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!