October 2nd, 2009 by LViehl
To Say Something of the Pets

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. — Mark Twain

Something I’ve noticed over the years is that a lot of writers have pets. Plural pets, usually of the feline variety, but also plenty of dogs, birds, snakes and what have you. Author Poppy Z. Brite has rescued innumerable cats from the streets of New Orleans and provided them with a loving home. Author Peter Watts is another cat-owned writer, and occasionally rescues wild things like this orphaned raccoon. I volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter, and around the neighborhood I am known as the unofficial pet catcher (although after me and my guy caught three runaway horses on New Year’s Day, I’m drawing the line at livestock.) Those of you who visit my blog regularly also know how often my house attracts nesting birds, even when they build their nurseries in the worst possible places.

It isn’t a requirement for writers to have a pet or become involved with animals, but I think it helps to have a non-human around the house. I can’t tell you how often I’ve crashed on the couch, completely disgusted with how the work is going for the day, and within seconds I have plenty of company. Cole, our Sheltie pup, curls up against my legs. Jeri likes to share whatever pillow I’m using for my head (probably for the heat coming off my skull.) Jak, who is the sweetest marshmallow of a feline who ever got sprung from a shelter, always settles in next to my heart (as you can see in this snapshot.)

My three boys don’t lecture me about going back to work, or observe how lousy I’m writing, or demand to know who is going to buy them treats if I don’t get the latest manuscript finished. I can say whatever I like to them about the story, my editor, my agent, or Publishing in general, and they never repeat it, not even to the rest of the family. Mostly they just surround me, my furry little wagons, and comfort me, and love me without reservation. Try to find a human who will do that whenever you need it without being asked.

Having pets around isn’t always perfect bliss for a writer. When they were little, the cats would sneak into the storage closet, get into the boxes of my author copies and chew on the corners (which is why I have almost no copies left of Beyond Varallan.) Jak went through a phase a few years ago when he mistook any box or box-shaped object for a litter box (which is why I have almost no paperback copies left of Blade Dancer.) Any box that is not put away is still a free scratching post as far as they’re concerned.

The pups we’ve had over the years have been slightly less destructive, although they’ve done their share. Missy, our first Sheltie, would quietly sneak into my closet and gnaw on the heels of my shoes, something I didn’t discover until the middle of a booksigning when one snapped. Buddy considered all books fair game as his personal chew toys. Cole is a renegade and prefers to nibble on wiring during the night while we’re sleeping, and so far has chewed through four cables of various importance (fortunately nothing was plugged in or he’d be a crispy critter. It has also taught us to secure all the power cables and other wires where he can’t get to them.)

Aside from the obvious couch buddy benefits, I think pets are good for writers, both for our emotional and physical health. I can guarantee that if the pup wasn’t around there is no way I’d get up at six a.m. to take a long walk, rain or shine. The cats are wonderful alarm clocks, and over the years I’ve trained them to eat about a half-hour before I have to go and pick up the kids from school. They come yowling for their lunch; I know it’s time to get off the computer and go into mom-mode. And whether you believe the pet psychics or not, I think animals can sense our emotions and respond to them. There hasn’t been a single bad day in my life where our pets didn’t follow me around the house, pile on me wherever I sat and give me extra attention. Dogs are forever affectionate, but cats are usually more standoffish, so I can see the abrupt shift in their behavior whenever they respond to my emotional state.

Do you have to have a pet if you’re a writer? Of course not. A lot of people don’t have the living situation to accomodate a pet, and others have allergy issues that make it impossible to keep one. But I will say that if you can provide a home to a furred, feathered or other-type friend, it will probably add some wonderful things to your writing life (as I’m writing this, the pup is sitting under my chair guarding my feet, and the cats are sunning themselves next to the window. I never write alone.)

Also, if you do decide to bring a pet into your home, first make sure it’s the right thing for you, your family, and the animal. Before adopting a pet, figure out which type of pet is best for you, and if you have the budget to care for them (this includes food, vet visits and assorted home needs.) Writers who have day jobs should consider how many hours the pet will be left alone during the day (cats are usually okay, but some breeds of dogs don’t like being alone and can become destructive in your absence.)

One thing people rarely do is assure there will be an alternative home for the pet to go to if their living situation changes; that’s also something to think about and plan so your pet doesn’t end up in a shelter if things go south for you. Speaking of which, when you’re looking for a friend to love, do pay a visit to your local animal shelter. All of the cats I’ve owned have been rescued, and there is no better feeling in the world than to provide a home and family for an abandoned animal. And please, do be responsible and take your new friend to the vet regularly and have them spayed or neutered.

I’ll finish up this post with my favorite quote about pets, this one from author Anne Tyler:

Ever consider what they must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul—chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we’re the greatest hunters on earth!

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35 comments to “To Say Something of the Pets”

  1. Shiloh Walker
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:03 am · Link

    Back in January, the DH and I had to put our cocker down. She was our first ‘baby’… the DH got her as a puppy a year or so before we got married. letting her go was hard.

    A few weeks after, we started thinking about getting another dog. We ended up getting a cocker from a rescue operation. She’d been in a puppy mill her whole life and had never known love, companionship.

    She’s the sweetest thing, and when I think about what could have happened to her, what has happened to her, it breaks my heart.

  2. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:11 am · Link

    I’m so sorry you lost your pal, Shiloh. There is nothing that can ease that pain, but adopting a rescued pup was such a lovely thing to do.

    Cockers are delightful. The one I caught during TS Fay last year was so gentle and had the sweetest personality. And those eyes . . . it was hard giving her back to her owners. I think seeing the love and relief on their faces was the only reason I did.

  3. Maria Zannini
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:12 am · Link

    My favorite people have always been dogs. 😀

    You have beautiful babies, Lynn.

  4. Charlene Teglia
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:21 am · Link

    I have a very snuggly “found cat” who keeps me company all writing day. I can’t imagine life without him. With his loving personality and total lack of bad habits, I find it unimaginable that his first owner was able to part with him, but circumstances do change and unfortunately shelters can’t or won’t always take in animals in need and it can be very hard to find a pet a new home. Bless you for volunteering at the no-kill shelter!

  5. LJCohen
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:44 am · Link

    Tigger is our rescue pup. Over and above the love and companionship she gives to me, my husband, and my 2 boys, she also has an endless supply for the people we visit through Caring Canines, a volunteer therapy dog organization.

    When I can do a visit with Tigger, it is the highlight of my week. At nursing homes, we often visit in the memory impairment units and the patients there always come to life and start to interact when the dogs are there. The other places we like to go are to adolescent behavioral units. You know that these kids have seen and done bad stuff to be where they are, but for the time we are there, they are free to be kids again.

    So here’s my shameless plug for getting involved in pet therapy, if you can and have an animal with the temperament for it.

  6. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:10 am · Link

    They are that, Maria. Thanks. :)

  7. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:14 am · Link

    I wish people would give a little more thought to what will happen to their pet(s) if the family’s income or life situation changes not for the better. We have secured homes for all of our furry pals should something happen to us, and I think of it like a living will — care planning doesn’t mean the worst will happen, it just provides for the animals in the event it does.

    Oh, dear, I’m standing on my soap box again. :)

  8. B.E. Sanderson
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:14 am · Link

    What beautiful fur-babies you have. All of the pets I’ve owned have been adoptions from shelters or animal welfare organizations. My current furry gray baby – Kira Cat – was from an welfare agency in Utah. Someone had dropped her and her 3-week old litter mates off at the pound without their mother. The welfare agency bottled fed them and fostered them until they were old enough to get homes. I saw her picture on a website and fell in love with the most loveable, wonderful cat ever. (Not biased at all, am I? :wink:)

    I don’t know if writers have to have pets, but I know mine makes life better. If I wasn’t a renter, I’d have a house full of them.

  9. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:27 am · Link

    Tigger is gorgeous, LJ. I can see why it was love at first sight. :)

    We’re always seeing programs on TV about show animals and abused animals (and regarding the latter I think in small doses they can heighten awareness, although they’re too painful for me to watch.) I never see much on animal interaction therapy, though. I would love to see a series about the wonderful community care work pet owners like you are doing.

  10. Shannon Stacey
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:35 am · Link

    Writers who have day jobs should consider how many hours the pet will be left alone during the day (cats are usually okay, but some breeds of dogs don’t like being alone and can become destructive in your absence.)

    I wish more people would consider this. Trying to decide if you should even have a dog is important, but so is the breed.

    We go north to camp every other weekend and the halfway point where we stop on the way back is the parking area for a big tourist draw, so many people see Mini (our Shih Tzu) and fall in love with her. One family of five spent more than a few minutes fawning over her and the mom told me they’d decided to get a dog and were struggling with which breed. Now that they’d spent time with Mini, they were going to get a Shih Tzu. Her small size and personality would work great for them.

    When I mentioned that they not only like to be companion dogs, but are genetically imprinted to be the ultimate companion dog, as in up your ass 24/7, she said that would be great, because the kids would love that.

    Yeah, when they were home. This family left every day by 7am and nobody returned until 5:30pm. Ugh. That would absolutely destroy a Shih Tzu.

    While I didn’t really have the nerve to suggest they shouldn’t get a dog at all, I was able to talk them out of a Shih Tzu. I hope.

  11. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:41 am · Link

    Kira Cat must be a wonderful companion, and no, you’re not biased at all, lol.

    Too often we get extremely young kittens at our shelter, some that have to be fed by eyedropper. Fortunately we have a terrific network of fostering families who take them home and nurse them until they’re old enough to be adopted. This is also something pet-lovers can do to help out their local no-kill shelters, although I know it can be a wrenching experience when you take the babies back.

  12. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:52 am · Link

    You did them and the dog world a great service, Shan. I constantly have people admiring our Sheltie, and saying how much they want one because the breed is so pretty (the inevitable compliment is “They’re like little Lassies!”)

    I then tell them about how much Shelties love people around, and the amount of destruction they’re capable of if they’re left alone for even a few hours. After my guy had surgery and I spent the afternoon at the hospital, I came home to find my pretty little 20 lb. miniature Lassie had disembowelled half the pillows on our sofa and had started pulling a baseboard off one of the bathroom walls.

  13. Amie Stuart
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 11:55 am · Link

    I wish people would give a little more thought to what will happen to their pet(s) if the family’s income or life situation changes not for the better.

    Lynn AMEN!!!!!!!!!! My son’s good friend has I dont even know how many cats–three or four–none of them fixed so every year they have new kittens. INFURIATES ME!! I have three cats, they are inside/outside cats, all microchipped, all shotted, all fixed!! All come home every night or every day–so yes, while I let them run and roam (because I think you should), they are well treated and much loved and they don’t run off. My son’s friend apparently, recently, took on some dogs too–schnauzers like we have (we have a schnauzer and a chihuahua–they are hilarious!! I came home one day to find the schnauzer standing on my kitchen table barking at me for all she was worth. Funny now, not funny then). I never wanted a dog–mostly because they are a lot of work– but I love those dogs…especially my Buffy girl. BTW they are both shotted and and fixed also and not allowed to roam.

  14. Amie Stuart
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 11:59 am · Link

    I would LOVE to foster some cats but a) my cats would have a royal FIT b) I work all day and c) my neighbors would kill me. But that’s my dream to foster and help find homes for kitties someday. 😆

  15. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 1:14 pm · Link

    The last statistics I heard were that three million cats and dogs are euthanized at shelters in the U.S. every year, and if that isn’t a good reason to spay or neuter your pet, I don’t know what is.

    Cats in particular are very efficient breeders. Fertile strays and ferals can produce up to three litters of as many as ten kittens per litter annually. I read one study where scientists found that 75% of all captured female feral cats are found to be pregnant or lactating.

  16. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 1:16 pm · Link

    I think you have to do what you can reasonably do to help animals. Sometimes when I can’t do a volunteer day at the shelter I buy a couple bags of litter or cat food and drop it off. When I’m in a restaurant and they have a little change bank for the Humane Society, I drop whatever change I get from paying the bill in it. Every little bit helps.

  17. nightsmusic
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 1:59 pm · Link

    I have two dogs. Chance is our rescue dobe. When we brought him home, he weighed 48 pounds, was over a year old and had a huge split on his back, right down to his spine. It was almost a year before I could pick up a broom and not have him hide in a corner. I just don’t understand that kind of mentality in people. They want to force the dog to be vicious. All they did was give him a lot of terrible back leg problems. Ciinea (pronounced Coo-nE-ah which is Romanian for dog…don’t ask) is our puppy and prefers to spend her days as a mountain goat. But I’m forced to sit on the couch to write because they’re both draped across my legs when I do and if I sit at the kitchen table, they pace until I move back to the couch.

    I do have a cat. Her name is Molly. She is strictly an indoor cat due to the various diseases they can contract outside (plus, we have a dozen feral cats around who would just as soon eat her) doesn’t like the dogs, so spends most of her time living atop the upper cupboards in my kitchen or in the bottom cupboard I was forced to clean out and put her bed in. She kept shoving the pots and pans out until I did. Silly cat.

    She does occasionally make her way out to the deck (curiosity, of course) but the minute she realizes she’s outside, she tips over and lays there until someone picks her up and brings her back in.

    I can’t imagine my life without my pets. We take them on vacation or we don’t go, they are all provided for should something happen to us, our dogs make the best alarm system in the world and they provide me with hours of enjoyment when we play with Mr. Red Dot.

    And now, I’ll shut up because I could write a book about them…

  18. Melissa Blue
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 3:31 pm · Link

    My daughter has a fish that she generously shares with the rest of the family. She received five fish on her birthday. They all died within a week. So when we went back to the pet shop I asked the guy, “Which one is the hardest to kill.”

    We brought home a Betta that is now called Blu Blue (we are so original as a family.) He’s been alive for a little over month.

  19. Sasha White
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 4:37 pm · Link

    I have 2 cats, and despite always thinking I wasn’t a cat person, I love them. They have very distinct personalities, and unfortunately, they are not friends. :sad:

    They keep me sane at times, and always make me feel loved…even when they are driving me slightly nuts with their antics.

  20. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:22 pm · Link

    Your pups are adorable, Theo — and Molly sounds like quite a character. How dull life would be without our furred friends around to bedevil (and love) us.

    As for writing a book about them, sometimes I write my pets into my stories. My first cat, a rescued stray named Jenner, appears in my very first published novel (and every other StarDoc novel.) It’s the way I like to imagine him now, living out there among the stars.

  21. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:24 pm · Link

    Good choice on the fish; betas are pretty hardy. My daughter’s last beta lived for nearly two years, although I had to declare her bedroom no cat’s land. :)

  22. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:27 pm · Link

    Our two are brothers, but they occasionally get on each other’s nerves and rumble. It’s funny because while Jak is the sweetest, nicest cat I’ve ever owned, as well as being the smaller of the pair, he usually wins. :)

  23. Karen W.
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:19 pm · Link

    I love hearing about people’s pets and seeing pictures, so thanks for sharing your fur babies, Lynn!

    I’m the proud mom of two rescue felines (the last two of five rescues). My beloved boys are 15 years old now, and I cherish every minute with them.

    I can’t imagine a life without animals.

  24. Paige
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 7:32 pm · Link

    I love reading all these pet stories in the comments. :)

    When I moved into my first apartment on my own, I was leaving behind a family dog and my best friend, my cat, who was too old to move with me four hours away. So one of the first things I decided to do was get a cat to keep me company. I’m in a smaller city, so there wasn’t much in the way of selection and there isn’t a specific humane society building – instead, I found out that the local vet clinic takes in stray animals and I decided to visit to see.

    There I found a grey tabby male whom I named Macleod. He was the only animal there and the ladies there thought he was so sweet that they had kept him a month longer than they normally do – I was pretty much his last chance. He cuddled right up to me right away and I signed for him a few minutes later. I picked him up the next day.

    Well, I’ve since found out that he is a real character. :) He tends to be very clingy and demanding when he decides he wants attention, but he’s very picky about when, where, and how he cuddles with you – it has to be on his terms, and you can’t be too grabby. It took me a year and a half to teach him to jump up and sleep on the couch with me. He must have been a stray at one point because I notice that he digs in his litter, even when he’s not using it, and he makes motions as if he’s burying his food dish, except that it just means that he gets food everywhere. He’s got a squeak instead of a meow – he looks like a burly fellow, but he’s a totaly softy and will alternate between a demanding high-pitched meow and a soft, heart-rending squeak that just says, “Please?” Whenever I decide to take a shower, he’s always there ready for it, and sits at the edge of the tub, playing in whatever water he can reach. He’s friendly to every one and greets me and my fiance at the door every time we come home. And he’s now got a friend, as my fiance had a female cat named Miikka that came along when we moved in together. They’re both fixed and they get along pretty well, which I’m thankful for.

    Phew, it’s almost like talking about children, isn’t it? I love both my kitties, and I’m soooo glad that I found Macleod before something happened to him. I think the fact that he’s a character makes him more loveable, when I’m not getting frustrated at his many mischievous antics.

  25. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:29 pm · Link

    I can’t imagine a life without animals.

    After I lost Jenner I went a few years without pets, and they were pretty dreary. I needed the time, though, to adjust to the loss; I loved that cat more than I like most people. Then I met my guy, who was Sheltie-owned, and it felt right to let myself become attached again.

    Once the kids were old enough we decided to adopt our kitties. I wasn’t sure if I could bond with another feline, but Jak and Jeri made a huge difference in my life. Our dogs have always been wonderful pets, but with the cats our house finally felt like a home to me.

  26. Lynn
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 8:51 pm · Link

    I love all these stories, too, Paige (and thanks to you and everyone who has shared theirs today.)

    We had one reformed stray with us for nine years, and he demonstrated the same sort of behaviors your Macleod does. Rushan started life as a released or runaway pet who turned feral, but we were able to rescue him very young and gentle him again. It took a long time; for the first couple of years I was the only one who could touch him because he associated me with food (and forget picking him up.) He mostly liked to be alone or hide if a stranger came into the house. But he mellowed over the years, and toward the end of his life he would actually come and sit beside me and nudge for attention, something he’d never done. He lived eight years longer than the vet predicted he would, which makes me think we did something right.

  27. Raine
     · October 2nd, 2009 at 10:02 pm · Link

    I wouldn’t know what to do without them. 😉
    All of mine have been strays or rescued.
    Currently in residence: one kitty with 24 toes, deaf from birth. The other cats made sure he never missed a thing.
    One disfunctional tuxedo cat, returned to the shelter three times by families who couldn’t deal with him. Been here 13 years.
    And one feral cat who grew up in fear with no human contact. Will never be like a domesticated cat, but after 5 years will allow himself to be petted.

    And at various times dogs, birds, fish, you name it. My older sis used to call me Ellie May.
    They keep you company. They love unconditionally. And they think everything you write is beautiful.
    What more could you want? 😛

  28. Lynn
     · October 3rd, 2009 at 7:02 am · Link

    What more could you want?

    Aside from a couple of nice young men to bring me books, rub my feet and feed me grapes while I read, not a thing. :) Your kitties sound wonderful, Raine.

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