Monday, May 13, 2013

Erin McGraw & Max and Sister

Who is in the photo at right?

That's Max, Sister, and me, Erin McGraw. Max is the shaggy eight-year-old Labradoodle, currently weighing in somewhere between 85 and 90 pounds, and Sister is a hound mix of some kind, also somewhere around eight years old, her fighting weight a sleek 55 pounds. I'm the one between them. When I'm not walking the dogs, feeding the dogs, brushing the dogs, or dispensing ear medicine to the dogs, I write fiction and teach at the Ohio State University.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine? And what's brewing?

Every morning kicks off with decaf brew at home--Peet's dark in a French press is my preference. The decaf is a concession to my ulcer, which I regularly tell Max and Sister comes from them. That's not true, probably. They don't seem terribly concerned either way.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

I try to live a clean life, at least before noon. I have been known to bend the rules for a biscotti, but I'm afraid the dogs get butkus. My husband and I are constantly trying to keep weight off Max. He had a knee replacement two years ago and I tell Max often, in solemn tones, that we have to protect our investment.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Max came to us pre-owned and pre-named. Sister was a shelter dog, so she was pre-named, too, but we felt less commitment to the name given to her for a few days by the Union County Shelter. "Sister" is a common nickname in the South for the girl in the family. I'm not a southerner, but my husband is, so we figured we had the right.

How were you and your dogs united?

We got Max when our house cleaner went to a garage sale to look at a fishing rod and found out that the woman running the sale had an 8-month-old Doodle she wanted to place. She had gotten it from a neighbor who had wanted a puppy over her husband's objections. Figuring he wouldn't be able to resist an adorable puppy if it was placed right in front of him, she ordered a ten-week-old Doodle to be sent to her from Virginia. Turns out her husband was immune to the pup's charms, so the dog went to the neighbor. She was a good soul, but she was a single working mom with no time or space to care for a very rapidly expanding dog. By the time we got Max he was over 50 pounds, and his pads still hadn't hardened; they were as soft as a newborn's.

Sister came on the scene about a year later, when Max did everything short of presenting us with a petition saying that he wanted a playmate. We took him with us to the shelter, and when we saw how well he and Sister played together, the deal was sealed. Good thing, because she was destructive as all get-out for the next six months, and if it weren't for Max, I would have been tempted to take her straight back.

Are there any dogs in your new novel, Better Food for a Better World?

Riley. He's a redbone coonhound and at the moment is a point-of-view character. In his big scene, he gets a mouthful of porcupine quills. He also engineers the big love scene (between people).

How do your dogs help, and how do they hinder, your writing?

I don't find many things more comforting than the soft breathing of comfortable dogs beside me while I work. I'm also crazy about the smell of clean dogs in the sun. Sister, who's very catlike, follows the sun all day as it moves across the windows, and I frequently bury my nose in her warm fur.

But dogs know how to tell time--any dog owner knows this--and when it's nine o'clock Sister and Max don't give a rip whether my work is going well: They want their walk. Same deal at three o'clock. Is it my imagination, or is work always going at its best at 9 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon?

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

The UPS man has bought off their affections by bringing treats every time he leaves a box. They alert me to his presence when the truck turns a corner three-quarters of a mile away. But the mailman? Yes, they'll happily tear his throat out. After that, it's possum, cat, and squirrel in descending order. Oh, and also the neighbor's Maltese.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Revolting plush toys that have long been eviscerated and reduced to scraps of one-time pink or blue. Max is also very fond of hard plastic Y's that he gravely gnaws on, one arm at a time, while Sister tracks the sun in another room.

What is each dog's best quality?

Max is as affectionate as they come. If you want an extremely heavy, extremely hairy dog to recline on you, and often I do, Max is your fellow.

Despite her rocky start with us, Sister wants tremendously to please. As a result, she is an incredible heeler. Head high, tail high and wagging, she'll heel all day long. She looks good and she knows it.

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

That's easy. Waaaay more accommodating with the treats.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?

Kathleen Turner would do justice to Sister--a throaty, sexy voice and a mind with an agenda. Max lacks her impulse toward intrigue--he's very guileless. I'm thinking Steve Carell.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Can I wear your nose for five minutes?

Visit Erin McGraw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. They make a great team. ANd YES we can tell time. Besides it is our job to make sure the humans take time off from work and get out and stretch the legs.

    1. Hang on. I thought it was our job to pretend to be sleeping in the living room until somebody leaves a plate unguarded, and then dive in for the cheese.


  2. Cute! So happy you stuck it out with Sister - hope she isn't destructive anymore :). They are both cuties!

  3. At this moment Max is walking around the house squeaking nonstop on a new plush toy. Even Sister looks fed up. Time for coffee!