Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Susannah Charleson & Jake Piper

Who is in the photo at right?

Susannah Charleson, author of The Possibility Dogs and New York Times bestseller Scent of the Missing and three-year-old service dog Jake Piper, a German Shepherd / Lab / Pitbull / Standard Poodle mix.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We shared this nice moment before a Dallas performance by Ira Glass of This American Life.

What's brewing?

Skim cappuccino, expertly made by local coffee house Pearl Cup.

Any treats for you or Jake Piper on this occasion?

A great cappuccino is always a treat! Jake, however, prefers crunchy peanut-butter squirrel (shaped) cookies.

How did Jake Piper get his name? Any nicknames?

Jake's ears are large and have the gull-winged appearance of some Piper aircraft. So ... Piper! Jake because he came to us very young and very, very ill, and he deserved a strong name. If was as if we could claim a strength by naming it. He has a new nickname almost every day, but mostly it's JakeyP.

How were you and Jake Piper united?

Jake Piper was brought to my doorstep by a neighbor who found the puppy following him on a morning walk. He, the neighbor, was very much allergic and couldn't do much for the puppy, but he had heard that "the lady on the corner rescues dogs" -- and so he brought him to me. Jake was probably about ten weeks old at the time. He was very small, with huge dark eyes that looked both pitiful and hopeful at the same time. Jake was dying of starvation and gastroenteritis when he came to us, but the hope won out. It was a hard struggle requiring great veterinary care, but he survived and, in time, thrived!

Please tell us about your new book.

The Possibility Dogs is a journey into the world of service and comfort dogs -- in this case, dogs identified in rescue and trained for this good work-- dogs that can learn to serve the disabled with psychological disabilities or a community struggling in the aftermath of tragedy. Like Jake Piper, I think the book reflects both hardship that can be overcome and the amazing resilience, courage, and joy dogs and their people can achieve together.

I know that in the book you discuss how you learned to identify abandoned dogs with service potential. Can you give an example of a characteristic or behavior that you look for?

We love a dog that has perked ears, a happy wag, and a friendly eye gaze straightaway. Interest in humans and calm, responsive friendliness with men, women, children, babies is a primary trait we look for. Also willingness to learn a new task when offered the opportunity by an encouraging human in a learning environment. Is this dog human-centric, engaged, happy and eager to learn? Those are definite early plusses when we meet a dog.

What is Jake Piper's best quality?

Equanimity. Jake Piper came from profound neglect. He would have every reason to be nervous, fearful, reactive, and he's not. He enjoys new experiences and adventures and calmly responds to even the outrageous. In New York City on the second day of the book tour, a group of little girls with bubblemakers and fairy wands danced right up to him, squealing. Fine with Jake, who I realized, had probably never seen bubbles! Later we were standing at a corner of Central Park when a horse and carriage pulled up right before the curb where we stood. The horse switched Jake's face with its tail, a right pop, and Jake kind of blinked and looked up at me, his expression bemused. If a dog could have shrugged, Jake might have shrugged, like "Horses -- New York horses wearing bells and feathers. What're ya gonna do?"

We met your search dog Puzzle a few years ago. How do she and Jake Piper get along?

Puzzle [with Jake, photo left] loves Jake Piper and vice versa. Though Puzzle never had puppies of her own, puppy Jake brought out the maternal in her, and I credit her for the stability and sociability that a mature dog can teach to a youngster.

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

Oh, he'd love to eat table scraps and probably wishes I was open to that. He loves all food, any food. But he never gets "people food" from any table, anywhere. Can't blame a guy for wishing, though.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Jake Piper could speak, which actor should do his voice?

Matthew McConaughey, no doubt. A marked drawl with a wink in it, a lot of charm.

If Jake Piper could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

Sweetheart, what is the one thing I could do in our partnership that would make it even happier for you?

Learn more about The Possibility Dogs at Susannah Charleson's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Susannah Charleson and Puzzle (July 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

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