Friday, December 17, 2010

Ann Littlewood & Murphy

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Ann Littlewood and I write zoo mysteries. The latest, Did Not Survive, stars pregnant zoo keeper Iris Oakley and a pair of elephants at Finley Zoo in Vancouver, Washington.

With me is Murphy, who keeps me connected with real animals. He’s about a year and a half old and might be a Corgi mix or a Tibetan spaniel or part Sheltie. No idea. He’s never tried to herd anything and he seems to be a talented lap dog.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I need my caffeine and he needs his pets before either of us gets rolling. Neither one of us is a morning creature.

What's brewing?

Courier Coffee, roasted by a friend. Portland is a great city for coffee.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Mush. Five-grain cereal with walnuts and fruit. Is that a goody? I don’t think so.

Any treat for Murphy on this occasion?

No, just his kibble. Of course, he won’t eat it without a dab of gravy or a little melted cheese. I get mush and he gets the gourmet fare.

How were you and Murphy united?

My cousin went to a lot of trouble and expense to adopt him from a rescue center. For some reason, her three older cats did not take well to a bouncy puppy who wanted to play all day. The cats were really, really upset and my cousin was at her wits end. So we said we’d foster him until she found a new home. That was over a year ago… He ain’t going nowhere now.

Have your dogs had any influence on your writing?

Well, sure! My protagonist, Iris Oakley, has two dogs with different temperaments. They both had strong roles in Night Kill, my first zoo mystery, and they’ll be back in the others. Iris is all about animals and she pays close attention to how people treat their pets. In addition, zoo staff train animals in what they call “husbandry behaviors,” such as showing their teeth and feet for inspection. I practice training Murphy so to keep my descriptions realistic.

How did Murphy get his name? Any aliases?

He came to us named Murphy. We sometimes call him the RLD—rotten little dog—if he’s chewed up anything lately or run into the street after a squirrel. Other days, he’s the HLD—hairy little dog. I’d never had a dog that had to be styled. I mean, he can grow some hair! I had to trim five inches off his tail and about the same off his rump. And there’s plenty left.

Cat, squirrel, postman...?

Definitely squirrel. Cats are forbidden pleasures and he likes the postal carrier.

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

Yes to all, but mostly tennis balls in the park. He’s not a natural retriever, but with liver treats, he learned, and now he’s as obsessive as a lab, no treats required. He’s big on sticks as well. Drags them into the house through the doggy door and chews them into bits. Our living carpet, covered with forest duff… But it beats chewing on other stuff, like shoes and gloves, so we put up with it.

Where is Murphy's favorite place for an outing?

Any place he can chase a ball. Any place that doesn’t require getting into a car.

Who are Murphy's best pet-pals?

My sister has an older cattle dog, Sally. She is amazingly tolerant of him. He will pester her to play long after she’s tired out. She’ll finally jump to her feet, snarl savagely at him, and start to romp. I don’t get it, but it works for them. He’s got another buddy, Leila, a black lab who is a neighbor. They trade play dates often. When Leila gets tired, she copes by lying down on him.

What is Murphy's best quality?

He’s always up for petting. He’ll lie in a lap for hours as long as you keep messing with him a little. Perfect for watching TV on a cold night. He also loves dog training. We call it Circus Dog and he starts nudging me during dinner to get it rolling. He knows the usual: sit, stay, lie down, hop on the footstool, shake hands, speak, roll over. He also likes a game where he sit/stays while I hide a toy. Then I say “fetch”. His diligent search throughout the house never fails to charm me, and he is so delighted to find the thing and come bouncing back to claim his liver treat.

What is Murphy's proudest moment? His most embarrassing?

You should see this little guy levitate, all four feet up in the air, and snag his ball. For a short-legged guy, he’s very athletic. His most embarrassing moment? He was hot after a squirrel one day when the squirrel lost track of what he was doing and fell from the tree, almost landing on him. Murphy didn’t know what to do. Squirrels run, you chase them. This was all wrong. They finally pulled it together and the squirrel made a reasonably graceful escape.

Read an excerpt from Did Not Survive and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at
Ann Littlewood's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue