Monday, March 31, 2014

Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Kathy Erskine, an author of books aimed at middle grade and young adult readers but suitable for adults, too (with their children's permission). Fletcher is a male Labradoodle who's a year and a half, and often naughty.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Every day is an occasion for coffee with Fletcher -- here we're on the front porch. He's a social dog, though, and would rather hang out at cafes. He's still a little too exuberant, though.

What's brewing?

Today's drip coffee is "Bill's House Blend" from a restaurant on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. I'm a several-cups-a-day coffee drinker but it doesn't have to be fancy -- as long as it's strong, with milk, I'm happy. It can even (gasp!) be instant.

Any treats for you or Fletcher on this occasion?

I did give him some bacon bits so he'd sit still for the camera. It also works if I sing to him but I only do that indoors where no one will hear me.

How were you and Fletcher united?

At an airport. He was flown to us from a breeder. We tried to get a pound puppy, as usual, but it's hard to find Labradoodles at the pound and we needed a non allergenic dog.

How did Fletcher get his name? Any aliases?

We agreed on a two syllable name because there's something more satisfying about calling out a 2-syllable name. I suspect the name Fletcher was influenced by the Middle Ages novel I was working on since the main character is the son of a bowyer and fletcher, a bow and arrow maker. Some aliases: Fletch. Babe. Devil Dog. Off the counter!!

Does Fletcher do more to help or hinder your writing?

Hinder. He has perfected the laser stare, then barking, then flipping my arm off the keyboard, when he wants a walk.

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

I'm working on something new right now and there is a dog in the story inspired by my former dog, Maxine. Hopefully, you'll be reading about her before long!

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

He loves them all. He even tries to play with stinkbugs. He doesn't realize why cats run away from him or why stinkbugs stop playing (usually, he has pawed them to death). I know, it's sad.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

If you throw a ball for him he will chase it until he drops or your arm gets tired. Squeaky toys are pretty awesome, too. He will pick up a stick on a walk, occasionally, but usually drops it once distracted (inside of 5 seconds).

Who is Fletcher's best pet-pal?

Scottie! He's a dog Fletcher plays with at dog sitting. When they see each other they freeze and stare something in their unspoken language and then they're off and running for the rest of the day.

What is Fletcher's best quality?

He likes everyone and everything.

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

Dogs would be allowed on more trails and in more restaurants, especially in the kitchens of those restaurants.

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

Where did you put the can opener?

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

Benedict Cumberbatch. Everyone loves a dog with a British accent, right?

Visit Kathryn Erskine's website.

Check out Erskine's top 10 first person narratives.

My Book, The Movie: Seeing Red.

The Page 69 Test: Seeing Red.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gayle Rosengren & Fiona

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Gayle Rosengren and I'm a children's author. My debut book, a middle grade historical fiction novel called What the Moon Said was just published by Putnam/Penguin on Feb 20th, so I need plenty of coffee to keep me hopping from one bookstore/school/online interview to the next and still have the energy to work on my next book.

My adorable companion is Fiona, my 3 year-old Bichon Frise. She is quite the darling little girl, don't you agree?

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

This is a mostly normal morning for Fiona and me. She is never far away from me (although not usually seated at the table; this was a special occasion for her online debut!). Whether I'm at my laptop with my first cup of coffee or heading up to bed at night, she's somewhere in a two-feet radius of me. She loved being invited onto the chair next to me to share this coffee moment but she especially loves hopping up on the couch to watch a movie with me at night.

What's brewing?

Our favorite home-ground beans topped off with Italian Sweet Cream. Mmmmm! The house smells wonderful for hours afterward.

Any treats for you or Fiona on this occasion?

Fiona always gets a few "accidentally" dropped Cheerios. I sometimes treat myself to chocolate biscotti. I'm also addicted to the scones from my favorite bakery and try to sneak one in at least once a week. My first choice always is their chocolate chip scone, which comes with the expected chips inside as well as a drizzle of dark chocolate and a drizzle of white chocolate frosting on top. Yum--they're to die for!

Are there any dogs in your fiction who are inspired by Fiona?

There is a dog in What the Moon Said who is more reminiscent of a German Shepherd I had many years ago and loved dearly. But the dog in my next novel (tentatively titled Joanna's Cold War) is definitely modeled after Fiona. She is small and white and cuddly and always gives excited welcomes to the main character when she comes home. Her name is Dixie.

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

I'd have to say a little of each. When she wants a walk and I'm in the middle of a writing streak, it can be a little frustrating to have to stop. But she also gets me out into the fresh air for a while, which gets my brain firing on all cylinders, and that’s a good thing.

How did Fiona get her name?

Fiona was named by the woman who rescued her from a Milwaukee humane society shelter. The woman runs a Bichon Rescue agency outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where I live. Most of the dogs she saves come from auctions of puppy mill victims. Fiona was one of the lucky ones. Somehow she ended up on the streets, but it seemed pretty clear she'd been well taken care of prior to that and she was very well-trained. She couldn't have been on the streets for long. Why no one claimed her is beyond me, but their loss turned out to be my great good fortune. She's a sweetheart. I could have changed her name to anything I wanted, but I loved it. She really is a Fiona.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

She'll bark at any critter and try to chase it if she's outside--whimper and yelp and bark if she's inside viewing them through the window. She barks at delivery people and friends who arrive, but she stops as soon as she sees they're being invited inside.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

She loves to play, and if I'm too busy to play when she's in the mood, she'll flip her stuffed bunny or owl into the air and then pounce on it and run around with it, then flip it up again and repeat. She does love the fact that the bunny squeaks and the owl hoots (although in kind of a spooky way!).

Does Fiona have a favorite place to go for outings?

She loves to go to go anywhere in the car, but her favorite place to stay for any length of time--especially without us, if we have to travel without her--is her former temporary home with the woman who rescued her. There are generally at least fourteen other Bichons there at any given time, awaiting adoption, so there is no lack of playmates and there are no cages. All the dogs are treated like house pets. Luckily, it's a good-sized home out in the country and there's a big deck and fenced in yard. We joke that we're taking her to doggie sleep-away camp. She's always happy to go, but she's even happier to be taken back home where she is not only Top Dog but Only Dog.

Who is Fiona's best pet-pal?

Her best pet-pal is Reggie, my daughter and son-in-law's beagle-mix. They live only a mile away and when they have to go away for a weekend they bring Reggie to our house, and if we're only going away for a night or two, we take Fiona to their house. The two of them get along well, except for always wanting to steal the other one's food! Talk about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence!

What is Fiona's best quality?

Hmmm… She has lots, so it's hard to choose just one. Her Best quality, though, would have to be her very loving personality. She a cuddler and a snuggler and looks at me with such adoration it's embarrassing sometimes (but awfully nice!).

If Fiona could change one thing about Wisconsinites, what would it be?

She'd probably wish they weren't so darned devoted to exercise, so they wouldn't go jogging past her house so often. She wants to chase them in the worst way but can't, so it's very frustrating.

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

This is an easy one: Sweet little Fiona, how did you come to be separated from your first family and lost in the scary city?

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

Jennifer Lawrence! I can hear her now--so funny!

Visit Gayle Rosengren's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 24, 2014

Michael Morse & Mr. Wilson

Who is in the photo at right?

This is Mr. Wilson and me, Michael Morse, sitting in my backyard on the day we picked him up at a highway rest stop. He’s a two-year-old Schnoodle according to him, a two-year-old mutt according to me. I am a retired Rescue Captain with the Providence, RI Fire Department and author of two books about that, Rescuing Providence, (2007, Paladin Press) and Responding, (2011, EPI) and the forthcoming Mr. Wilson Makes it Home, (Fall, 2014 Skyhorse Publishing) about life with Mr. Wilson.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

My coffee, and now Mr. Wilson are my constant companions every morning; my coffee cup is always close until it’s gone, and Mr. Wilson keeps an eye on me every waking minute.

What's brewing?

My wife and I brew Jim’s Organic Happy House Blend in a Faberware percolator. We order it in five-pound bags direct from Jim and keep it in the freezer. I put a little milk and two Stevias on the bottom of the cup and fill ‘er up three times or until I have to leave the house, whichever comes first.

Any treats for you or Mr. Wilson on this occasion?

My treat is the coffee, Mr. Wilson gets his cookies at bedtime, usually Wellness Well Bars with whitefish and sweet potatoes.

How were you and Mr. Wilson united?

Mrs. Morse thought I was a little lost without a dog in my life – we had been without for over three years - and decided to get me us a dog for my birthday. She Googled “little dogs that don’t shed for adoption in Rhode Island” and Wilson (the Mr. was added later) appeared. He was actually in Arkansas, and through the combined efforts of Friends of Homeless Animals, RI, Alpha Pet Transport, a lady named Cheri and a great network of volunteers a week after her first sighting on our monitor the little guy showed up in Connecticut with about twenty other dogs that had been adopted. It was truly a magical moment, I was so moved by the experience I wrote the book.

How did Mr. Wilson get his name? Any aliases?

He came to us simply as Wilson. We have no idea why we call him Mr. Wilson but we do know that he likes it better. He also likes “W” “Schmedly,” (only when we call him in from outside) and “Potato.”

Does Mr. Wilson do more to help or hinder your writing?

There’s something about this little guy, he just makes everything I do better, and my writing has become less forced and much more natural. I still have to dig into my forehead with a dull knife for the right word now and then, but it is a lot less painful.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

He learned right quick to not chase the cats, both female Maine Coons, and loves to bark at the postman but lives for chasing the squirrels that gather at the bottom of our birdfeeders. If the cats dressed up like squirrels and delivered the mail I think he would have a sensory overload and die a happy dog.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

He loves his squeaky toys and treats them like delicate little flowers, nibbles rather than chews and is especially fond of his purple monkey.

Who is Mr. Wilson's best pet-pal?

Why, me of course!

What is Mr. Wilson's best quality?

He’s just kind. Simple as that.

If Mr. Wilson could change one thing about you, what would it be?

He doesn’t like the way I drive.

If Mr. Wilson could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

What are you thinking?

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

Will Ferrell acting like Andy Griffith in a remake of Mayberry RFD.

Visit the Mr. Wilson Makes it Home blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shannon Gusy & Bella

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Shannon Gusy, a San Diego-based writer, animal advocate and eating disorder survivor. This is Bella, a three-year-old Miniature Poodle mix who I adopted at a local humane society. She is just six pounds, so she comes with me just about everywhere!

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We’re at the Goldfish Point Cafe in La Jolla, California, right on the ocean. I’m working on my memoir and Bella is tilting her head at the seals barking in the distance. She is chewing on a tasty milk-bone, but praying that I will drop some of my breakfast burrito (which she undoubtedly prefers over the milk-bone).

What's brewing?

I’m having a vanilla latte, steaming hot and delicious, as they always are here.

Any treats for you or Bella on this occasion?

Whenever I write, Bella is in my lap, sometimes resting her chin on my wrist as I’m typing. She’s the most affectionate dog I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot of dogs), and provides me with an indescribable amount of love, emotional support and comfort. For this reason, I can’t help but spoil her. I will admit that I have a fresh cookie in my bag right now from a doggie bakery down the street.

How were you and Bella united?

When I was working at the humane society, a litter of puppies came in that I fell in love with. For the first two years I worked at the humane society, I was perhaps the only employee without a pet. People would say, “Oh my God! What will-power you have! How do you not adopt them all!?” Well, the truth was that I wanted to. I desperately wanted to. But I had also made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t adopt until I had one solid year of recovery from bulimia. Adopting a dog is to become a parent, and I could barely take care of myself. When I adopted Bella [as a puppy, photo left], I felt like I’d been waiting for her all my life.

How did Bella get her name? Any nicknames?

Bella was a random choice. Her middle name is Boo because we adopted her around Halloween. This has lead to the nicknames Bella Boo and Boo Boo. When she gets out of the bath and her hair is all wet, we call her Pierra—it just feels right. We also call her Linguini because she’s built like a noodle.

You recently published a terrific essay in Salon titled "How dogs rescued me from an eating disorder." I take it that the essay is from your memoir-in-progress. Can you tell us more about the book?

Shelter dogs are my heroes, my vital inspiration, my truth. I’ve suffered for years from the disease of addiction. I’m not like the girl who has a bad breakup, eats a few pints of ice-cream, feels bad about it the next day, and goes back to eating normally. I use ice-cream like a knife to tear myself apart. There are people who eat too much or too little, feel the negative consequences of that, get some help, and move on. But then there are the hopeless ones: the ones who relapse the day they get out of rehab; the ones who Jenny Craig, Bob Green, Weight Watchers, and even Oprah can’t fix; the ones who get lap-bands only to burst them. There are hopeless addicts all over the world, and I’m one of them. Nothing worked for me—not therapy, not religion, not medication, not countless hours in the self-help section, not rehab. What I needed to heal me was something that moved beyond the physical and mental aspects of my disease. I needed a source of healing that touched me emotionally and spiritually, and for me, that was shelter dogs. My book is about those remarkable dogs and how they helped me.

Who are Bella's best pet-pals?

Oh boy, where to begin. After I adopted Bella and she was clear of all her puppy shots, I brought her to work with me every day at the humane society. She had a boyfriend named Skippy, and was a huge fan of a three-legged Pit Bull named Finely a few cubicles away. She loves big dogs, and adores a Rhodesian Ridgeback names Simba, a Weimaraner named Diesel, and a Shepherd named Pua.

Where is Bella's favorite outdoor destination?

Bella has three favorite dog beaches: Ocean Beach Dog Beach, Coronado Dog Beach, and Del Mar Dog Beach. She loves them all. She loves to dig in the sand and roll around in gross things and pick up seaweed and sticks and play chase with other dogs. I often go to these beaches to write, but I usually get distracted because there is just so much canine happiness all around me--I just sit there and soak it all up like the rays!

