Friday, January 21, 2011

Leona Wisoker & Leo and Shadow

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Leona; I write. A lot. Novels, short stories, blog posts, FaceBook updates, emails, and so on. These are my two "boys", Leo and Shadow. They sleep. A lot. And snore. Leo is an Irish Wolfhound mix, and Shadow is (my husband and I were told) a Lab-Beagle-Shepherd mix. (We didn't ask about details. Too scared of the answer.) Leo is around nine years old now, and apart from some trouble with his hips during cold weather or after too much exercise, is wearing his age extremely well. Shadow is around five years old, just coming out of the ultra-bouncy stage and settling in to a more adult bounciness.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Writing this profile, actually. Normally I drink my coffee at my desk, with my dogs at my feet (usually snoring). This profile inspired me to take a day and just have coffee with the dogs out on the back deck (and yes, it's cold outside today!).

What's brewing?

At the moment, I'm drinking "La Llave", a Cuban coffee I picked up during a recent trip to Florida. It's an espresso grind, but I don't have an espresso machine; so preparing it takes a little longer than usual. I always run a simple pot of hot water (because hot water is so useful throughout the day, while old coffee has to be thrown out), then pour through a single-cup filter for my coffee. With an espresso grind I tamp the grounds down really well and pour hot water very slowly, warm a half-cup of milk and (if I'm feeling fancy) whip it to a froth with a small mini-whisk, adding sugar as I go. A dash of nutmeg across the top, and I'm back in Florida listening to the seagulls at a dockside gourmet cafe!

Although I do love the result, the preparation is a little bit of a bother. I'm probably going to switch back to my usual fare of locally roasted beans soon, so that I don't have to be quite as awake while making my morning elixir.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

No. I don't usually eat until sometime in the early afternoon unless someone is around to remind me. I have the best of intentions, but once I start working, everything else kind of disappears until Shadow shoves his nose up under my arm, knocks my hand off the keyboard, and whines at me to go out or come play or just scratch his ears ... he's incredibly persistent. Sometimes I have to type one-handed to get a sentence finished before I get up to deal with him.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

Yes. They are getting pieces of cheese, which they will both practically do backflips to get. You know that commercial, "Ahh...the power of cheese?" These two are the poster boys for that ad.

How were you and your dogs united?
Both are shelter rescues. Leo came from a no-kill shelter in Hampton called Animal Aid; he had been brought there as a very young puppy. He was adopted out once, and the couple returned him because he was "too rambunctious"--which is stupid, because of course a large-breed puppy is going to be destructively obnoxious for the first two years of his life. He was about a year and a half old when I found him, and he adopted me more than anything else. He was so thoroughly wired and excitable when I adopted him, and he is such a big dog, that the shelter was a little concerned whether I (at 5'1") could handle him; but the first thing he did when he got to his new home was to climb on the couch and go to sleep. And once we sorted out what food he did best on, about eighty percent of the
wildness just disappeared. Shadow was adopted from the SPCA as a very young puppy. We picked him out around Christmas, and the shelter staff wouldn't let us take him home until after the holiday; they didn't want "puppy under the tree" syndrome, which I can understand. So we took a towel, laid it in Leo's bed, brought it with us every day to go cuddle the puppy in, then put it back in Leo's bed. So they knew each other before they ever met, and Shadow's name has proven very apt: he is, literally, "Leo's Shadow". He gets very anxious if Leo's not around. We're working on sorting that out, because Leo is getting older, and we don't want Shadow's heart irretrievably broken when we have to let Leo go. 

How did your dogs get their names?
Leo was given his name by Animal Aid, and we saw no reason to change it--he was old enough to make that a hassle. Although it was amusing for a while: most people, at the time, were shortening my name (Leona) to "Leo"--so there was definitely an interesting adjustment period while that habit changed. Shadow chose his name; every time we went to cuddle him at the SPCA during that week before we were allowed to adopt him, we recited lists of names (this sounds so dorky, but it's the truth)--the first time he put his head up in response and licked my face, that was his chosen name.

Do your dogs have any impact on your writing?

They are probably the only reason I get up and take a break some days. They also lay up along the legs of my chair and make it dangerous for me to shift around too much.

Frisbee, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Leo very rarely plays. He does have a secret fondness for pink fluffy squeaky toys, but is terribly embarrassed to be caught with them; he'll drop it and walk away as soon as he realizes he's being watched. Shadow loves going after tennis balls, squeaky toys, and sticks. Oddly, he refuses to bring sticks back, but will prance around the yard carrying a branch bigger than he is, and chew on it until it's practically sawdust. We do play "hide and seek", where I make them stay in one room while I hide treats all around another room, then free them to seek them out; Shadow, being a scent rather than a sight breed, usually wins that one. Sometimes, just to get them some real exercise, we will stand at opposite ends of the yard with a supply of treats and call them back and forth. Leo's astoundingly fast and spins on a dime to rocket back the other direction; his back legs are really powerful.

Where is your dogs' favorite place for an outing?

Anywhere. They probably don't get out enough. Leo loves to come with me for car rides, so if the weather's good and I have some quick pop-in-and-out type errands to run, I'll take him along. Shadow detests car rides, but loves walks. They both love nature trails.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Each other. Leo is very protective of Shadow, and Shadow, as noted above, is totally bonded to Leo.

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

They'd get me up from my desk for more walks.

What's each dog's best quality?

Leo is very protective; Shadow is a clown.

What's each dog's proudest moment?

Probably the day they each caught a squirrel (different days). Shadow actually snuck up and killed his, then carried it in the house like a trophy (picture me shrieking and turning him right around to get the hell out of the house) ... Leo wasn't so smart, and wound up with his nose nipped and clawed open. His squirrel got away, but it was a valiant battle.

His most embarrassing?

Leo is dreadfully embarrassed whenever we catch him squeaking his pink fluffy toys or laugh at him for sleeping in ridiculous positions. He's getting very dignified in his old age. Shadow's too much a clown to be embarrassed over anything.

Leona Wisoker's short stories have appeared in Futures: Fire to Fly Magazine,,, and more. She is a regular reviewer for Green Man Review and its spinoff, The Sleeping Hedgehog.

Her latest novel is Secrets of the Sands.

Visit Leona Wisoker's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Secrets of the Sands.

--Marshal Zeringue