Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kathryn Miller Haines & Mr. Rizzo and Sadie

Who is in the photo at right?

Mr. Rizzo (always Mr.) is the mature gentleman on the right. He’s a boxer mix who just passed fifteen. We’re pretty sure he’s going to out live us all. The dame on the left is Sadie, a three year old German shepherd mix. This is one of the few moments when she’s been captured standing still. It will be a miracle if she makes it to four. And the two foot terror is Gryphon, our newest “puppy.” I’m Kathryn Miller Haines, the pasty broad in the middle. I write mysteries set in World War II New York. My newest book is a YA mystery called The Girl is Murder.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Typical day at the Haines’s house, where sleep is always in high demand thanks to busy work schedules, Mr. Rizzo’s nighttime bladder issues, and a very active toddler.

What's brewing?

Tea, today Tazo chai. Always drunk in the same mug.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

They’ve just enjoyed their breakfast bones, their morning reward for doing their business promptly.

How were you and your dogs united?

Both are Humane Society pups that we got when they were six months old. The day we went to get Mr. Rizzo, we actually intended to get another dog, but we were told we needed to get a copy of our deed to show that we were home owners and were allowed to have a dog. By the time we got back, the dog we were going to get was gone. My husband found Mr. Rizzo in his cage hidden by the open door to the kennel. In all our dog deliberations, we’d never even seen him. Twas fate.

We shopped for Sadie on the Humane Society’s webpage (both hubs and I caught each other scanning the dogs available page despite our best efforts to close the browser window so as not to get caught – yes, the Western PA Humane Society page is porn in our house). It was our way of healing our heartache after our dog Violet died quite suddenly from a kidney disorder. On the online photo, Sadie was a dead ringer for Violet (though as anyone who’s tried internet dating should know, she looked nothing like her in person). We brought Mr. Rizzo, who like us, was heartbroken at Violet’s loss, to meet her prior to adopting her, and he got the goofiest look on his face that seemed to ask “can we keep her?” Alas, he’s regretted it ever since.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Both of them came with their names. We have no idea if Mr. Rizzo’s moniker was an homage to the former mayor of Philadelphia, Midnight Cowboy, or Grease, though we suspect it may have been all three. We did add the “Mr.” as he just demands a little formality and respect. And a cravat.

Sadie is also known as “potato” because she’s small, brown, and loves to be in the ground. That’s why we have a fence. And a moat.

Have your dogs played any role in your writing?

They’ve warmed my side, attempted to crush my laptop, listened to me talk to myself without judgment, and given me comfort at every turn. I couldn’t write without them. They’re as integral to the process as my laptop.

Do your dogs have a favorite place to go for walk?

Anywhere. Too frequently it’s endless rounds of our block since these days we’re negotiating a stroller with the canines. But they’re happy with any excuse to leave the house. Mr. Rizzo’s stamina isn’t near what Sadie’s is these days, so he’s usually content with going once around the block before retiring to his feinting couch.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

Mr. Rizzo enjoys badger and rabbit. Sadie has proven to be quite lethal to birds and mice. We think she was a cat in another life.

What is each dog's best quality?

Mr. Rizzo is the most gentle dog I’ve ever known. In all of his fifteen years, there’s never been a moment when anyone needed to fear him. This has never been more evident than in his interactions with Gryphon. Patience, thy name is Rizzo.

Sadie is extremely affectionate. While Rizzo can be a bit standoffish at times, Sadie loves to cuddle.

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

My vegetarianism.

What's each dog's proudest moment so far? The most embarrassing?

Proudest moments? There are a lot, but for Sadie, I think it’s helping us all to heal after we lost Violet. The little clown cut that grief with a knife.

For Rizzo? I’ll never forget his tenderness with Violet when she was dying. You can’t tell me dogs don’t grieve.

As for the most embarrassing: our house backs up to some apartments. Rizzo escaped when he was a pup, entered one of the apartments via an open patio door, and plopped himself down on the couch. The owner was showering at the time, so my husband had to enter this stranger’s apartment and coax an obstinate Rizzo into leaving with him.

For Sadie? Um, me breastfeeding. Her curious. ‘nough said.

If your dogs were literary characters, who would they be?

Mr. Rizzo – Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited. Sadie? Something Suessian. Perhaps the Cat in the Hat?

Visit Kathryn Miller Haines's website and blog.

Writers Read: Kathryn Miller Haines.

--Marshal Zeringue