty! Our first Bichon, Kevin, was dying of cancer. I couldn't handle it, hearing Kevin cough and seeing him grow weaker and weaker, so I told my husband I wanted another dog. I felt that giving a rescue dog a home would distract me. We filled out the "emergency needs" paperwork and Small Paws, the rescue group, called us over the holidays. My son thought a three-legged dog would be "pimping." (Ahem. At the time, Michael was 15, and everything was either "pimping" or boring.) My husband wanted a younger dog. We had to have a male because when Kevin died, we'd still have Victoria, and we didn't want to chance any fighting. Small Paws had 119 Bichon/Bichon-mix dogs that needed a home. It broke our hearts. Rafferty was a good match for us.

Does Rafferty have any influence on your writing?

Absolutely. Raffie is a daily reminder that there are too many wonderful, loving animals out there that are homeless. So I had my protagonist, Kiki Lowenstein, adopt a female Harlequin Great Dane that she names Gracie. You see, with all the foreclosures, big dogs are showing up in more and more shelters. You could maybe convince a landlord to let you have a Chihuahua or even a dachshund, but a Great Dane? Uh, no.

Raffie isn't big, but he wasn't adopted because people saw him as "flawed." Phooey on them. He's not flawed. He can do anything a dog with four legs does. He can jump up on furniture and beds, climb stairs, hop into the car, and love us. What more do you need from a dog?

How did Rafferty get his name? Does he have any aliases?

Small Paws named our dog "Rafferty," because they believe a dog deserves a new name for a new life. We call him "Raffery J. Slan." I have no idea why. We just do.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

He's learning to be nice to other animals, thank you. Especially after he caught up with that herd of deer in our yard when we lived in St. Louis. It seemed funny to watch him scamper downhill after them until the herd turned and started running his way. Yeow! Then we realized how dangerous it was! (Call it a dumb pet-owner trick. We're smarter now.)

Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

None of the above. He loves to pick up his leash and bring it to me. I think it's his way of saying, "Don't ever leave me, please!"

Where is Rafferty's favorite outdoor destination?

We recently moved to the Washington, DC, area, and now we love to walk the W & OD Trail. And of course, right around the block is the cutest little female Bichon named Chessie (short for Franchesca). She's Raffie's idea of one smoking hot babe. I think she knows it, too.

Who is Rafferty's best pet-pal?

His older sister Victoria. She taught him the ropes. Rafferty gets very nervous if he's separated from Vicky.

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

I would quit messing with that stupid computer and pat him more.

What is Rafferty's best quality?

His indomitable courage. My son Michael says that Rafferty teaches us not to feel sorry for ourselves. To pick ourselves up and keep going rather than whine about how unfair life is. My son is right. Rafferty is a daily lesson to count your blessings. And we count him as one of ours.

What is the most amusing thing Rafferty does? The most frustrating?

Rafferty is the most eloquent dog I've ever owned. If he wants something--like his own cushion or a door open or water or a treat--he will definitely let you know by vocalizing. That's also sometimes frustrating when I have other priorities.

What's the most amusing part of owning Rafferty?

A lot of people don't notice he's missing a leg. At least not immediately. Once we were at a soccer match and a little girl stared and stared at Rafferty. Finally she tugged on David's sleeve. "Mister? That dog only has three legs!" she said.

David countered, "You're kidding? He had four when we left the house!"

I mean, how can you beat that? A dog who loves us, inspires us and provides all sorts of entertainment. Rafferty has it all!

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of Paper, Scissors, Death, an Agatha-nominee for Best First Novel, and Book #1 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. Paper, Scissors, Death is followed by Cut, Crop & Die, Book #2 in the series, and Photo, Snap, Shot, which was published in May 2010.

Learn more about the author and her work at
Joanna Slan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue