Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kristin Bailey & Jake

Who is in the photo at right?

This is Jake, he's a ten year old mutt we adopted in Ohio. My best guess is that he's a border collie, golden retriever mix, but it really doesn't matter because he's a beautiful boy and we love him. As for the human hiding behind him, my name is Kristin Bailey. I write young adult historical adventures for Simon & Schuster. My latest book Rise of the Arcane Fire will be in bookstores on February 4th.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

It has been a cold and wet winter so Jake and I decided to share one of our favorite treats, curling up with some hot chocolate and a good book.

What's brewing?

We're having extra thick hot chocolate prepared with steamed whole milk and topped with cream and sprinkles. It's perfect for cold winter weather.

Any treats for you or Jake on this occasion?

I'll probably also have a piece of my father-in-law's rum cake, and Jake will have to settle for a Grandma Gertrude cookie.

How were you and Jake united?

I had a dream one night that I went to the animal shelter and adopted three animals. The first was a wildebeest named Mocha, then there was a wallaby, but I can't remember what his name was. It was something distinguished though, like Thornsby, and then there was a beautiful black dog with a small white spot on his chest. His name was Jake.

The following Saturday, my husband and I were driving past a pet shop. He asked me if I needed anything, thinking we might need cat food. I said, "Yes!" so he turned. Then he asked me what we needed, and I said, "A puppy!"

He humored me and as it happened the pet shop was doing a shelter adoption event that day, I walked in and saw a little black ball of fluff with a small white spot on his chest and I knew. I shouted, "That's him! That's him! That's Jake!"

And sure enough, he grew to be the dog of my dreams.

How did Jake get his name? Any aliases?

Well, Jake was clearly named by a higher power, and I don't like to fight these things, but I do also tend to call him "Jakers," and "Pup Pup," even though he is now growing to be a distinguished older gentleman. [photo right: Jake the puppy]

Does Jake do more to help or hinder your writing?

Jake is a wonderful dog who curls up and sleeps close by as I'm writing. He also alerts me when packages arrive at the door, and when my husband is coming home. He is a wonderful help and a fantastic dog.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Squirrel! When we lived in the desert in California, we had ground squirrels in the back yard. They dig holes like gophers, but they can't climb trees. Jake caught one, and to this day he thinks he can catch the grey squirrels here. They run up the trees and laugh at him.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Jake loves his squeaky toys. He shows this love by slowly pulling the stuffing out of them and forcing me to buy new ones, but I understand that this is really a sign of the highest order of doggie affection.

Who is Jake's best pet-pal?

Jake's best pal is his doggie cousin Feliz Navi-dog, or Navi for short. She's a little Italian Greyhound/Jack Russell mix. My brother brings her over whenever they visit, and Jake loves to play with her, even though she's a fifth of his size.

What is Jake's best quality?

Jake always takes his cue from you. If you are calm and quiet, then he is as well, but when you want love, or want to play, he's right there tuned in to what you need.

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

He would mandate much bigger backyards for everyone. We live in a townhouse now, and I can tell, he misses a big yard.

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

Of all the places we've lived as a military family, which one did he like the best?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Jake could speak, who should voice him?

I always imagined Jake as having a youthful and slightly high pitched voice like Justin Timberlake.

Visit Kristin Bailey's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tracy Weber & Tasha

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Tracy Weber, the author of Murder Strikes a Pose, the first of the Downward Dog Mystery Series. The pretty one next to me is Tasha. Tasha is a 100-pound, nine-year-old purebred female German shepherd. I’m a forty-something-year-old, seven-eighths German, female yoga teacher/mystery writer. Unlike Tasha, I refuse to divulge my weight.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Every year Tasha, my husband, and I go to Cannon Beach, Oregon. This is our annual Tracy and Tasha vacation shot. Tasha looks equally gorgeous year after year. I appear to age in dog years.

What's brewing?

My daily order at Starbucks: Double decaf iced Americano in a venti cup with a half-inch of soymilk and two Splenda added. Go light on the ice and fill the water all the way to the top. (Hey, I’m from Seattle. What did you expect?)

Any treats for you or your dog on this occasion?