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

This is actually a tough question. Squeaky toy if she is at home with me. Ball if she has an audience (she only plays fetch with an audience). And stick or seaweed or anything she can pick up in her mouth at dog beach.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Cat. The accounting office at the humane society kept some of the adoptable cats who had trouble on the adoption floor. Daily, Bella visited them. She thought they were just amazing (I’m not sure the feeling was mutual).

What is Bella's best quality?

Her heart. She’s the most loving dog I’ve ever known.

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

More than once at dog beach, guys with giant surfboards balanced on their heads have come to say hello to her. Bella is scared of those surfboards, and wishes the surfer dudes would put them down before they come say hi.

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

Julia Roberts. Because she’s incredible, and so is my little Bella.

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

Do you know, my dearest friend, how much you mean to me?

Visit Shannon Gusy's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2014

Carol Lynch Williams & Olive and Loki

Who is in the photo at right?

I am Carol Lynch Williams. I write books for middle grade and young adult readers. My beagle is Olive. We got her 18 months ago, when she was a pup. And Loki is a visiting border collie that we may end up keeping as our own. He's about two.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

It's been cold and rainy and I know we're going ot be getting snow again. I always need something sweet on a bitter day. Not only that, my novel The Haven is coming out any moment. Gotta celebrate!

What's brewing?

Hot chocolate. Creamy, sweet, dollop of sweet whipped cream. Yum. I'll have a large, please.

Any treats for you or Olive and Loki on this occasion?

By now Olive has begged anything she get from anyone who will listen. She's pretty friendly. Loki is sitting next to me, patiently waiting. I'll share some of my bagel with cream cheese. Yup, you're seeing a fattening trend going on here. Cream. Cream cheese. Better throw some butter on there. Sweet. Yum.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

When Olive came to live with us, she was so tiny. We went through several names for her, and finally decided Olive because it just seemed right. Her nickname is Salty Dog. We got her from rescue. They thought she was a full-blown beagle, but nope. I think she has some chihauhau in her as she loves to burrow and she hasn't grown very large.

Loki is on loan from a friend who is out of town. He's a rescue dog as well. He started out one name, got the name Sirius (from Harry Potter) and then, when he was adopted a third time, he was named Loki after Thor's half brother. He's a fabulous dog. But he barks too much.

How were you and your dogs united?

The best dog in the world, Violet, was killed when she was hit by a car. We missed her terribly. Still do. Violet nipped at any of the boys she didn't like when they came to visit my daughters. One day my oldest daughter went to PetSmart and there she ran into the dog rescue people. She bought Olive, as a tiny puppy a day later.

Please tell us about your new novel, The Haven.

Shiloh lives at Haven Hospital and Halls, a school for the terminally ill. No one ever gets well. As memories of surgery, a stranger and odd events tap at her brain, Shiloh is approached by Gideon. He talks of rebellion. Gideon wants freedom for the Terminals. But Shiloh isn't sure she can do what needs to be done to help save herself and her schoolmates.

How do your dogs help--and hinder--your writing?

Loki knocks my hands out of the way when I try to type on the computer. He's pretty strong. He'll also lay his head on the keyboard. Things can get pretty spitty. I have to send him out. Olive sits in the chair behind me so she is warm and so am I.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your books?

There are animals in many of my novels. But Violet (the nipper) actually inspired the dog Thelma in Signed, Skye Harper, a book that comes out in June.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

All three. Please. And children.

Who are Olive and Loki's best pet-pals?

Abbey, another rescue dog. Abbey is Olive's cousin. The three love each other and wrestle till I want to pull my hair out. Then they fall in odd places to rest until they have energy to wrestle and bark and nip and fight again.

What is each dog's best quality?

Olive loves to talk, loves people, loves to be petted, loves to be held. She also loves to eat.
Loki is a good guard dog, gives hugs when you come in after a long day and always looks likes he's smiling.

If Olive and Loki could change one thing about you, what would it be?

They would have me give them free access to whatever we are eating. And fridge privileges.

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

Sandra Bullock for Olive. But she'd have to do some whining. And Loki. Paul Rudd.

If Olive and Loki could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Vets are saying you guys really don't have emotion. Do you? And can you tell me how to finish this novel?

Visit Carol Lynch Williams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Susan Abel Sullivan & Moxie and Goober

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Susan Abel Sullivan, author of The Weredog Whisperer, The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama, and Cursed: Wickedly Fun Stories. My older dog is a female American pit bull terrier named Moxie. She’s a shelter adoptee so we don’t know her actual age—anywhere from ten to fourteen years old. The younger is some kind of hound/pit mix named Goober. He’s close to three-years old.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I have a confession to make; I don’t drink coffee. However, I love taking Diet Coke breaks in the afternoon to sit outside on the back deck with the dogs.

What's brewing?

I do love the smell of coffee brewing. When I worked for a Godiva Chocolate boutique, the aroma of Godiva coffee was heavenly.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

The dogs are on a diet as per our veterinarian, but I’m having Bavarian pretzels and cashews.

Do your dogs help or hinder your writing? Have they inspired any dogs in your fiction?

Both! When they’re quiet, they’re a delight to have in my office. But when they decide that it’s playtime, they get so loud and boisterous that I can’t concentrate worth a flying flip. Moxie inspired the character of Luna—a family pit bull terrier that gets bitten by a weredog and turns into a teenaged girl during the full moon—in my novel, The Weredog Whisperer.

How did your dogs get their names? Any nicknames?

Moxie was chock full of moxie, especially for a dog that wound up on death row at the animal shelter. We originally named Goober “Bo,” but we changed his name two weeks ago when he ate one of his toys, became obstructed, and had to have two surgeries. The vet tech who cared for him affectionately called him Goober. He actually prefers the name Goober to Bo.

How were you and your dogs united?

My sister found Moxie for me online. Don’t ask me why she was surfing animal shelters on the internet. I didn’t even want a dog at the time. I wrote an article about the circumstances on how Moxie and I found each other for my publisher’s blog. Goober just showed up in our yard when he was six-months old. No collar, skin and bones. I put an ad in Craigslist, but the only person who responded was looking for a lost Basset hound.

Where do your dogs most like to visit on an outing?

The veterinarian. Seriously. Our yard is so big, that we play in the yard and swimming pool rather than go for walks in the neighborhood.

Do the dogs have any non-canine pet pals?

Yes, we have five cats. They all adore the dogs and vice versa. One cat, a Maine coon named Ernie, used to nurse on Moxie when he was a kitten.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Moxie is fixated on tennis balls; she was like that when we adopted her. It’s an anxiety thing. Our vet has restricted Goober to only Kong and Nylabone toys.

What is each dog's best quality?

Moxie wants nothing more than to please me. She is definitely a mama’s girl. Goober is seventy-five pounds of cuddle bunny and loves to be loved.

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

They’d change the notion of “ban or restrict pit bulls” to “ban the deed, not the breed.” The American pit bull terrier used to be the most popular dog in America. A few bad apples came along in the 1970s and started fighting dogs again (dog fighting and bear baiting were big sports in the 1800s) and the breed lost its reputation as a great family dog, which is unfortunate, because they are great family dogs: smart, loving, and loyal.

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

Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie in the Vacation movies) for Goober. I’m going to tweak this question for Moxie. Rather than picking a voice, I’d select Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson to play Moxie/Luna when she turns into a teenaged girl during the full moon in a film adaptation of The Weredog Whisperer.

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

Tell me about your life before you came to live with us.

Visit Susan Abel Sullivan's website and Twitter perch, and learn more about The Weredog Whisperer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 10, 2014

Allison Gutknecht & Gypsy

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Allison Gutknecht, author of Don’t Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants (and Other Lessons I’ve Learned), the first in the Mandy Berr series, and I am attempting to wrangle my nine-year-old toy poodle, Gypsy, and my two-year-old cat, Folly.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Gypsy, Folly, and I are celebrating the release of my new book, A Cast Is the Perfect Accessory (and Other Lessons I’ve Learned), the second in the series following the adventures of Mandy Berr. They are impressed with it only because their names are both featured in print within my biography.

What's brewing?

Pumpkin spice Keurig coffee, black.

Any treats for you or Gypsy on this occasion?

Gypsy has a penchant for kielbasi, the Polish sausage, though she gets gifted with it very, very rarely.

How did Gypsy get her name? Any nicknames?

My favorite actress is Bernadette Peters, and both Gypsy and Folly were named after musicals in which she has starred.

How were you and Gypsy united?

Gypsy was my college graduation present. I moved to New York from South Jersey/Philadelphia two weeks after graduating, and Gypsy has been my nearly inseparable companion in the city ever since.

Does Gypsy do more to help or hinder your writing?

Gypsy is a definite hindrance to my writing. In fact, when I visit schools, I tell the students all about where I end up drafting my books. You see, I would prefer to do so at the desk in my apartment, where my computer is usually stationed. But if I sit there, Gypsy barks at me. So I move to my dining room table and spread out all of my things, which means my cat begins systematically knocking my papers to the floor and stealing my pens and sitting on my post-it notes (oh, and also, Gypsy barks). This means that I usually have to write from my couch, which is not ideal, but Gypsy tends to make sure that her wishes always come first.

Are there any Gypsy-inspired dogs in your books?

I haven’t written any books including a dog yet, but the main character in my two current books, Mandy Berr, has some definite character traits which were inspired by Gypsy. Specifically, both Gypsy and Mandy have a tendency to lean toward self-centeredness (Gypsy’s life philosophy is essentially, “And what about Gypsy?”), and they each react very extremely to any given situation (nearly everything is either the “best thing ever” or “worst thing ever” – there is very little gray area). Gypsy is also mistaken for a puppy at least weekly, and there is something in her excitable nature that has translated itself to Mandy’s view of the world.

Who are Gypsy's best pet-pals?

Gypsy’s best and only friend is Folly, who (don’t tell Gypsy) is much, much smarter than her. In fact, I’m pretty sure Folly knows how to read. She spent the first nine weeks of her life living in Ann M. Martin’s house, so it would make sense.

Where is Gypsy's favorite outdoor destination?

Anywhere that she gets carried in her bag. As long as she’s included, Gypsy doesn’t care where she ends up.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Her squeaky yellow ball, which is her whole reason for waking up each morning (although the cat often has to help her find the thing).

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Gypsy is convinced every single person is her best friend, yet she’s afraid of all other animals, except cats. A postman/cat combo would be ideal for her, though in truth, she’d probably take or leave the cat in favor of the person.

What is Gypsy's best quality?

Gypsy is excessively loving and lovable. This tends to make her quite needy, but in the most endearing of ways.

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

She would prefer that I never, ever leave the apartment, unless, of course, she is accompanying me.

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

I became convinced very early on that Gypsy speaks exactly like Elmo from Sesame Street, and yes, she too would talk in third person.

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

What do I have to do to convince you once and for all that when I walk out the door, I will always come back to you?

Visit Allison Gutknecht's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Druce Tan & Kimono

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Druce, and during the day I am an IT systems manager working for Procter and Gamble (P&G); when I'm at home I am the parent of a very spoiled dog. His name is Kimono and he turns 5 this November 28. He's a purebred, tri-colored beagle.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I just like spending time with my best bud each chance I get. He always wonders why he cannot have any of this caffeine goodness though.

What's brewing?

Brewed coffee from Nescafe with cream. No sugar.

Any treats for you or Kimono on this occasion?

He got a few carrot cubes. I also bring some of his Pedigree dental treats.

How were you and Kimono united?

I encouraged my good friend to purchase a Beagle years back. Then when that Beagle eventually gave birth, I got one of the pups. Kimono was the eldest among a brood of 3 and he was about 4 months old when I adopted him.

How did Kimono get his name? Any aliases?

The name had to start with a letter K since the litter has to have the same initial as the mom when we want to register them with official papers. It was a toss up between Kimono and Kuma. But i thought Kimono sounded cuter. His nickname is "Little Dood", although he ain't so little any more.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

The little dood only has encounters with cats. we dont have squirrels, he also stays at the back yard so he doesn't get to see postmen. He enjoys stalking and scaring cats so that they jump up high, but doesn't give chase when they run away. He just does it for the heck of it.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

All of the above. As long as it's playtime, anything is free game. I used to get him toys like these but their lifespan is only a matter of hours. Now, we play with rawhide.

Does Kimono have a favorite place to go for outings?

The village park where we go for walks every day. Like clockwork, he knows if it's time to go out. He just loves these walks.

Who is Kimono's best pet-pal?

His best friend is also his worst enemy. There is a black and white stray cat that hangs out near our place. They have a love/hate relationship where they keep each other company but also fight occasionally.

What is Kimono's best quality?

His innate empathy. He knows how to cheer me up when I'm down by doing silly things or give me a really happy welcome when I'm back and tired from work. He just reminds me to enjoy life like how he does.

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

My hesitations of letting him come and stay inside the house. We have a lot of breakable stuff like vases and ceramic displays and some areas are also carpeted. He stays at the back yard which has more than enough room for him to run around.

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

I would ask him, "You know I love you so much right buddy?"

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

Oh, definitely the voice actor for the video-game character, Prinny who is Grant George. That's where I got the nickname "little dood". I always imagined him to have a voice like that. (It's the voice in this clip.)

Visit Druce Tan's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 3, 2014

Christy Bassett & Jagger, Dozer, and Ruger

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Christy Bassett. My husband Harley and I have a small backyard farm, Barefoot All Natural Farm, where we raise chickens, turkeys, goats and a couple of crazy kids. We have a new blog that focuses on the perspective that farming can give you and techniques that we employ. I am also a full-time assistance dog trainer and Harley is an airplane mechanic for the United States Air Force. We have 3 dogs, all males. Jagger is a Pit Bull/Husky mix who will be 11 this year. Violet and Windy are our 2 Saanen dairy goats and Shine, our cow, is peeking through the barn door. Our other dogs are pictured below. Dozer is a 4-year-old Catahoula Leopard dog mix and Ruger is a 1-year-old Great Dane mix.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Morning chores require coffee. And some good animal company is always welcome when making the rounds.

What's brewing?

We brew Dean’s Beans at home, our locally based, organic fair trade coffee company. Moka Sumatra is a favorite. I could lie and say that I squirt some goat’s milk right out of the goat and into my coffee cup during the morning milking for a “farm fresh latte”, but that’s even a little strange for me.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

We make our own dog treats from our pastured chicken and vegetables, so I always have a pocket full of those to reward good doggie behavior. And of course the ladies are enjoying their morning hay and grain breakfast.

How did your dogs get their names? Any nicknames?

Jagger was my first dog. I got him as a puppy 2 months after I moved into my first apartment and started working as a dog trainer. I like to tell people that he is named after the famous “Mick Jagger” since he howls like a rock star. But the embarrassing truth is that he’s named after my adolescent crush on a soap opera character- Jagger Cates from General Hospital. I do like to sing “he’s got the WOO like Jagger” to him on occasion though. When no one is looking. Or listening. Or within miles. We also call him “Jaggaboo” and “Jags” when we’re in the midst of oogey boogey sweet talk.

Dozer [photo left] came with his name, although it was a nickname at the time. The rescue that had him named him “Pete”, but he was so friendly that he would bulldoze the other dogs in the home to get to people for attention. My son was obsessed with bulldozers at the time when he entered our family, so it was a no brainer to stick with it. Jake, our 4 year old son, calls him “my dog, Dozey Doze”. And Harley likes to call him by some other endearing pet names, like “nut-job” and “freak show”. Isn’t that sweet?

Ruger is named after a gun company, as you may imagine. He is our first dog since entering into our new farming lifestyle, so we wanted a name that felt powerful and embodied a country feel. We also seem to have an “er” theme in the ending for our dogs’ names, as it happens. No nicknames yet- but I’m sure they’re coming.

How were you and your dogs united?

I found all of them on, actually. Do not go on that website unless you plan to come home with a dog. Like, tomorrow. Or you have amazing willpower. Harley has banned me from that site since I spent almost our entire vacation last summer scanning dog profiles and pictures, and at the end of the week we came home with Ruger. Turns out 3 dogs is enough.

I’ve always had a weakness for blue eyed animals, so when I saw Jagger’s profile with those sweet little blue puppy eyes staring back at me there was no question that he would be mine. I visited the Fitchburg Animal Shelter, where he and his siblings were just put up for adoption and spent a good long hour trying to be objective and pick the puppy with the best temperament. In the end, Jagger (or “Tubbo” as he was so aptly named because of his tendency to crawl over to people on his big round belly) was not the puppy with the best temperament, but I knew that I would be back for him the next day if I didn’t bring him home right then and there. Those eyes would just haunt me forever. We’ve gone through so much together- we met Harley only 5 days after I brought Jagger home (he even accompanied me on our first date, as a “bad guy detector” and easy out if it turned out badly), and we’ve watched our family grow and our scenery change side by side for over a decade. He’s definitely my heart dog. Good thing he’s going to live forever to finally live up to his “grumpy old man” image that he’s always had.

We lost our second dog, Ninja, a Great Dane mix, to cancer at only 7 years old shortly after my daughter was born. Jagger had become accustomed to living with another dog and didn’t do well by himself. So the search for a new buddy started while I was still home with a newborn. I had always been drawn to blue merle or blue colored dogs (see a blue theme here?) so I narrowed my search for one of that description. Dozer (or “Pete” at the time) came up on the screen and had been in a rescue for over 6 months in his southern foster home. He had escaped a high-kill shelter in Kansas, despite being heartworm positive, being a large breed and also being dark colored. All 4 of those things are strikes against a dog’s chances in a shelter, and he had beaten the odds and beaten the parasite that threatened to kill him, all due to his wonderful temperament. But he still didn’t have a home. After questioning his foster mom intensely about his personality (there were some high demands put on a dog entering our home with cats, dogs, farm animals, babies and also the fact that I take my dogs to work), I was confident that this was the dog for us. When we went to pick Dozer up from the transport, I opened the back door to my SUV to put his paperwork in and he jumped right in onto my son’s lap and made himself comfortable in his car seat. They hugged and kissed and laughed a lot. And he was home.

Although Dozer was a great addition to our family, we really missed our Great Dane mix, Ninja. That big, dopey personality that a Dane brings into a home is really powerful and it’s absence was felt in ours. It took some time before we decided that we could break our “no more dogs than adults” rule, but we went for it. Again, I searched on Petfinder and came up with a blue colored Dane mix from the Fitchburg Animal Shelter, the same place that I had gotten Jagger 10 years earlier. I took it as a sign and made an appointment to meet the big guy on our way home from our family vacation in New Hampshire. The day before our appointment, I emailed the coordinator to confirm and found out that the dog had been adopted. But…there just so happened to be another Dane mix that just arrived who had an even better temperament. We watched a video of the dog playing with those long puppy-like limbs, and felt that familiar joy in watching him romp about, making people laugh. And he just so happened to look almost exactly like our last Dane mix, Ninja. Sold.

You've got a wide variety of animals running around Barefoot All Natural Farm. Do your dogs get along with all of them?

It is somewhat unnatural for so many different species to have to coexist, as we’ve asked our animals to do. But they seem to do just fine. Jagger started out pretty intense with other animals. Since he’s a Husky mix, he has a very high prey drive and likes to chase small animals. But I’ve worked with him a lot, and with each new addition to our home, he’s learned that chasing is just not allowed and that you can actually be friends with chickens and bunnies. Actually, when he was younger he found a nest of newborn baby bunnies in the yard when I wasn’t looking. When I finally noticed him visiting several spots around the rock wall, I went to investigate. Sadly, there were 3 little bodies in the grass, covered in dog slobber from Jagger licking them and nudging them so much. I was sorry that I wasn’t able to stop him from bothering them while they were in their hiding spot, and ultimately killing them, but I was proud that he didn’t even place a puncture wound in any of them. Since then he’s gotten even better about not bothering baby animals on the farm, but we of course don’t leave them unsupervised.

Dozer is great with all of the animals. From the day he stepped foot at our house, he hasn’t cared one bit about sharing his space with so many different animals. As long as he has his ball, his focus is completely on fetching.

Ruger is the newest of course, and he still has quite a bit of puppy in him. He does pay too much attention to the goats and the cow at times, so we’re working on that. He gets so confused when they don’t want to play back when he barks and play bows at them, that he gets very conflicted. The goats have done a pretty good job of teaching him to mind his own space, but it’s a work in progress. He’ll get there.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Nope. No chasing allowed here. But given the opportunity I’m sure they’d enjoy a good squirrely-snack.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Dozer’s a ball-a-holic. He must have some Border Collie or other obsessive breed in him because he can’t think straight when there is a ball present. Must. Get. Ball.

Jagger and Ruger join in the play as well, so we always make sure there are at least 3 balls available at all times. But of course the one that Dozer is currently obsessed with is the one that everyone wants. Luckily Ruger isn’t picky (or isn’t all that bright, I’m not sure) and will play with just about anything he can find. He can often times be seen romping around the yard with an empty milk jug or pail from the kids sand box. Maybe we should introduce him to sticks…

What is each dog's best quality?

Jagger is my boy. He is incredibly intelligent and we are very strongly bonded. We know each other so well that we often times don’t have to communicate with much more than a look. That can be good and bad though, because he knows when I’m not 100% attentive and he can be sneaky. But as much as that frustrates me, I do respect that quality in him.

Dozer is a real kids’ dog. He is so gentle and submissive that my 4 year old can completely control him verbally. I never knew that there were real, actual, dogs out there that respected kids as much as they do adults until I met Dozer. It’s amazing to watch.

Ruger is very well rounded. I take him to work with me and use him as a demo dog with my assistance dog handlers and I never have to worry about him being afraid or aggressive toward anything or anyone. That and his goofy nature. With him around, a laugh is never too far away.

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

Jagger is actually a pretty good New Englander. He loves the snow and cold weather and has the New-England-Cold-Shoulder mastered. But Dozer and Ruger would love to have some more friendly neighbors. Not that people around here aren’t friendly, but they’re very private. I can appreciate that, as we are fairly private people as well. But those 2 social butterflies might have it differently. Dozer is from the South, after all.

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

Well, automatically when you ask me to pick an actor to represent Jagger, I think of his namesake- Antonio Sabato Jr. Great. Now I’m going to picture Jagger speaking in a husky Italian voice whenever I look at him. I don’t think Harley’s going to appreciate that one.

Dozer would probably be played by the guy that did the Micro Machines commercials, John Moschitta Jr. His mind is always going 100 mph when playing with his ball.

And Ruger might have the same voice as Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. A little slow on the uptake, but always up for a good time.

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

I’m actually okay with dogs not speaking English. They have too many secrets to tell. And I feel like I know them well enough to know what they want and need. But if I had to ask them one question, it might be “what’s the appeal of rolling in poop?” I just don’t get it.

Visit the Barefoot All Natural Farm website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue