Thursday, October 2, 2014

Steve Caplan & Ginger

Who is in the photo at right?

Allow me to introduce Ginger, my great friend and ~5 year old female Vizsla-Labrador retriever, pointer and setter! Oh, and I’m Steve Caplan, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. I study membrane trafficking, but in addition, I’m a published author of fiction who has written 3 novels that deal with the lives of everyday scientists and academics, as well as mental health disorders. I also blog on Occam’s Typewriter and write for The Guardian (UK) science page as part of our Occam’s Corner group.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I am belatedly celebrating the publication of my most recent novel, A Degree of Betrayal, a mystery involving a stellar female graduate whose mentor slides into a depression and refuses to allow her to graduate. Someone who read the book recently tweeted that “It’s a must-read for every male scientific PI (principal investigator).”

What's brewing?

For many years I have been highly particular about my coffee and would even prefer tea (yuck) to bad or weak brew. My “Miss Sylvia” Rancilio espresso maker is firing up at this very moment for a double espresso (Lavazza; only the very best!) with a dollop of low fat steamed milk on top.

Any treats for you or Ginger on this occasion?

Ginger is always in favor of treats, and on this occasion it was some Indian curry followed by pistachio nuts. She will happily eat anything that humans eat, including lettuce, celery, spinach, raw kale, etc.

How did Ginger get her name? Any nicknames?

She was initially named Vi by the people at the shelter (being largely a Vizsla), and my daughter suggested Ginger because of her beautiful coloring and eyes. By the way, our family speaks Hebrew at home and Ginger is a bilingual dog. Although there is another word for “ginger” in Hebrew, the English word is typically used in day-to-day Hebrew. Her most frequent nickname is Ginger-baby!

How were you and Ginger united?

That is a fascinating story! About 16 years ago, when my wife and then-3-month old daughter moved from Israel to the US for postdoctoral studies, we brought our 12 year-old dog with us. Our kids grew up hearing countless stories of the semi-mythical canine figure that once played such an essential role in my life, and had been hounding us (pun intended) for years about adopting a dog. We finally overcame the last objections (my wife), with me mortgaging my soul in the process, and set out to adopt a dog last summer. Wanting only a very friendly and affectionate dog who is also active and enjoys long walks, I was convinced that a Labrador or Lab-mix would be a good fit for the family. I looked at dogs for adoption at a local and wonderful no-kill Nebraskan shelter (Hearts United for Animal, or HUA), and found a beautiful looking dog online whose primary description was loving, friendly and affectionate. My daughter, son and I set out to visit the shelter (about 80 miles from where we live), and we met “Vi” (given that name by the shelter because she was mostly, or at least half Vizsla). It was love at first lick. My kids had asked “How will we know if she is the right dog for our family?” After the visit there was no need to answer the question. Ginger fit in as though she had always been the key member of our family. By the way, when we adopted her she had been in the shelter for 3 years, and they had picked her up as a ‘stray’ in a small Nebraskan town when she was approximately 1 year old. The only explanation we could get as to why such a loving and beautiful dog hadn’t been adopted earlier was that people were worried about her highly affectionate nature and tendency to jump up in the air in pure happiness. Their loss and our gain!

Are there any Ginger-inspired dogs in your fiction?

Not yet, but doubtlessly there will be! My previous dog, Rodrigo (named after the Spanish composer) inspired the appearance of Compo (short for composer) in my first novel, Matter Over Mind.

Does Ginger do more to help or hinder your writing?

Ginger never hinders anything. She is the most wonderful wonderful companion, respectful of my work and time. Vizsla’s are known as Velcro dogs because of the way they stick to their humans, and Ginger sticks closer to me than my shadow! I think she ‘imprinted’ on me. But she also knows that I am a sucker for a game of ball or a nice long walk.

Who is Ginger's best pet-pal?

I guess that would have to be Vanilla the Guinea Pig, by default.

Where is Ginger's favorite outdoor destination?

Ginger loves any destination, outdoor or indoor, as long as she is with her humans. Walks to the park with a ‘Chuckit’ and tennis ball are well-loved, but I’d have to say that the few times we’ve taken her to swim in a nearby lake have been a highlight for her. She loves swimming and especially retrieving tennis balls thrown in the water.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Tennis ball, Tennis ball, Tennis ball (by the dozen)! Ginger has tremendous stamina, and as a pointer-retriever, she will keep going and retrieving for hours if I can spare the time. She also loves to catch tennis balls in the air or on the first bounce, and I spend a lot of time practicing with her. She leaps high in the air for catches and is very competitive and hates to miss a catch.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Rabbits! Ginger is a Pointer-Retriever, which means that when she spots a rabbit she slinks down really low to the ground and lifts one of her front paws, pointing in the direction of her prey. Now, what she would actually do if she caught a rabbit is another story. My guess would be to lick her to death.

What is Ginger's best quality?

Ginger’s best quality is her personality; her super-sweet affectionate nature. But she is no push-over; she is a dog who knows what she wants and how to ask for it!

If Ginger could change one thing about Nebraskans, what would it be?

I don’t know if this is a common thing in other states in the US (or perhaps other parts of the world), but dogs are loved and revered in Nebraska. It seems that almost everybody has a dog, and they are very well-treated by humans. I was very surprised one Saturday morning when I went through the drive-through bank (a common feature in the mid-west) and Ginger came along for the ride. When my driver’s license (ID) had been returned after I deposited a check via the air-pressure shuttle that sends the capsule to the teller at the window, I found a couple nice dog biscuits had been inserted for Ginger. I’m betting Ginger wishes that all Nebraskans would hand out treats in such a nice way!

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

I had to ask my kids for help on that one: Jennifer Lawrence of The Hunger Games.

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

First, Ginger definitely answers questions, at least in a yes or no manner. For example, if I ask her if she wants to go outside, she will leap vertically 3 feet in the air (seriously!). She makes basketball players look bad. But when Ginger does not want to go out (if it is raining or dark), she sits down where she is when I ask. If I ask her a second time, she then proceeds to lie down, as if to say “What part of ‘no’ is it that you don’t get?!”

But if I could ask her a question that she could answer with more than a yes-no response, it would have to be “Where did you live before you arrived at the shelter (HUA)?"

Visit Steve Caplan's website and Amazon author's page.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Oh, Miss Ginger, you sound like lots of fun! I'd love to play with you sometime. I used to catch bunnies when I lived in Kansas, so I can teach you how to do it if you want. Now, here in South Dakota, I am limited only to birds that are too slow or too dumb to escape, but someday I'll get me that squirrel!
    Look me up if you are ever passing through South Dakota. Maybe we could have a date if our humans let us. - Tail wags from Gage

  2. Ginger sounds like such an awesome dog! My dog, Norman, is a Vizsla-Pit mix & he is very affectionate too:)