Dogs in Stories and Life, by Kathleen Delaney
It’s been a year since Maggie came to live with me. She is an Italian Greyhound and when she came, weighed less than 10 pounds. IG’s are shown in the toy group and are small, but 10 pounds is grossly underweight even for them. She was turned into a rapid kill shelter by the people who had her because, the lady said, she snapped at her five year old child.
I sympathize with the woman. The dog was wrong for their family and placing her somewhere more appropriate was called for. Setting her up for almost certain death, wasn’t.
Maggie the mop also lives with me. She is a small black bundle of hair with endless energy who was suffering from heart worm and chronic hunger when she arrived . The heart worm is gone and she is no longer underweight. She was, however, when she was thrown out of a car behind Tractor Supply in a small South Carolina town. Luckily for her, someone saw what happened and called rescue. Not a kill shelter. A close friend, who rescues dogs, sent me an email with a picture telling me about her, as she did with Maggie. The rest is history. Both of them are playing on the office floor as I type this, watched closely by Lefty the three legged wonder dog, who was never claimed after an almost fatal confrontation with a car. He, however, claimed us along with my sofa. It is supposed to be forbidden territory because of his size, a rule rarely observed. The only one not joining in the fun is the cat, who sits on my lap watching it all with great disdain.
These dogs came because I had suddenly found myself dogless, a condition I don’t seem to be able to tolerate. My beloved shepherd, Shea, passed away a couple of years ago, and that left just Laney, also an IG, and me. And the cat. I told myself that suited me just fine. I didn’t need to have a house full of animals any more. Or kids. Or books. I had too many of all those things. At my age, I needed peace, quiet, no responsibilities.
So I left South Carolina and moved to Georgia to be nearer to two of my grandchildren, who are here almost every day. I also moved I don’t know how many books. They filled the bookcases in the living room and in my small office. Boxes of them remained unpacked in a closet, and more boxes, mostly ones I have written, were stacked on the floor. But I was down to two animals.
Then Laney died. I knew she was in a bad way and I think she was glad to go. We did everything we could, but in the end, old age was more powerful than any drugs available. She is at peace. However, I’m not. My house once more overflows with grandchildren, books, and dogs. How did this happen, I wonder, and why do I do it?
I’m not alone. Especially about the dogs. I recently heard a report on what Americans spend each year on pet supplies and was amazed. I’ll bet they spend that much, and maybe more, in England and France and possibly other European countries. Dogs are everywhere you look in Europe, even on buses and trains and in restaurants. No, I’m not alone.
Dogs populate books as well. Especially cozies. I don’t think Sam Spade had a dog, and come to think of it, neither did Miss Marple. They are, however, in plenty of other books, often with starring roles, as are cats. I’m sure you can think of many, some who solve crimes, some who help solve crimes, some who narrate the story. We do love our animals.
I am among those who include animals in their books. Mine don’t narrate nor do they solve the murder, but they help out in various ways. In Murder by Syllabub, the IG, Petal, one of the dogs that reside in the eighteenth century plantation house, digs up a vital clue. Jake, a yellow tom cat, saves Ellen’s life in the first of the Ellen McKenzie real estate mysteries, Dying for a Change. Jake actually didn’t mean to save her life and wasn’t one bit happy about how it happened, but I’m quite sure he was glad she didn’t die. She’s the one who supplies the cat food.
The second book in the series, Give First Place to Murder, deals a lot with horses but if you have horses you also have dogs and cats. They go together. Not sure why, but they do.
And Murder for Dessert features a standard poodle and Jake reappears in Murder Half-Baked.
Then I decided to write a new series. I wanted to use an older woman as a protagonist, one who still had all her wits about her, who, like so many women before her, used her experience, her intelligence, and her knowledge of her community to help solve a crime. I had no intention of adding my grandchildren nor did I intend to include a dog. Or so many dogs. But Ronaldo finds a puppy beside the dead man in the manger (I have no idea how that happened) and Mary McGill adopts Millie, a black cocker spaniel, who is orphaned when her owner is a murder victim, and Purebred Dead came into being. I guess it came out all right because Library Journal, Publishers Weeky and Book List have all praised it. In any case, Mary has kept Millie, who helped solve the murders in Purebred Dead, and she plays an important role in their next adventure, Curtains for Miss Plym. Mary can no longer remember life before Millie and has no intention of doing without her.
We’ve set things up over the years so that the animals we’ve made pets or have domesticated in some way can no longer live without us. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s a true one. However, they’ve turned the tables on us. We’d be hard pressed to live without them either. At least, evidently I would.
How about you?
“Where is he?”
Dalia pointed to a rough-built lean-to, open to the street. Inside, where the manger was set up and the animals were housed w as in shadow. Spotlights were ready, sitting at both the inside and outside corners, for the arrival of the Virgin Mary. The place would radiate light, the North Star would shine from the oak tree and angels would appear. But for now, everything was in shadow. Mary could just make out the outline of what looked like a goat. It bleated as she came up. A couple of other animals hung their heads over small pens, staring at the figure overflowing from the manger in the middle of the display, waiting for Mary and Joseph to appear.
“Cliff Mathews, you promised.” Mary let go of Dalia’s hand and marched up to the manger. “Get up right this minute. How you could…”
She stopped abruptly. Cliff wasn’t going to get up, now or ever again. He lay in the middle of the manger, eyes staring up at nothing, the shadows failing to hide the front of his gray hoodie, stained bright red.
Bio: Kathleen Delaney is a retired real estate broker. She lived and worked on California’s central coast, where she wrote her first three novels and, during her day job, specialized in horse ranches, estate properties, wineries and vineyards. The mother of five grown children, grandmother of nine, she also bred and showed national winning Arabian and Half Arabian horses. She left California for South Carolina, where she completed the final two books in the Ellen McKenzie real estate mysteries, then moved to Georgia, where she continues to write and visit with two of her grandchildren.
Purebred Dead is the first in her new Mary McGill and Millie canine mystery series and, as you might have guessed, is centered around dogs, both pure bred and mixed breed. It is published by Severn House, has been released in the UK to excellent reviews, has been praised by Publishers Weekly and is scheduled for release in the US August 1.
The second book in the series, Curtains for Miss Plym, will be released in the UK in December and in the US in April of 2016.