What’s life without treats? Tasha loves elk or ostrich tendons. If those aren’t available, a piece of ostrich jerky will do quite nicely. Oh—and an oatmeal cookie, please.

How were you and Tasha united?

I got Tasha from a breeder when she was eight weeks old, but I first met her when she was a wee baby girl at just over three weeks old. It was love at first sight. A second visit when she was five weeks old [photo left] confirmed it. If I’d had my way, I’d have taken her home right then.

How did Tasha get her name? Any aliases?

Tasha is named after Tasha Yar, the head of security in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Tasha takes that name (and its job) very seriously. To avoid similar problems in the future, I plan to name my next dog Love Bug.

Tasha also goes by Tish-Tash, Tishy, Tashi, Monkey, Goose, Chotsky, Pumpkin, and Goofball.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your published work?

Definitely. Bella—the German shepherd heroine in Murder Strikes a Pose—is a composite of three dogs: Tasha (who has Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, the autoimmune disease Bella has), Duchess (the German shepherd my family owned when I was a child) and a Rottweiler mix owned by a homeless woman I befriended many years ago. The Rottweiler, like Bella, didn’t like other dogs. My second book has a Jack Russell terror—oops, I mean terrier—modeled after a dog I met at a retreat center several years ago.

Does Tasha do more to help or to hinder your writing?

Tasha helps me in everything I do, even when she hinders me. Some of my best scenes are Tasha stories.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

It would have to be squirrel. Cats and postmen are much too scary for a 100-pound German shepherd. Squirrels, on the other hand, look tasty.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Tasha’s answer is “Yes, please. But if I have to pick, what I really want is my teddy bear.”

Does Tasha have a favorite place to go for outings?

The beach! In particular, a special beach we visit on Whidbey Island, a small island in Puget Sound. When she’s on that beach, the answer to the question above is most definitively “stick.”

Who is Tasha's best pet-pal?

Her friend Evrette, who is a German shepherd who happens to live near that very same beach on Whidbey Island.

What is Tasha's best quality?

You expect me to pick just one?

I guess it would be loyalty. Many vets and trainers have told me that Tasha would die for me. Now, I never want that to happen, but it’s pretty amazing to think that any creature would love me that much. She’s also intelligent, playful, sweet, gorgeous, cuddly, discerning, stoic, trusting, fun, kind-hearted, mellow, stubborn, willful, mischievous, courageous, shy, forgiving…

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

She would like me to spend less time on the computer typing about the dog and more time playing with the dog.

If Tasha could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

What is it you’d most like me to know?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Tasha could speak, who should voice her?

Tina Fey. After all, our life together is like one big Saturday Night Live sketch.

Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jennifer Robson & Ellie

Who is in the photo at right?

The human is me, Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France. The canine is Ellie, my Polish Lowland Sheepdog. She’s four years old and only just beginning to grow out of her puppy years.

What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We’re about to head out for a walk in the Junction neighborhood of Toronto, Canada, where I live with my husband and two young children, as well as Ellie and Sam the cat.

At the farthest point of our walk we’ll arrive at a great independent cafĂ© called Crema. Ellie has to wait outside while I order, but then we sit together on their patio or, if the Polar Vortex is still raging, we hustle back home with me gulping down my coffee on the way.

What’s brewing?

I always order a decaf mocha when I’m at Crema. They use a really dark chocolate syrup, and not too much of it, so the end result tastes like a properly bittersweet mocha and not like melted candy bar.

Any treats for you or Ellie on this occasion?

If I’ve had a productive week I may treat myself to a pumpkin muffin. I usually have dog cookies in my pocket so she gets one or two, plus some water from a bowl the nice people at Crema keep for their visiting pooches.

How did your dog get her name? Any nicknames?

My children had been watching the movie Up just before we got the dog and wanted to call her Ellie after the character of Carl’s wife in the film. As for nicknames, the most frequently used is Barky Barkington, for reasons that are lamentably obvious.

How were you and Ellie united?

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs are a rare breed in North America; the closest reputable breeder is in Quebec City, a ten-hour drive away. So we took the kids to visit the breeder – we made a weekend of it, as Quebec City is one of our favorite places in the world – and met Ellie’s parents and got a sense of the breed’s suitability for a house with young children. Ellie was born a few weeks later and as soon as she was old enough to leave her mom, my husband flew to Quebec and brought her home. My children still talk about the night Ellie came home to us.

Are there any dogs in your fiction that are inspired by your dog?

Not yet, but I do hope to include a sheepdog in one of my narratives eventually!

Does Ellie do more to help or hinder your writing?

I’d have to say she helps me, not only because she’s very patient while I’m working – she sleeps in a basket next to my desk – but also because she has a sixth sense as to when we’ve both had enough and need a walk to shake off the doldrums. As soon as she gets up I know it’s time for a break.

Where is Ellie’s favorite outdoor destination?

She absolutely adores my mother-in-law’s garden in the suburbs. It’s far bigger than our postage-stamp-size urban back yard, and it’s full of all sorts of interesting smells and places to dig. We spend a lot of time there in the summer, helping with the vegetables, and Ellie follows us around and gets completely covered in dirt. A dirty dog is a happy dog, after all.

Who is Ellie’s best pet-pal?

We have a lovely cat, Sam, [photo left] who is almost nine years old. He was rescued by my vet and given to us when he was about a year old. I’d say he’s the best-natured cat I’ve ever known, which means he puts up with Ellie’s determined attempts to play with him and groom him without ever getting upset (or only rarely losing his cool).

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Although she loves her tennis balls, I would lean toward squeaky toy. She has several no-stuffing toys that look alarmingly like road kill, and she loves to drag them around and chew on their squeaky bits. There’s Mr. Raccoon, Mr. Fox and Mr. Skunk. I’m not sure why we call them “Mister” – perhaps because they’re her boy toys?

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Well, she hates squirrels with a passion – you only have to say the word and she runs for the back yard, barking at full volume. But she absolutely loathes the postman and all of his compatriots (the guys from FedEx and UPS, the woman who delivers flyers, etc). I’ve taken to putting her in her pen for fifteen minutes or so when the postman starts heading up the block. She still barks, but at least she’s not lunging at the front window like an especially demented reincarnation of Cujo.

What is Ellie’s best quality?

Her absolute, unwavering devotion to the people she loves. She’s intensely wary of strangers, which is typical for her breed, and can come across as unfriendly if she doesn’t know you. But for the circle of people she knows and loves she’s the most affectionate dog imaginable.

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

She’d definitely make me more generous at mealtimes. Her breed can easily put on weight, so we have to be quite vigilant about treats, people food and portion sizes. If I go into the kitchen, Ellie is right behind me – and if I drop anything on the floor that is edible, she is more than happy to clean it up!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Ellie could speak, which actor should do her voice?

I think it would be someone with a really warm and friendly demeanor. Perhaps Drew Barrymore?

If Ellie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

Are you happy?

Learn about Somewhere in France and visit Jennifer Robson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jason K. Friedman & Lefty

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Jason K. Friedman, a writer and that's Lefty, a student of human nature. He's a chihuahua mixed with something bigger--he weighs 20 pounds! He's 9 1/2 years old, maybe a month or two younger--but he always gets mistaken for a dog half his age.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My husband and I took him on a weekend expedition to Mario's in San Francisco's North Beach. I don't remember what I was reading, but I see Lefty was eyeing the foam no less intently.

What's brewing?


Any treats for you or Lefty on this occasion?

My husband and I had eggplant sandwiches, and Lefty got some of the focaccia.

How were you and Lefty united?

He was left in the overnight depository at an Oakland shelter. He bit the vet who fixed him and was sentenced to death row, then smuggled out by a shelter worker who knew that because of his youth and beauty he was adoptable. He ended up in the hands of the Milo Foundation, which posted a description and picture of him on their site. I sought him out at an adoption event at a pet store in the Castro.

How did Lefty get his name? Any aliases?

The cardboard box in which he was abandoned had the name Lefty on the side. The name Lefty Friedman suits him; it sounds like the name of a Chicago gangster. Also he was left at the shelter, and I often call him Left. When we were in an airport somewhere in the Midwest we heard someone saying "On your left" and Lefty turned as a cart shuttling a couple of people passed. I've also been known to call him Pushkin, which I think comes from Pooch. He's frequently mistaken for a Lucky, which suits him too.

Does Lefty do more to help or hinder your writing?

He's quiet and patient--the perfect writer's pet.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?


Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Ball in the house and the park, stick on hikes. He locates objects you throw and sometimes runs around with them, but he doesn't really bring them back.

Who is Lefty's best pet-pal?

He likes a dog named Pepper in the neighborhood. Like most men I know, he only likes other dogs that show no interest in him.

What is Lefty's best quality?

His patience.

If Lefty could change one thing about San Franciscans, what would it be?

He'd encourage them to eat outside more.

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

What his life was like before he came into mine.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Lefty could speak, who should voice him?

Anyone who plays gangsters.

Read a Q & A with Jason K. Friedman, and visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Claribel Ortega & Pancho Villa

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Claribel Ortega, and I am the social media manager for The Combined Book Exhibit as well as being a YA author. My little buddy’s name is Pancho Villa, and he’s a six year old male Yorkshire Terrier.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We are having a hot cup of coffee at my sister’s house in Connecticut, me and Pancho spent our holiday there and it was very cold outside. Coffee is a part of my family’s dessert regimen, we take it very seriously (and we love it!).

What's brewing?

Nescafe coffee, with some milk, cinnamon, evaporated milk and sugar. To be honest though, my brother in law Lorenzo is really the coffee guru of our family, he always makes it for all of us.

Any treats for you or Pancho Villa on this occasion?

I try not to give him an human food all the time, but my mother always sneaks a piece of cheese to him when I’m not looking. He’s just like me, he loves cheese.

How were you and Pancho Villa united?

I found him from a breeder in Florida, and I took a flight out there to see my family and pick him up. He’s been following me around the house ever since.

How did Pancho Villa get his name? Any aliases?

It was my boyfriend David's idea to name him Pancho, I originally wanted to name him Turtle since I have a thing for naming animals as other animals. I didn’t like the name Pancho at first, but it grew on me and I decided it would be a good name for him. We have many nicknames for him, including Chito, Son, Luchador (which means fighter in Spanish) and ping pong.

Does Pancho Villa do more to help or hinder your writing?

Hinders, absolutely haha. He loves to lay in whatever sliver of space is left between my lap and my computer, and usually ends up with his head on the keyboard or walking across it. He’s only four pounds so he’s very little, but it's hard to type with a ball of fur on my computer.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Pancho thinks everyone is his friend, he’s chased animals before only to try and lick them or bring them his toys when he gets close. He has a mutually loving relationship with our mailman, he just says hi to him and gets petted which is his favorite thing ever.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

All of the above, Pancho is all about his toys. He needs to have all of them with him at all times, so he will take them all out of his crate and bring them into whatever room we’re in. His current favorite is a noisy doughnut toy I got for him at Walgreens.

Who is Pancho Villa's best pet-pal?

He has two! Genevieve and Yupi, both Yorkies.

What is Pancho Villa's best quality?

He makes me laugh every day, but I’d have to say his best quality is being there for me during tough times.Whenever I feel down, he sits next to me and it's such a comfort, he also loves to lick my face whenever I cry which makes me laugh too. He just makes my life better.

If Pancho Villa could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I would do whatever he wanted me to do at all times, even more that I do now.

If Pancho Villa could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

Are you happy with your life?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Pancho Villa could speak, who should voice him?

The comedian Gabriel Iglesias.

Visit Claribel Ortega's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2014

Giano Cromley & Kaiya and Tanka

Who is in the photo at right?

From left to right: Kaiya, 12-year-old female, black lab mix: Giano Cromley, 40-year-old male, writer; Tanka, 5-year-old male, great pyrenees.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Robust Coffee Shop is the go-to coffee spot for Woodlawn, so we make a point of stopping by almost every morning. For the dogs, it's a brief layover on their morning walk. For me, it's a necessary pitstop in order to face the day.

What's brewing?

My morning drink of choice is a triple-shot Americano, black. On especially good days, the barista adds a fourth shot for free.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

The pups don't get treats during their walks. They usually get a snack either right before or right after. Lately, their treats have veered toward the eerily naturalistic: chicken feet, duck feet, rabbit ears -- which look exactly like they sound and are a little freaky to handle. But the dogs eat them up like potato chips, so I've mostly gotten over my squeamishness.

How were you and your dogs united?

My wife adopted Kaiya from an animal shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina. When my wife and I moved in together, I became Kaiya's de facto father. We adopted Tanka from Great Pyrenees Rescue of Central Illinois last year after we lost our beloved chow-retriever mix, Niko. It was a difficult, emotional time and we were unsure how Kaiya would react to a new brother, but Tanka went right up to her and introduced himself. We knew they'd be a good match, and they've been great together ever since.

How did Kaiya and Tanka get their names? Any aliases?

Kaiya got her name the moment my wife first laid eyes on her in the back of the shelter kennel. It was the name she felt this gangly puppy deserved. And it fits her perfectly. Tanka (rhymes with Wonka) is from the Lakota Sioux word for "great" or "large." Since he weighed in at 120 pounds when we first adopted him, it seemed to make sense. As for aliases, Kaiya is sometimes referred to as "Tiny Dancer" because she frequently tap dances across the floor as she eagerly awaits her meals. Tanka occasionally goes by "White Avalanche" because when he wants to do something, he's a force of nature.

Have Kaiya and Tanka inspired any dogs in your fiction?

The most significant dog in my novel, The Last Good Halloween, is a Schnauzer named Mr. T, who was largely inspired by my childhood dog, Mandee, a loyal Scottish terrier. The protagonist of my novel, Kirby Russo, is a troubled 15-year-old who feels at odds with pretty much everyone he meets. His relationship with Mr. T is the most positive and productive one in his life.

Do your dogs do more to help or to hinder your writing?

My dogs do a couple things that help me with my writing. First of all, they insist on a schedule, which helps give a framework to my day. A nice long walk every morning enables me to clear my mind and get a little blood pumping. Second of all, they'll frequently laze around my office while I'm writing, which makes me feel like I have an audience. While they're not really helping me write, I'd like to think they're contributing ideas, which is a nice way of saying I just enjoy having the company.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Here on the South Side of Chicago, we have an abundance of wildlife for the dogs to get excited by, including rabbits, squirrels, cats, raccoons, possums, field mice, ducks, geese, and even a coyote or two. Pretty much anything that moves is fair game, literally.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Kaiya loves a good stick to chew on. Tanka doesn't have an interest in any toys at all.

Do Kaiya and Tanka have a favorite place to go for outings?

We're lucky enough to live close to Lake Michigan, so we get over there at least twice a week. The beaches have an endless amount of stuff to sniff and taste and roll around in. Kaiya loves swimming in the water to fetch sticks. Tanka's afraid to go much deeper than six to eight inches, but he greatly enjoys trying to drink the lake dry -- unsuccessfully thus far.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Our dogs have a number of friends in the neighborhood who they get to say hi to on their walks. Henrietta is a pitbull mix who they enjoy visiting with on a frequent basis. And our neighbors have a fox terrier mix named Vida with whom they'll regularly exchange pleasantries and sniffs.

What is each dog's best quality?

Kaiya is loving and open to everyone. Tanka is patient and willing to absorb an incredible amount of cuddles.

If Kaiya and Tanka could change one thing about Chicagoans, what would it be?

No question, the single biggest thing they would change about Chicagoans is the amount of salt they use on the sidewalks in the winter. It's hard on their paws.

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

To Kaiya: How can I make you more comfortable?

To Tanka: What do you plan to do with that duck/goose/cat/squirrel if you ever actually catch it?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Kaiya and Tanka could speak, who should voice them?

Right now, my wife does voices for both of them. But if I had to hire Hollywood actors to do it, I'd go with Amy Poehler for Kaiya and James Earl Jones for Tanka.

Visit Giano Cromley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lisa & Annie

Who is in the photo at right?

Lisa (audio editor at Sounds True) and Annie (6 year old female pit bull mix).

Does your dog come to work with you every day at Sounds True?

Most every day, unless something more exciting is happening at home.

What's brewing?


Any treats for you or your dog on this interview break?

Doggy treat for Annie that looks like a frosted cookie (given to the dogs of Sounds True by someone from Health & Spirituality magazine). Dark chocolate for me.

How were you and Annie united? How did she get her name? Any aliases?

