Monday, September 29, 2014

Dori Hillestad Butler & Mouse

Who is in the photo at right?

The cute one is Mouse. He’s a 102-pound golden retriever mix.

I’m Dori Hillestad Butler and I’m a children’s book author.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Launching my new children’s book series, The Haunted Library.

What's brewing?

A perfect cup of coffee. Black. My husband orders green coffee beans from all over the world and then he roasts them in an old bread machine with a heat gun and I’m not even sure what else [photo left]. He knows just how many days to let each variety of bean sit once it’s been roasted. Then he measures just the right amount of beans, heats the water to just the right temperature, and uses a handheld aeropress coffee maker to make me that perfect cup of coffee. Today’s roast is an Ethiopian Sidamo.

Any treats for you or Mouse on this occasion?

A liver treat for Mouse and a chocolate glazed donut for me. I love chocolate glazed donuts, but they’re not very good for you, so I don’t have them very often. Not nearly as often as Mouse gets liver treats.

How were you and Mouse united?

I wanted to get involved in the R.E.A.D. program, so I searched area animal shelters and rescue groups for a dog I felt I could train to be a therapy dog. The other dog I had at that time was old and she wasn’t too crazy about people outside the family. I fell in love with Mouse’s picture online. The shelter that had him brought him for a visit before we could adopt him. That was step 1 in their adoption process—they wanted to meet all the people and pets who already lived in the home and see how well the potential adoptee fit in. I have to admit that when he arrived, he was a little bigger than we were expecting. The online description said he was 65 pounds. He was actually 87 pounds and he was underweight! Of course, I didn’t know that when I first met him. I just knew he was big. Could I really handle such a big dog? I took him for a walk to find out. He pulled a bit, but I decided I could handle him. He got along well with our other dog and cat. He was clearly smart. He loved people (the most necessary trait for a therapy dog). He was food motivated and eager to please (i.e. highly trainable!). He caught treats in his mouth from halfway across the room (i.e. this was going to be a fun dog!). And he had the most beautiful brown eyes. I was sold on the dog and the shelter was sold on us! The adoption went through.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

I have to blame my older son for that. The shelter said his name was Mowgli, but that was too close to our other dog’s name (Molly). I was thinking I’d call him Shadow, but my son is a fan of the Dresden books. Harry Dresden has a big gray dog named Mouse. My son liked the irony of a huge dog named Mouse. And well…I guess I did, too. It worked well when we became a registered therapy dog team. Having a 102 pound dog named Mouse is an instant conversation starter.

Does Mouse do more to help or hinder your writing?

Definitely helps. He keeps me company while I write. He also lies on my feet and keeps them warm. You can’t write when you have cold feet.

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

Mouse inspired my Buddy Files series. Many of the other dogs mentioned in that series are dogs I know. There’s also a scene involving a runaway dog and a bean field in my middle grade novel, Yes, I Know the Monkey Man, which I lifted right out of my own childhood.

Who is Mouse's best pet-pal?

Well…we just moved to Seattle from Iowa City, Iowa. This is Molly, the Weimaraner [photo left].

Molly is absolutely the coolest dog Mouse has met since we got here. She has introduced him to sunglasses and convertibles.

Back in Iowa, Juno was probably his best dog friend. Juno is an Australian Shepherd/Blue heeler mix. She and Mouse used to walk together, go to the dog park together, even go to the pool together the day before the city drained the pool. When we moved, Juno made this going away video for Mouse. Here’s a picture of Mouse watching Juno’s video [photo below right].

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Squirrel. Mouse likes cats. And he likes people (whether they’re delivering the mail or not). But he loves squirrels. And ducks. If you’d put duck in the list, I probably would’ve picked duck over squirrel.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Squeaky toy! Nothing makes Mouse happier than to receive a brand new squeaky toy. As soon as it’s given to him, he runs away with it so he can check it out in private. After he’s found all the squeakers on it, he’ll bring it back and allow you to play with it with him.

What is Mouse's best quality?

The fact that he loves everyone. In fact, that’s what his shelter write-up said: “he never met anyone, two or four-footed, that he didn’t love.” It’s why I adopted him in the first place.

If Mouse could change one thing about Washingtonians, what would it be?

Mouse loves Washington. The milder climate suits him much better than the Iowa weather extremes. And we live in a community where it’s okay to take your dog into the coffee shop or the hardware store. He likes that, too! So I’m not sure he’d change much about Washingtonians in general. But if he could change the rules at the townhouse community where we live, he would do it. Dogs are allowed here, but you’re not supposed to let your dog relieve himself on the grass out front. You have to walk your dog away from the property. He doesn’t mind the walk, even in the rain. But he doesn’t understand why he can’t pee on his own yard. He doesn’t quite get that the grass out front isn't actually his yard.

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

What are you thinking? That’s one question, but I could ask it over and over, right?

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

I would’ve said Robin Williams, but I guess that ship has sailed. I’m not sure who else could capture the voice I hear inside my head when I imagine Mouse speaking. Maybe Eddie Murphy.

Visit Dori Hillestad Butler's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Haunted Library.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Andi Cumbo-Floyd & Bella, Boone and Meander

Who are in these photos? And what's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I'm Andi Cumbo-Floyd writer, a teacher, an editor, and a reader.

Today, the pups and I are sharing coffee because, well, because it's today, and every day is a good day to spend with a dog. I've come out to the pasture — where Bella and Boone, the Great Pyrenees live — and Meander, our house dog, has wandered out, too, so we're all hanging out.... I'm trying to keep them from knocking the coffee mug out of my hands, and they are doing their best to show me just how much they love me. It's pretty awesome.

What's brewing?

Coffee today is just a drip brew from a regular old coffee pot that I start up first thing when I make the rounds to feed the farm animals — dogs included — every morning. Today, we're drinking Trager Brothers French Roast. Trager Brothers is an organic, fair trade, rainforest alliance roastery that is just a couple of mile from the farm here. I love their coffee, and I love that I can buy it from a garage-turned-roastery in my town.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

No treats for me today, but just for this occasion, I did give each pooch a rawhide chewy (I know, I know, some of you hate them, but our dogs love them). Boone has already buried his down the hill under the brush. Bella is chewing hers inside one of the goat houses, and Meander has abandoned hers for now because a chewy does not compete with the joy of other dogs.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Meander got her name because I have always wanted to have a big pack of dogs named for words that mean "to walk slowly." So she is Meander, sometimes Mander, sometimes Mander Pander, sometimes Super Mander Pander, sometimes Super, and sometimes Soupy — we believe in going long and short with nicknames here.

Boone got his name because a farm supporter, Chris, took to heart our initial idea of having an American West theme for our pasture, so Boone is named after Daniel Boone. I often call him Boonedoggle.

Bella's name came because I wanted to have another B to match Boone, and because I always loved that show Belle And Sebastian when I was a kid. The dog in that show was a Great Pyr, too. Her nickname is Bella Bear.

How were you and your dogs united?

I adopted Meander from the local SPCA, just a mile from the farm. Boone and Bella were both adopted from other farms because they had spent time with goats and come from lines of guard dogs.

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

Since I had to take a break before answering this question to let Meander in the house, there's one thing — Meander likes to go in and out a lot. But mostly, all three of them help me find joy in a hard day ... and they give me so much unhindered affection, which is something that doesn't always come with the writing life. Second only to my husband, dad, and in-laws, they are — with the goats and cats — my biggest fans. For the record, our chickens are ambivalent about my existence period, much less as a writer.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?

You know, I don't write much fiction, but even in the novel I'm working on now, a dog doesn't appear. And that's interesting because I've had dogs — big dogs — most of my life. I'll have to ponder that one.

Squirrel, postman, cat...?

I guess I haven't really written much about animals in my books at all, although horses do come in — in a minor way — in The Slaves Have Names.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Well, Bella and Boone live with our goats, so those guys are all buddies, but really, they are each others' best friends. They frolic, in the fullest sense of the word, together all over the pasture, wrestling and tussling. It's heart-warming.

And I am Meander's best pal. She and I are especially bonded, so where I am, she is usually there.... She likes my husband, Philip a lot, too.

What is each dog's best quality?

Meander is intensely loyal to me, and I love that. I've never had that kind of dog companion, and it's great.

The puppies — well, we don't really know their full-grown personalities yet — but they are great guards. Boone barks and heads toward an intruder, Bella retreats to the goats and guards them. They make a great pair.

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

That's a great question, and I don't know if our dogs would think that way - as in think of people as Virginians. We don't think that way — we just love people — all people — when they come to visit here, no matter where they are from, what they believe — and I'd like to think our dogs take people in that way, too. In fact, I think they're probably better at it than we are.

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

Boone would definitely be played by John Goodman.

Bella would be Hilary Swank.

And Meander would be Juliette Lewis.

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

What makes you the most happy?

Visit Andi Cumbo-Floyd's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

—Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2014

EJ Hanagan & Brody and Baxter

Who is in the photo at the right?

Brody and I are goofing off in the photo at the right. The other picture is Baxter posing for the camera on one of our car rides. Both boys are going on 7 years old. They are Newfoundlands. Baxter, the black and white one is called a Landseer Newfoundland because of his markings. My name is EJ Hanagan, author of Saving Jason.

What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We are celebrating the launch of my debut novel, Saving Jason, released on September 3rd.

What’s brewing?

Starbucks hot pike place with a shot of hazelnut syrup and cream.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Dew drops from Honeydew. We stop by Honeydew donuts every Saturday for a couple dew drops for them. They are partial to the blueberry ones.

How did your dogs get their names?

Both Baxter and Brody were pre-picked names. There is no real reason behind them, either. We simply liked the names. That sounds so boring.

How were you and your dogs united?

Baxter was planned well in advance-we went through a breeder in Hartville, Missouri. When we first pulled up to the house, he was being pummeled in the front yard by an older newf. It was like a tumbleweed of fluffy newf rolling around.

Brody came into our lives through a rescue in northern Indiana. His name was “Chief” when we first got him, but we quickly changed it to “Chief Brody,” then simply “Brody.”

How do your dogs help—or hinder—your writing?

They certainly help-as they serve as a foot rest while I’m typing away. When I write about dogs, I use them to study fur texture, movement, etc. So, they get plenty of pets as a reward.

Have any actual dogs inspired fictional dogs in your writing?

Yes, Chauncy the Irish Setter in Saving Jason is based on an Irish Setter that made an appearance in the TV series Mad Men.

Squirrel, postman, cat?

Baxter couldn't care less about creatures, but Brody is wild over them. We had guinea pigs for awhile and he would stand by their cage and cry. I’m not sure if he wanted to rescue them and let them escape or if he wanted to eat them. Don’t worry—the guinea pigs are safe.

Brody also took my pet turtle Ben, under his wing. He would snuggle with him and hold him between his paws.

Who are your dogs best pet pals?

While they have completely opposite personalities, they are each other’s best friend. They also hang out with a curmudgeon of a basset hound named Yogi and of course their relatives—Morgan the spaniel, KiKi the Bichon Frise and Dexter and Sammy the terriers.

What is each dog’s best quality?

Baxter has a natural water rescue instinct. It’s good because we always feel safe having kids around the water while he is around, but it’s hard if we ever want to go for a relaxing dip. He circles and barks anytime we are in the water.

Brody is a lover. All he wants is love in return, so a little attention goes a long way. After having a bad day, Brody is the ultimate consoler.

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

They would want them to be more accepting about renting with dogs. And they would love more outdoor seating where dogs are allowed. These boys like to be seen.

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

Brody’s voice would be done by Brian Baumgartner (Kevin from The Office).

Baxter’s voice would be Seann William Scott (Stiffler from American Pie).

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

I’d ask Brody “What exactly do you want to do with guinea pigs and creatures?”

I’d ask Baxter “Why do you require so much sleep?”

Visit EJ Hanagan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Holly Menino & Keel

Who is in the photo at right?

The one with less hair is me, Holly Menino, author of mysteries and a good bit of nonfiction. The one with all the curly black stuff is Keel, a Portuguese Water Dog. Now that she's ten she doesn't like to give her age. Thinks she might be expected to act it.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

The occasion is morning, and it happens every day. But it might not if Keel weren't responsible for getting me up. It's her cold nose, on my warm one.

What's brewing?

Zabar's, in a variety of roasts from light Ethiopian to dark Espresso. We drink it black, like Keel.

Any treats for you or Keel on this occasion?

Foot licks.

How did Keel get her name? Any nicknames?

Keel was named short and sweet by her breeder, who was under the impression the pup had an even disposition.

How were you and Keel united?

I visited Keel's breeder and Keel's mother before she was born, and as soon as they would let me, brought her home. Although she grew quite a bit, her name never did.

Are there any Keel-inspired dogs in your new novel?

Alas, no. I haven't been able to get up enough nerve to try to characterize her.

Does Keel do more to help or hinder your writing?

She is the world's best editorial assistant.

Who is Keel's best pet-pal?

Pal doesn't seem quite right. It's Buddy, big, yellow, three-legged Buddy [photo right]. Keel has supervisory responsibility.

Where is Keel's favorite outdoor destination?

Our pond and her lake.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...? Cat, postman, squirrel...?

It's the door that preoccupies Keel. Who can be allowed in. Who can go out. And when.

What is Keel's best quality?

I can't say because she is a perfect—and I mean that—bitch.

If Keel could change one thing about New Yorkers, what would it be?

If by New Yorkers you mean people who actually live in the city, Keel has met only one, a divine dog trainer she met in the water pooled at the bottom of a gravel pit. Divine, and how can you improve on that?

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

Judi Dench.

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

What is it, Keel, about this water and boats thing? I mean, where does it come from?

Visit Holly Menino's website.

Writers Read: Holly Menino.

The Page 69 Test: A Distance to Death.

My Book, The Movie: A Distance to Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 15, 2014

Michelle Rae & Eva

Who is in the photo at right?

This is a picture of me and my ten-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Eva, on my wedding day at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. We had to have written permission from the government to have her there that day. My name is Michelle, a Midwest girl living in Southern California. Most of my week is spent working in the training department at the Disneyland Resort. In my spare time, I explore the world one place and dish at a time and share my adventures on This Traveler Heart of Mine.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We're celebrating Eva's 10th birthday. I typically don't do anything for her birthday, but I figured she made it a decade I should do something special.

What's brewing?

I'll be having some of my husband's cold brew iced coffee with milk and just a tad of Truvia. He does a 12 hour cold-brewing process. I even made some Cold Brew Chocolate Chip Coffee Cupcakes out of them a few weeks ago.

Any treats for you or Eva on this occasion?

Well, it is her birthday, so yes! I made her Carrot and Peanut Butter Pupcakes and some Carrot and Peanut Butter Cookies.

[photo left: Eva today celebrating her 10th birthday. Don't worry that is carob not chocolate.]

How did Eva get her name? Any nicknames?

I'm a bit embarrassed by this, but the lady that I got her from grunted when she picked up Eva and it sort of sounded like Eva to me. That was her name from that moment on.

How were you and Eva united?

Eva is the first dog I have had on my own as an adult. When I was looking for a dog I had my heart set on a Jack Russell Terrier. I tried my best to find a Jack in the shelter, but had no luck so I went to a breeder. She's been my baby ever since!

Who is Eva's best pet-pal?

Well... me of course, but a second close would have to be my husband. He is lucky enough to take her to work every day. It's fantastic to not have to worry about rushing home to take her outside.

Where is Eva's favorite outdoor destination?

Without a doubt it is the beach. The first time her paws hit the sand as a puppy she just ran in circles full of joy. Today, if I even just casually mention the word beach on accident she will get really excited and I feel super guilty that we aren't headed to her favorite place.

[photo right: beach, Halloween 2007]

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Don't need to think about this one: ball. She is obsessive over these. Nothing else in life matters.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?


What is Eva's best quality?

I really love Eva's happy-go-lucky nature. Her tail is constantly wagging. If it's not wagging I get concerned that something is wrong.

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

I imagine that if she had her choice she would want me to cook her "real" food every day like chicken or steak instead of dry dog food.

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

I've always thought Eva might have a slight accent if she could speak, so I'm going to with Scottish actress Karen Gillan from Dr. Who and Guardians of the Galaxy. But, I wouldn't want her to use her fake American accent, it's just too weird. I'd mainly pick her so I could meet Amelia (Amy) Pond - I mean Karen.

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

Hmm, I've fantasized about the ability to talk to animals my entire life. Some kids want the superpower to fly or have x-ray vision, but I just desperately wanted to talk to my animals. I'd probably ask her what makes her the happiest so I could make sure that I was doing those things the most. However, I'm pretty sure I know her answer would be endless scratchies and frequent trips to the beach.

Visit the This Traveler Heart of Mine blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Monica Medina & Henry and Oliver Twist

Who is in the photo at right?

That's me, Monica Medina, with my boys. I'm holding Oliver Twist, a one-year-old Maltipoo street urchin I literally found on the streets of San Diego. On the bench is Henry, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who recently was traumatized when he turned seven and heard the vet refer to him as a "senior dog." Henry, who claims he descends from royalty, insists he's not a dog, he's a noble canine.

I love to write. I work for public media in San Diego, and am also a freelance reporter for the local paper. Last month (August) I celebrated four years of blogging, too. (Monica’s Tangled Web).

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We're outside the local Starbucks, celebrating the start of the weekend and that we get to spend more time together.

What's brewing?

I am enjoying one of my favorite summer bevs, Java Chip Frappuccino, nonfat, no whip.

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

Not now, but later these critters will enjoy their favorite dinner feast: boiled chicken and rice. They gobble that stuff up like there's no tomorrow.

How did Henry and Oliver get their names? Any aliases?

Henry is named after a famous King of England, though this Henry has not married eight times, let alone once. Oliver Twist is an orphan from the gutters. He looked like a ragamuffin, infested with mites, fleas and worms. Calling him Oliver Twist made perfect sense, though most of the time it's just Oliver or Ollie. When I call them both for a walk, or to eat, I say, "C’mon, Buddies!" And they come running. Well, Oliver comes running. Henry being royalty, takes his own sweet time. Doesn’t want to appear too eager, if you know what I mean.

How were you and Henry and Oliver united?

Henry came into my life when he was eight weeks old. He was trembling and nervous, but I was even more fretful, as he was my first dog and the fact that he’s of noble blood didn’t make it any easier. But as long as I bow when in his presence, he makes do. Oliver, the little rascal that he is, is the total opposite. Runs amok, gets into everything, and loves to chase—and bite into—Henry’s feathery tail. Henry just sighs, and often, so do I.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

These boys go bonkers whenever the UPS truck comes by. It’s their way of saying they think I spend too much time shopping on Amazon.

Squeaky-toy, ball, stick...?

Both of them are crazy about tennis balls. I take two with me when we go to the park, one for each. But seems like Ollie always gets both balls and hoards them. Ollie also plays with plastic water bottles, chew toys and discarded carton. He’s my personal shredder.

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

Each other, is what Ollie would say. Henry says it’s “undignified” to have pals, but he loves when my son comes to visit. They’re thick as thieves.

What is each dog's best quality?

Henry is calm at all times. Ollie can zip through the house like a road runner. Henry is very independent. Both are cuddly, sweet-natured and love hugs.

If Henry and Oliver could change one thing about San Diegans, what would it be?

Henry and Oliver would want everything in San Diego to be more open to dogs. They hate when they see a sign outside the grocery store or movie theater that says, “No Dogs Allowed.” They find it demoralizing and “Dogist.”

Henry, especially, thinks exceptions should be made for canines of royal ilk. His words, not mine.

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

Ralph Fiennes would do the voice of Henry; Chris Rock, the voice of Ollie.

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

What is the meaning of life? I think they know. I can tell by the way they look at me. They know, all right. All dogs know. It’s the one thing they keep to themselves.

Visit Monica’s Tangled Web.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lisa R. Petty & Sophie and Lola

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Lisa R. Petty. I use the R. because there is another Lisa Petty who writes beauty books -- so not me. I'm a blogger who also writes realistic YA Fiction. I am also an online English professor.

I'm with Sophie, my Black Lab Great Dane, and Lola, my Maltese who fears thunder and needed to be held for the picture.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Sophie loves car rides and I don't spend enough alone time with her.

We have two dogs and three cats total, and I'm a self-described crazy cat lady.

What's brewing?

We went to a little local shop called Mean Bean. We had planned to sit on the patio but it was pouring when we got there. So, we went through the drive through. There's a picture of Sophie and me in the car [below left]. I got a white mocha. They didn't have any dog treats.

Any treats for you or Sophie on this occasion?

When we got home, I gave Sophie and Lola "cookies." They both know the word, so I have to spell it unless I'm going to give them one right then.

How did Sophie get her name? Any nicknames?

Sophie was her name at the animal shelter. My son calls her Sopety McSope Sope, and I call her Big Moose.

How were you and Sophie united?

My husband decided that four pets was just not enough. Seriously, he had a Black Lab Pit Bull who died a couple of years ago. He missed having a "real" dog; he considers Lola the Maltese as "another cat."

Are there any Sophie-inspired dogs in your fiction?

Sophie "writes" blogs on my site. I have a Petty Pets category set up for when she or her brothers and sisters "write."

I have one published YA novel, Misfit Academy, but it was written before we adopted Sophie.

Does Sophie do more to help or hinder your writing?

A little of both. She inspires me to ghost write "her" blogs, but she is also very needy and likes to be let in and out throughout the day.

Who is Sophie's best pet-pal?

Lola, for sure. Lola plays with her even though she is ten years-old and Sophie is not even two.

Where is Sophie's favorite outdoor destination?

Her back yard. She loves running behind the evergreen trees.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

All of the above. She will chew on anything.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Sophie loves to chase our three cats. They do not enjoy this. Our one cat boxes her in the nose. She thinks he's playing.

What is Sophie's best quality?

She is a sweet dog who has never met a stranger. I have had to reach into her mouth to remove many foreign objects. She just lets me do it. She is also super easy to give pills to.

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

She probably wishes I would spend less time holding cats and typing on the computer and more time playing with her.

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

Sophie's voice would be kind of like the "Which way did he go George?" dog that Mel Blanc used to do. So, it would have to be someone with a very dopey voice.

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

Why on earth do you eat poop?

Visit the Petty Thoughts blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Matthew Gilbert & Toby

Who is in the photo at right?

Matthew Gilbert, TV critic at the Boston Globe, author of the new book Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park, and human Pez dispenser for a male yellow lab named Toby, age 9.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I can’t function happily without coffee, and I can’t function happily without Toby. So this is double pleasure.

What's brewing?

I’m a paper-cone-dark-blend-with-whole-milk-nuked-for-38-seconds kind of guy. By the way, when did 2% milk become the default milk at cafes? An outrage. Give me whole or nothing at all.

Any treats for you or Toby on this occasion?

Toby gets cookies for coming into the apartment, leaving the apartment, at bedtime, after I fill the car with gas, when he gets on the couch, when he gets off the couch, when he gets on the bed, and basically whenever he gives me a sweet look with his gorgeous brown eyes, including right now.

How were you and Toby united?

He is my first dog, and I researched breeders obsessively. When my husband and I first saw the litter, after choosing a breeder in New Hampshire, we immediately fell in love with the little 5-week-old guy. He gave us a special look, a look that he still has 9 years later, a look that says, “I’m a little prince, now let’s play.” Three weeks after we laid eyes on him, we brought him home and became his entourage.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

We thought we were so original! But everyone tells us they once knew a lab named Toby. He just has always seemed like a Toby. But I call him “Goose” and “Goosehead” and “Gooseface” and “Goosey” and “Goosehead Soup” as often as I call him Toby.

Aside from inspiration, does Toby do more to help or hinder your writing?

He will start tapping my leg with his nose when he wants to go to the dog park. Over and over, until I give up and go. (Have you seen The Big Bang Theory? He’s like Sheldon knocking on a door.) It hinders my writing just a little bit, but it helps in the long run because it forces me to take a break. A good break means you’ll return to the desk refreshed.

Your new book focuses on your and Toby's adventures at Amory Park. Where is Toby's second favorite outdoor destination?

When we visit Vermont, he becomes a country dog right away. He loves the outdoors anywhere, but if there are lots of stinky leaves and long grasses to snack on, he is in heaven.

Since you're a longtime TV critic at the Boston Globe, Toby must be used to that screen in your home with all those bright, colored lights and unusual sounds. Does Toby have any favorite shows? Is he intrigued by dogs--or cats--on television?

I’ve heard of dogs who watch TV. Toby doesn’t, and he doesn’t seem to notice animals on screen either. But what’s strange is that, he always seems to know when a show has ended. We don’t move, but the credits start rolling and he looks up at us, waiting for us to get up. Yes, he is that smart…!

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Squirrel, 100 percent.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Squeaky toy, although it probably won’t remain squeaky for very long after he gets hold of it.

Who is Toby's best pet-pal?

He lost his best friend and older-sister figure about two years ago. She was a gorgeous golden retriever. But the truth about Toby is that he’s easygoing and likes almost all dogs. He’s remarkably tolerant of puppies who jump up at his neck, and he’s respectful of older guys, too. He makes new besties on a daily basis. He is about to visit his three cousins, including a border collie puppy named Somedog, who follows Toby, bites at his neck, and imitates his behavior. Toby loves the little guy.

What is Toby's best quality?

Oh lordy! I love so much about him. But he is just such great, engaging company in the moment. He makes me and others laugh every day.

If Toby could change one thing about Bostonians, what would it be?

He’s the president of the Boston league of supporters of the Treats Amendment, which would force the city and its neighboring towns to put a free cookie dispenser at every corner. He’s quite the local activist. (He also wants Bostonians to be less freaked out by the idea of off-leash dogs in the parks.)

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

Are you happy overall?

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

It would have to be Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. That voice! Even though he’s from the Northeast, he talks with a slight Southern drawl and a lot of “mmm hmmm”s.

Visit Matthew Gilbert's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 1, 2014

Joanne Rocklin & Zoe

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Joanne Rocklin, I'm a children's author, and that's Zoe, my 13-year-old female golden retriever.

(Sneaking into the limelight: Mitzie the cat.)

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We are celebrating the release this month of my new book Fleabrain Loves Franny. The dog, Alf, is based on her.

What's brewing?

Starbucks in my new turquoise Le Creuset French Press. The stronger the better, and with milk frothed in my little frother.

Any treats for you or Zoe on this occasion?

Much too many. Zoe will eat anything. Actually, so will I.

How did Zoe get her name? Any nicknames?

I was going to name my first daughter Zoe, which means "life". I only had sons. I shouldn't say "only"--the two of them are the lights of my life. Nicknames: Zozo; Zozy.

How were you and Zoe united?

We bought her from a breeder of golden retrievers. She is the daughter of champions, although she doesn't let this go to her head, and hasn't followed in their pawsteps.

Are there any Zoe-inspired dogs in your new novel?

Yes! My new middle grade children's novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, my main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant and hilarious Fleabrain, her dog Alf’s flea. Alf, the patient and generous "host" of Fleabrain, is modeled after my good-natured and friendly Zoe.

Does Zoe do more to help or hinder your writing?

She gets me moving in the morning because I have to walk her. I think of story ideas as I walk.

Who is Zoe's best pet-pal?

She prefers humans.

[photo right: Rocklin at a school presentation with puppets "Mitzie" the cat and "Zoe" the dog]

Where is Zoe's favorite outdoor destination?

Anywhere she can swim.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Anything she can rip apart, especially if it has cotton stuffing.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

We have two cats, so she knows cats' power, intelligence, and claws. She'll occasionally growl at other dogs, especially alpha white ones for some unknown reason.

What is Zoe's best quality?


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

I can't even begin to imagine. You've stumped me. Zoe loves humans unconditionally.

[photo left: Zoe the patriot, on the Fourth of July]

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

Betty White.

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

How can I make you happier?

Visit Joanne Rocklin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fleabrain Loves Franny.

--Marshal Zeringue