Annie was found wandering the streets of Casper, Wyoming in 2009 and brought to animal control. Since pit bulls are not easily placed in Casper she was scheduled to be euthanized, but luckily the folks at the shelter realized how sweet she was and put the word out to various rescue groups in hopes of sparing her. Colorado Pit Bull Rescue (CPBR) stepped up and found a foster family for her, thank goodness! She had numerous litters in her young age and was obviously sequestered to a small space outside until she was found - she was wary of entering the home of her foster family, was not house trained, and could only run in circles. Our family had recently lost one of our two dogs (both pittie mixes) to cancer and we were looking to rescue another. We met Annie in a vet clinic through CPBR soon after she was spayed...along with her exceptionally sweet demeanor and approval from the kid & dog, Annie paid no mind to the shop cat. Since we had three cats at that time, we knew she'd fit right in.

Annie was given her name by her foster parents. Her angels at the shelter called her "Fat Momma". We also call her Fan Fan, Banana, Foodie & Fandango.

Does Annie have a favorite toy, ball, or stick?

Not really...she likes to eat sticks and will sometimes chase them. Any stick will do! She isn't quite sure what to do with toys but loves to roll on her back and do her "happy dance."

Does Annie have a favorite place to go for outings?

The beach! A special treat given it's a loooong drive. And if she can't be at the beach, she loves to join me at work...she is always so excited to come to Sounds True to see her favorite people and her favorite dogs.

What is Annie's best quality?

Her spots, her sweetness, and her smile. She's a love dog who brightens every room she enters.

Who is Annie's best pet-pal at Sounds True?

Annie gets on quite well with other dogs and only has issues with those who try to dominate her. Her favorites at work are: Ula the lab [photo right], Savanna the shepherd/lab, Luna the aussie shepherd, and Turnip the other rescued pittie of the ST pack. Annie also enjoys the puppies: Miles, Bear, Yoho & Madison.

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

Feeding her more.

If Annie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

What was your life like before you were rescued?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Annie could speak, who should voice her?

Meg Ryan.

Learn about other dogs at Sounds True, including: Andrew Pike & Miles, Kasmah McDermott & Scruffy, and Wendy Zollner & Savanna.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 6, 2014

Marla Frazee & Toaster

Who is in the photo at right?

The one wearing the green bandana is Toaster. She's almost two years old. I bought her off Craigslist for $300. Best guess regarding her breed is that she's part rabbit, part coyote. Can you tell that Toaster did not want to have her picture taken?

Oh, and I'm Marla Frazee. I write and illustrate children's books.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

It seems like the perfect time because the book of poems I just illustrated by Cynthia Rylant is called God Got a Dog. In the title poem, God decides to adopt a stray dog She finds out by the railroad tracks. She takes him home and names him Ernie. This is the first book I've done that is really for all ages of people – and all ages of dogs. Instead of being primarily for children – and puppies.

What's brewing?

Always a non-fat, extra-hot latte. Preferably straight from the Intelligentsia barista. But barring that, I try to produce a reasonable facsimile at home.

Any treats for you or Toaster on this occasion?

My agent, Steve Malk, just sent some cookies from the Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos, California. I'll have my favorite – brown butter sea salt. Toaster will have pretend bacon.

How did Toaster get her name? Any nicknames?

When we brought her home, she looked, and still looks, like she stuck her nose in the toaster! I call her Toast for short.

How were you and Toaster united?

Our previous dog, Rocket, had just died. I was so sad. I kept popping into the humane society where we'd adopted Rocket, and into pet shops with the way-too-expensive dogs. Then I started combing through dog adoption websites. On April Fool's Day in 2012, I saw a photo on Craigslist of the most worried-looking puppy I had ever seen. I knew she was the dog for me.

Is Toaster the model for any dogs in your books?

Not yet, but Rocket had a starring role in Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! and I named the roller coaster after him in the book I did called Roller Coaster.

I also wrote and illustrated a book about two dogs (who I've been told look like cats) called Boot & Shoe. But I know I'll be putting Toaster in a book soon.

Does Toaster do more to help or hinder your writing and illustrating?

In the morning, Toaster and I hike in the hills above Pasadena. I use this time to get my head organized around whatever I am going to be working on in the studio that day. Since she runs ahead and falls behind and then needs to catch up, Toaster's hike is about three times as long as mine. When I get to work, she is completely wiped out. This is the ideal system and I try to make it happen as often as possible.

Who are Toaster's best pet-pals?

Her best friend is our cat, Klondike. They perform antics and are into shenanigans.

Where is Toaster's favorite outdoor destination?

A particular shallow brook – she plops herself in and laps up the water.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

She chomps assorted large sticks into toothpick-sized bits. Did I mention that she has anxiety?

Cat, postman, rabbit...?

Since her best bud is a cat and since she's part rabbit herself, I'd say the postman continues to disturb her universe the most.

If she were in therapy, I'm sure postman issues would take up a lot of the time.

What is Toaster's best quality?

She has absolutely no aggression. None. She is a complete and total pacifist.

If Toaster could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?

She would abolish all houses, cars, trucks, streets, and strangers.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dog could speak, which actor should do her voice?

Lisa Kudrow.

If Toaster could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

What on earth happened to you in your first 8 weeks of life that made you so damn nervous?

Visit Marla Frazee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sharron Kahn Luttrell & Bear

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Sharron Kahn Luttrell, with Bear, a golden retriever puppy who is in training to be a service dog through the nonprofit, NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans. Bear lives in a medium security prison during the week, where he is being trained by an inmate. I’m a volunteer weekend puppy raiser – I take Bear out Friday-Sunday to expose him to the experiences he’ll encounter as a working service dog.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Every weekend we’re expected to bring our puppies on “field trips” to get them used to different places. Visiting a coffee shop is one of the earliest trips we take, when the puppies are around three months old. That’s why we’re here today. I’m in a chair with Bear’s leash in my hand; Bear’s in a ‘down-stay’ on the floor, practicing how to ignore crumbs.

What's brewing?

There’s no time to consider options when you’re trying to maintain control over a three-month-old puppy, so I just asked for a small coffee – whatever the house blend is – with a splash of 2 percent milk.

Any treats for you or Bear on this occasion?

I think Bear managed to get a hold of an empty sugar packet while I wasn’t looking. There appears to be something in his mouth. Pardon me while I perform an extraction …

Please tell us about your new book, Weekends With Daisy.

Weekends with Daisy is a memoir about the year I spent co-raising my first NEADS puppy, a yellow Lab, with a prison inmate, Keith. When I volunteered to become a weekend puppy raiser, I was in it for the canine companionship. I ended up with so much more. Over the course of that year, Daisy worked transformative magic on both me and Keith. She helped me come to terms with my changing role as a mother, and for Keith, she became a path toward redemption.

Please tell us about your weekends with Bear.

I spring Bear from prison every Friday afternoon, then we live it up all weekend before I bring him back Sunday evening. We take walks, check out the neighbor’s ducks and chickens. We knock off a few items on the list of required field trips. We’re up to shopping malls and bus stations.

How did Bear get his name? Any aliases?

For a donation of $1,400, you can name a NEADS puppy. A Lions Club in Massachusetts named Bear after the beloved dog of a member who passed away.

As for aliases, sometimes I call him “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bear-bear,” sung to the opening beats of Muse’s “Madness.”

Has Bear developed any pet-pals during his weekends with you?

Sometimes he plays with Holly, the dog I puppy-raised after Daisy. Holly lives close by, and in fact, I’m Holly’s “dogmother.” (Get it? Like godmother, only backward.) I try to live up to the honor with lots of visits and, on special occasions, gifts.

What is Bear's best quality?

His attentiveness. That’s critically important because a service dog has to be tuned in to and ready to help his person at all times.

If Bear could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him? Would you have had a different question for Daisy--or imagine how she might have answered it differently?

What’s it like to be a dog in prison? I’d have asked Daisy the same question, but with her I was so unsure of myself that I probably would have snuck in a second question: “Who’s the better trainer, me or Keith?”

What news can you share about the adaptation of Weekends With Daisy?

Not much at this point. It’s still at the screenwriting stage and I haven’t seen anything. Nor do I expect to. As my agent so gently reminded me, “It’s your book, Sharron, but it’s not your movie.”

Visit Sharron Kahn Luttrell's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue